What Disney Knew That Your Teacher Didn’t: You CAN Do It!

Find me one published author who never received a single “not the right fit” letter, and I’ll show you a fish with feathery wings. Whether at the educational stage, the agent stage, or the publishing stage, most have been told their work is not worthy.

I was lucky when it came to agents and publishers, but my rejection came earlier in life, when a high school teacher read my papers aloud ridiculing me in front of my peers. She teased me relentlessly (today it would be called bullying), and on the last day of my senior year in high school, she said to me, “I hope you don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You may be able to write a greeting card, but that’s about as far as you’ll ever go.”

I made a mistake that day. I believed her. I put down my pen for nearly a decade and let way too many stories go untold.

That’s why, twenty years later, as Publishers Weekly gives me a starred review for my debut novel, I feel such tremendous excitement. Whether Into the Free sells two copies or two-hundred thousand doesn’t matter one bit to me. I now know one important thing: she was wrong.

Here’s what she didn’t teach us: God gives us each special talents, gifts, and dreams. Who are we, if we are not of God? What are our abilities, if not God-given?

I am a teacher, and I spend every bit of my energy trying to teach my children one lesson: You can do it!

I am tired of teachers telling us who we are and what we will or will not achieve. I am weary of labels and bell curves and standardized tests. I weep for this generation of children who are told you need x, y, z medications to fit into our box. And I mourn the countless souls who believed the people who said, “You’ll never…” or “You can’t…” or “You aren’t good enough…”

I say to you, today. You can. You are good enough. You were born for a purpose, and only YOU know what that is. Don’t let anyone discourage you from living YOUR life to its fullest potential. And if you fail, you’re only one step closer to succeeding.

Watch this little video clip I found on YouTube, and you’ll see…all great minds have a few things in common: failure, rejection, and a willingness to risk it all anyway.

Has anyone ever told you “you can’t”? What one piece of criticism has made you a better, stronger writer? 

This entry was posted in Encouragement, Writer's Life, Writing and tagged , , , , , by Julie Cantrell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Julie Cantrell

Julie Cantrell is an award-winning New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling novelist and public speaker. A TEDx presenter, she is known to inspire others to live a more compassionate and authentic life. Her debut novel, Into the Free, earned a starred review by Publishers Weekly, the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award, and the Christy Award Book of the Year while being named a Best Read of 2012 by USA TODAY. The sequel, When Mountains Move, was named a 2013 Best Read by USA TODAY and won the Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Her third novel, The Feathered Bone was selected as an Okra Pick by SIBA and Book of the Year by Pulpwood Queens. It earned a starred review by Library Journal who also named it a Best Book of 2016 was a finalist for three literary awards: INSPYs, Carol Award, and SIBA Southern Book Prize. Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship as well as the Mary Elizabeth Nelson Fellowship at Rivendell Writers’ Colony. Her fourth novel, Perennials, will release November 2017. Learn more: Website: www.juliecantrell.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliecantrellauthor Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulieCantrell Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/juliecantrell Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/juliecantrell

42 thoughts on “What Disney Knew That Your Teacher Didn’t: You CAN Do It!

  1. Julie, beautiful post. I too stopped writing for two years, after one too many rejections. But then I hit my knees and cried out to God, what will You have me do? And He directed me, okay shoved, me back to writing. Whenever I have doubts I remind myself that He’s the one who told me do take on this career of a novelist and I forge ahead.

    Each of us have a gift from God and what a shame if we don’t use a gift the heavenly Father chose for us.

    • Melissa – Thanks for sharing your personal experience with rejection and rediscovery. I know I’m not alone in saying I’m glad you’re sharing your tremendous talents with us all. Kudos!

    • Thanks Martha! So happy to hear you enjoyed it and glad you’ve joined the discussion! Something was wrong with the video link, so I’ve got the right one up now. Take a peek. j

  2. Fantastic post! I think we all have experienced some form of rejection whether it be personally or professionally. It’s having faith in our own abilities that we can all truly shine.

