The Poetry of Misinterpreted Messages

By Shahnaz Radjy


“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could these messages mean?” Shannon L. Alder


Exchanging Messages

During my first year of college, a family friend passed away. I respected him, and admired his brilliant, funny, humble manner. He had the kind of energy that made him the center of attention whenever he walked into a room. People genuinely listened when he shared the incredible stories from his fieldwork with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Although I was sad, loss was new to me. Since I didn’t see him often, it almost felt like he had merely moved to a faraway island, rather than leaving us for good.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about his partner – an incredible, strong woman who worked with my mother – and how she had finally found her soulmate only to lose him again.

So, I wrote her a letter. She wrote back.

While her note was short, her words felt honest, full of love, and with advice to never settle for less than what I wanted or deserved. I took this to heart. Her message gave me a mantra for living: “never settle.”

Interpreting the Message

In some ways, it was easy – I followed my gut and embarked on a Biology Major because science was fascinating and felt much more solid than a degree in Communications.

While sitting in a communication class one day, I overheard two single girls compare the engagement ring they were dreaming about one day getting. Apparently, they were there for an “M-R-S Degree” as we used to say! At least one of my neurons died that day, and I escaped as fast as my common sense could carry me.

In other ways, it was messy. For instance, it led me to break up with my college boyfriend, although I loved him. You see, the trouble was that he had an invisible umbilical cord tying him to New York, heart, body, and soul. And while I loved the city I planned to graduate and move to South America to do fieldwork in the humanitarian sector.

It was hard, because we got along brilliantly, as did our families. He knew I wanted to go to South America and made it very clear that he would never ask me not to go. We simply had different visions for our lives at that time. 

Uncompromising Devotion to the Message

Deciding to end this relationship was difficult, but if I didn’t end it, was I staying true to the message?

Being in a relationship with someone means building a life together, not moving to another continent for an indefinite amount of time! And, if I went anyway, how unfair would it be to my experience if I was always on the phone with my long-distance boyfriend? Unable to reconcile my love for him and the dreams I had of the person I wanted to become, I refused to settle for safety and comfort, and I walked away.

That was the beginning of my full-blown commitment-phobia, which lasted not quite a decade. I tried to be honest and upfront about my desire for simplicity and fun. I needed to follow my own path without having to settle for a compromise in the direction I was headed. Invariably, this meant that hearts, including mine, were broken and bruised along the way. However, I was staying true to the message, I thought. 

Did I Interpret the Message Correctly? 

Then came Francois.

When people ask me today to recount how we met, they often go starry-eyed as I begin, and jump in to comment on how it must have been love at first sight. It wasn’t. Not even close. We got along, made each other laugh, but neither of us ever would have thought we’d end up together.

He was new to New York City, and I was still living in Switzerland but traveling to New York a few times a year for work. We kept things casual, and everything felt natural and uncomplicated. At about nine months, we finally conceded that we were in a relationship – and happier together than apart. That’s when I understood.

I had been going at it all wrong! I'd forgotten the original message and shortened it to, Never Settle. That oversimplification forced me to believe that someone would just slow me down. Click To Tweet

Reassessing the Message

That over simplification made me think that, ‘to settle’ meant I would only live a half-life. Except… with Francois, it felt like the opposite. He wasn’t a weight dragging me down! He was pulling me up, up for adventures and even better, with him I would end up chasing two childhood dreams: traveling around the world and living on a farm.

Misinterpreting, reassessing, and finally understanding the message means that I am right where I am meant to be. Of course, a life built together implies some compromise. But that’s where the “never settle for less” advice applies: when you find a partner, it’s not enough to have good chemistry and be a match on paper.

  • Do your values align?  
  • When you look to the future, do you face the same direction?
  • Do you use similar measures for a life well lived?

If your answer is a yes, then the compromise we are talking about is not just manageable, it’s healthy. It doesn’t mean giving up your dream job to have children, because your spouse believes in a stay at home mom. It doesn’t imply living somewhere you hate just because your spouse’s job is there.

If my life is any indication, I agree to his ideal holiday destination this year, and mine the next. We alternate watching Netflix shows he is in the mood for with the ones I’m dying to know what happens in. He mentions curry and I decide I want Indian food more than Chinese – that night.  

My Message – Your Interpretation

Advice is like poetry. It’s not about what the author intended, but what meaning you glean from the words when they go from the paper to your brain to your heart Click To Tweet.

There’s no wrong answer, but in some cases, it is only with experience that you will reach the right meaning.

So, whatever you do, never settle for less.



Bio: Shahnaz RadjyShahnaz Two drops of ink marilyn l davis

Shahnaz’s background is Swiss, Bolivian, and Iranian (yes, really). She loves food, books, horses, adventure, and problem-solving. She is a writer, aspiring farmer & eternal optimist.

After a decade working in public health for the International Labor Organization, the World Economic Forum, and The Vitality Institute, she is now planning to launch a farm and ecotourism project.

She is also recovering from the corporate life. Her writing reflects how beautiful life is outside an office, a reminder to enjoy every minute, wherever you are.  


Travel blog:
Medium profile:

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

A Favorite Writing Tool: External Deadlines

The Broken Promise of a Smoker


Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing 


Sometimes, as writers, we lack the ability to communicate. That seems incomprehensible since we use words all the time.

As a writer, was there a time that the words failed you and you sent a mixed message? Or was there at time when your interpretation was off?

Maybe sharing those experiences are just the memoir or problem-solving piece we’re looking for at Two Drops of Ink. Consider a guest post today.  


  1. I love to hear those experiences of life. Each of us is different, Each of us tread a different path. That is what make life so interesting.

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