What was that you said about lemons and lemonade?

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Over the course of our lives, we hear hundreds of kernels of advice packaged up into pithy, well-worn adages like these.

You can probably reel off 10 of them without thinking.

Like stereotypes, these sayings endure for a reason.

But also like stereotypes, there comes a time when we have to just cut loose and live according to our own instincts and insights rather than the well-meaning advice that others offer.

Just this week, I had an encounter with an editor that left me thinking. I’d pitched him an article idea a couple months ago and initially received a cool reception. My first impression of the editor was negative–not because he wasn’t interested, but because of his lack of professionalism and his confident assertion that every story about my subject had already been told. I set aside my gut response, though, wanting to be convinced by a friend who knew him that “that’s just his style.”

With the friend’s advice, I recrafted the pitch and the editor rubber-stamped the idea. I wrote a draft, sent it in, and waited for a couple weeks–during which he was “really busy”–for some feedback. After reading the draft, he made suggestions that would have changed the piece completely. If I agreed to the changes, it would be his piece, idea, content, and style. If I stuck to my guns, it would be my piece. But, he hinted, if it was my piece, he wouldn’t publish it.

I sat with his recommendations for a month, mulling over whether giving in was worth it. A couple of friends urged me to revise– My piece would appear in a heavy-hitter publication!; The editor is an important person to know!; If I screwed this up I may never have a chance to pitch the publication again! What if I burned this bridge?

What IF I burned this bridge?

Life would go on.

When I quit my full-time 9-5 job four years ago, I realized that there are really only a couple of criteria I need to apply when making any decision: (1) Will my decision kill me? and (2) Will it hurt the people I love most? If the answers to these two questions are “No,” I’m fairly confident life will go on, burned bridge or no.

I sent the editor a message saying I’d chosen not to revise the piece and would understand if he, in turn, chose not to publish it. True to the character he’d shown so far, he sent a snippy, unprofessional reply, saying that indeed he wouldn’t publish it. He added he expected that if I continued to be resistant to changes, I’d have a short, unproductive career as a writer.

Oooh…. I was so worried I opened a new bottle of wine and toasted to the only adage that’s ever served me well but which I ignored for years: “To thine own self be true.”

Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo (and no, those aren’t lemons. They’re passionfruit. And I didn’t make lemonade. I made passionfruit cocktails.)