  3. Oh, Julie, Your post made me tear up. I am SO glad you’re no longer bound by that teacher and that you’re now diving Into The Free with your first novel!! Such an appropriate title in light of your post!

    I, too, have endured some discouraging messages about my dream to write. Some of them came from my own head because in my early years I so struggled with reading and writing that my teacher put me in a special remedial class with foreigners who didn’t even speak english!

    Satan is so threatened by the power of words and our call to write that he stops at nothing to stop us. Our lives become like novels as we face roadblock after roadblock on our journey to obedience. But God is greater! Just as you show with your post, the roadblocks become part of our powerful testimony. God will take what Satan intended for evil, and turn it into good. That’s what He did with my book too!

    Thanks for the encouragement. May God, in His perfect timing, continue to open all the right doors for you!

    • Cheryl,

      I have seen (and heard stories about) so many children in schools who are told they are failures, “stupid,” “bad,” etc. We spend SO much time of our lives in classrooms, and when we become adults and think back to the one teacher who had the most influence on our lives…it’s usually not the one who gave the most homework or had the strictest rules…it’s the one who made us feel loved, safe, important, and capable of success.

      I am SO very glad you found your own way to writing, and I know I’m not the only one who is blessed by your words. I just hope every child comes across the one teacher who makes them feel confident, and likewise…I hope every writer finds that one agent/publisher who says, “I love this! Let’s go for it!”

      Thanks for sharing your personal story with us. I can’t begin to imagine how damaging that kind of education was for you…and as an ELL teacher today, I know how frustrating it is for second language learners, too, to be isolated and treated as if they can’t learn.

      Have a wonderful day writing!

  4. i LOVE this post!!! i’ve always been a big supporter of not listening to the limitations the world sets for you. i’m constantly saying, it doesn’t matter what the world says, it matters what God says. and if He’s put a dream in your heart, He’s put it there for a reason. i can’t believe that a person-especially a teacher-would think it’s okay to belittle and discourage. so sad. i love that you didn’t listen though. maybe at first you did, but in the end you didn’t listen. it didn’t become who you defined yourself to be. you overcame the negative. God overcame the negative. our God is an awesome God!!!

    • Thanks, Colleen! Yes…You’re right. I too believe everyone has a unique journey…specific battles, hurdles, or challenges. I agree, with a little faith in something larger than ourselves, we can find the strength to take chances and enter those doors when they are opened for us. I’m very, very grateful for the opportunity to have just published a novel, and I’ll never take this opportunity for granted. Now, I just hope the novel continues to help readers heal deep wounds and inspire them to seriously consider how we treat one another.

      Have a happy day!

  5. A greeting card??? Are you kidding me??? Wow. And look at you now. Just goes to show how words have such power to hurt and to empower. James was so wise when he talked about what a powerful little thing the tongue is, and how we’d all be wise to tame it a bit more. So grateful you didn’t heed that advice. So grateful God is blessing your socks off for pressing through that pain, now, too! Into the free, indeed!!!

  6. Your post reminded me of a comment one of my hs teachers made to my mom after I got married: “I thought Karen would make something out of her life!” That experience helped me to realize the power of our words. And God used her negative, judgmental words to motivate in several ways—to guard what I say to others, to motivate my academic career, and to inspire some of my teaching and writing efforts. [So, thank you, Ms. Ml!!!]

    • Love it, Karen! Exactly! I think that teacher made me a much more compassionate soul. Of course I make plenty of mistakes and probably have done and said hurtful things without even knowing it, but…I try very hard every day to be acutely aware of how I make people feel. I don’t know if I would be that way if I hadn’t experienced that kind of teacher…so you’re right…Thank you Mrs. P! 🙂 And thanks Karen for joining the chat and sharing your own experience…funny how some things stay with us in life.

  7. While growing up and taking piano lessons, the comment from my mother was either, “You can’t do that,” or “You can do better than that.” She says now she was trying to encourage me to do better. Instead, I believed her and felt I wasn’t good enough. This included playing the piano, cleaning the house, cooking, or anything I tried to do. At the age of thirty, I decided to go back to college for a degree in music. Knowing what her remark would be, I enrolled, made arrangements for my youngest to go to pre-school, and paid my tuition, half of which came from a scholarship. When she said, “You can’t do that,” I told her I could. It took seven years, with three jobs supporting three children, to get my degree. But, I did it!

    • Whoah, this brought back a vivid memory! I quit taking piano in the sixth grade because my teacher kept rapping my hands with a ruler when I made a mistake, saying, “Dear Gussy (whatever that meant?), don’t you ever practice?” But I did practice! I just couldn’t see the sheet music that well–I didn’t know I had vision problems! And obviously, no one else did either. So, when given a choice, I decided to quit–even though I really loved playing the piano. Maybe I should take it up again, now that I have glasses! Ha!!!

      • Oh, Yes, Karen!!! Go for it! I have seen so many students with undiagnosed vision and hearing problems. It’s amazing what a difference a pair of glasses or hearing aid can make for so many.And OUCH! Hitting you with a ruler??? Wow! I thought that was just an old wives tale about mean nuns in Catholic schools 🙂

    • YOU DID IT!!! I am SO very proud of you, Eyrline, and I’m sure your mother is too. Great job following your dream and living the life you were born to live. What a wonderful testimony to the power of positive parenting. We all struggle as parents, and I know my kids will grow up feeling cheated in some way as well (don’t we all ?!), but if there’s one thing I really want them to know…it’s that they can do anything they want. I have no doubt your mother probably had wonderful intentions and meant no harm, but I’m glad you took the chance and followed your heart. Thanks for sharing! Now how can we hear your music??? j

  8. Surely we can speak up for the good teachers, though, the ones who praise our work. I’ve had teachers like those, and my daughter is that kind of teacher.

    There are always going to be people who are mistaken about us. I make mistakes, too, but the worst mistake I can make is to believe destructive criticism. Here’s the point–God knows better. My reaction should be to read my Bible and pray. I need to focus on who God says I am, what He says I can do. If I don’t, I fall back into believing Satan’s lies, horrible lies like, “You’re not good enough; you will never be able to do it; your writing stinks.”

    The worst time for me has not been pre-publication. It’s been after I’ve had two books published.
    So when I do public school classroom talks, I always tell kids who say they want to write: “You have to want it more than anything else in the world. You can’t depend on your friends or your family (insert ‘or your teachers’ here) to make you feel good about your writing, because they probably won’t understand what you need. The desire to write has to come from inside you and you must keep that desire alive. No one else can. What keeps my writing desire alive is my faith.”

    • Thanks so much, Shellie … saw you featured on the Best of Comedic Memoirs list along with Tina Fey (My idoL!) and other BIG SHOTS! You Go girl!!!! So very proud of you and honored to be getting to know you a wee bit.

  9. Thankfully, I had a teacher in my junior year of high school who told me I had talent and wrote in my yearbook to “Keep writing!” Because in my senior year, I wasn’t one of the in-crowd at a new school, and my English teacher made me feel stupid with her looks of derision and remedial work. Pretty devastating for a new kid. She was the weather “girl” on one of the local TV stations. Then I went on to college and at the end of my sophomore year got a job as a reporter at the newspaper; I also did a stint as a Sunday newscaster on a local TV station. The rest is history. I made a lot of mistakes on the way, and I always felt like a B+ student in an A+ world. I can truly say that the Lord gets all the glory for making me who I am today. Teachers can either destroy you or encourage you. Young minds are a terrible thing to waste.

    Thanks for your encouraging post, Julie!

    • Oh Barbara, That’s a wonderful story…I never knew anyone who had to put up with being taught English by the Weather Girl!?! Wowzers! Thankfully, you survived and have become such a powerhouse in our industry today. We’re all SO VERY honored to have you on the WordServe team. Cheers, j

  10. In 3rd grade, I was told by my best friend that everyone at school thought I was an ‘insider’ because I was more interested in sitting inside and writing than going out and playing with the other kids. She said I was on my way to being a social zero. I was baffled because I couldn’t care less about those other kids and didn’t know why they cared what I did. That was the first of many similar experiences that reinforced my opinion that writers are different, and they do have to spend quite a bit of time in solitude to be able to produce. It definitely can make you feel like you are on the outside looking in, and not like an ‘insider’ at all. But you know what? Bottom line -if you really are a writer, your compulsion to write takes over anyway and those negative voices fade away. Polite society will just have to deal with it and the people who care about you will not only understand, but support you in your efforts. So write on! 🙂

  11. What a great post, Julie. I’m a firm believer that God made personalities different for a reason. I was explaining to a Christian extrovert who was trying to convince me to do a ministry I wasn’t comfortable with, that introverts have different gifts, giving her a no answer. She told me that with my attitude, when I got to heaven, I’d regret it because while everyone was meeting and greeting and having a wonderful time, I was going to be a social nerd up there. I knew her comment was wrong, but it hurt for many years.

    As it turns out, being an introvert (getting energy from solitude) helps me in my writing career. The thing she didn’t understand was that I do love people, I am social, it’s just a little draining afterwards. By resolve not to give in to “her pressure” I was able to stay on track with my own goals. In our gifting, we our often led from within. Painful criticism holds us back for awhile or brings doubts, but by listening again to the desires the Lord puts in us, we are able to move forward and give him the glory.

    • Oh, Dianne, what an awful thing for someone to have said. Ridiculous, seriously, and so very hurtful, I’m sure. I’m glad you have learned to focus on your own strengths and that you channel all that internal energy into something so very positive for us all. Thanks for sharing your talents with the world! I have no doubt, God loves you exactly as you are! (And we do too!) j

  12. I don’t have a specific story of a teacher who told me that I couldn’t do it; although, I do know that I never felt like a “successful” English student because I didn’t receive straight A’s. Homework was always more difficult for me–I had to work really hard for all of my achievements. Basically, I was average, so none of my teachers in high school, college, or even graduate school really noticed me. So, while no one ever told me that I couldn’t write, I never really felt like anyone went out of their way to motivate me either. No one noticed my growth and development in the writing field–I had to grab hold of it on my own (with a few exceptions: MM, Doc, LC… you know who you are :)).

    • Sarah, I love that you still remember and recognize the people who DID make a difference in your life. I too had one teacher who really motivated me to write. Her name was Linda Purcell and she taught my 11th grade English class. I recently was able to reconnect with her and let her know how much of an impact she had on my life. While the next year’s teacher sent me away from the pen for a while, it was Ms.Purcell’s sweet encouragement that I heard in my head when I was ready to give it another go. I hope adults realize how the simplest things – a smile, a kind word, a bit of encouragement – can make all the difference in one’s life. We never realize the affect we might have on others. Thanks for sharing!!! And you’re sure above average now!!! j

  13. I moved from Florida to New York my senior year of high school. My first day in my advanced English class the teacher asked me, “You’re from the south, why are you taking advanced English?” My reply set us up for a bad year, “Because you don’t offer AP.” She spent that year trying to convince me I couldn’t write, but since that wasn’t my goal at the time, I didn’t care. I would receive Fs on my papers, only to find out from other students that she was reading them as an example of how to do the assignment in other classes. It got to the point that the principal stepped in, forcing her to grade me fairly.

    Many are shocked by this story, but because of her I learned many lessons. I know how to stick to my guns and fight for myself. I understand the value of finding other people willing to help you fight your battles. I know that just because one person might say what I’ve written is garbage, another might love it. I also learned to rely on the Lord and feel his presence in an untenable situation. If it weren’t for her, I may have never learned these truths, and for that I thank her.

    • Ann, I am so very sad to read your story but not surprised at all. It’s awful, but I have witnessed this kind of treatment by teachers who single out students (who knows why?!) and spend most of their energy trying to break their spirits. I’m from Louisiana (live in Mississippi now), and I’m a true Southern girl…so I’m inclined to give that mean ol’ bat a call 🙂 I have also witnessed, directly, a very tragic suicide of a teenager who was singled out daily by a school administrator to the point that this child no longer felt his life was worth living. I am passionate about encouraging children and helping ALL people feel loved. I don’t know what happened in that teacher’s life to make her so hateful toward you, but I’m so very grateful that you were able to survive that year and become a stronger, better person after that experience. Thanks for sharing, and let’s all hope that teacher has found a lot more love in her heart for others. Here’s to all the kids who are treated this way in our schools! These comments sure are making me reconsider homeschool for my own kids. Hmmm…

  14. This is a wonderful and inspiring conversation on several levels for me. First of all, I believe, with Julie and all of you, that God has gifted us each so uniquely that if we can discover and use that gift, we are actually doing his work on earth. Moreover, being literary creators, we can even more identify with our Creator, which is another blessing in itself.

    The second level for me is that I, too, am a teacher, but I really consider myself a cheerleader for each and every one of my students. I teach writing (a double blessing for me!) and I find that almost every one of my students dreads the class when we start a semester, because they are convinced – mostly by past teachers and experiences – that they ‘cannot’ write. My goal is to change their self-assessments with encouragement, extensive commenting on their written work, a sense of humor (I do write comic Birder Murder mysteries, after all!), and even some solid instruction in writing basics. The result? I’m happy to report by the end of every term, I’ve got students who say they’ve discovered they LIKE to write!

    May God continue to use each of us in the way he has designed.

    • HOORAY for JAN!!! Thanks so much for making every attempt to reach each and every child in your classroom. Here’s to all the wonderful, devoted, amazing teachers like you (There are many!) who pour infinite energy and talent into these souls each day. Bravo, Jan. And thanks for sharing.

  15. Julie ~ This is such a POWERFUL message and I feel emotionally challenged to continue writing. The wrong messages we receive in our childhood are difficult to set aside in adulthood. Some stronger souls, like you and me, do one day ‘consider the source’ and live our dreams. It’s the very reason that writing ‘Journey to the M.A. Degree’ took me such a look time to visualize. In the end, my passion for literacy helped me self-publish my Journey to encourage others to continue getting a formal education. This challenge became written memoirs written in ebook and paperback because of my vision that triumphed over all the negative voices. Thank you for your excellent advice.
    ~Charlotte M. Liebel

    • Hi Charlotte, Congrats! Writing and publishing a book is no small accomplishment, and I’m proud of you for finding your own way to that goal. Thanks for sharing your encouraging words with us all and best of luck in your writing career! j

  16. I needed this. I’ve been very lucky in terms of teachers, but I just finished my first novel and am about to venture into the world of submissions. Good to arm myself with this knowledge beforehand. Thanks!

    • Sarah…Don’t let any rejections get you down. Just keep trying until you find the right fit. It will all fall into place when the time is right. Can’t wait to see your title on shelves!j

  17. Julie, you obviously hit a nerve. Good for you. Doubtless that HS rejection spurred you on, pushing you to where you are now. Thanks so much for sharing.
    My mom told each of us three little boys after Dad died that we could be anything we wanted to be. She inspired us over those hard years on our small dryland farm in the OK Panhandle. Her words helped me face stumbling rejection–HS sports, architecture school, Army officer corps, in the practice of architecture, and when I began writing 25 years ago. Each time, I got up because someone believed in me.
    I pray for those who don’t have that word of encouragement to see God’s hand in their lives. Your testimony can be the exhortation to lift the hearts and eyes of many who hesitate to go on.

    • Thanks so much, Peter. I don’t harbor any resentment toward her and I only want the best for her…but I do hope my post reminds us, as adults, to seriously consider how we motivate and inspire our younger generations. I appreciate you joining our conversation! Happy day, j

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