You do not have to be right

Hi, internet! Today I logged into WordPress for the first time in about a year because I want to start writing more regularly and publicly, no seriously, for real this time, I’m not kidding—

and I found the following post in my drafts.

It’s finished! And pretty okay, I think? But I never posted it. Because I am truly the walking embodiment of what the post is all about. So here it is, a year later. I’m not changing anything about it, but just know that I’m now coming up on my thirty-sixth birthday, and I still need this message. Maybe you do, too.

Do you know the Mary Oliver poem “Wild Geese?” That beautiful piece of writing is one of the most comforting and reassuring things I’ve ever read, and I’m going to try and channel some of the same energy here. If you’re unfamiliar, please pause now and go read it. I’ll wait.

It’s lovely, isn’t it?

“You do not have to be right.” A variation on the first line of the poem, “you do not have to be good.” This refrain has been looping in my brain over the past few weeks. A reminder. An encouragement.

My 35th birthday is approaching, and with it, my annual somewhat melancholic rumination on life—an assessment of where I am and the awful, ever-present question of what the hell I’m doing. As hard as I try to focus on celebration as April 15th rolls around, I always seem to end up here, pondering and doubting.

This year it’s hitting particularly hard. Thirty-five?! Didn’t I just finish college? Or at least my Master’s degree? Somehow I still feel like I’m just starting out, but as I look around I realize that many of my peers and former classmates are already a decade into successful, or at least identifiable, careers. And what have I done? Not much of consequence, or so it seems to me in my darker moments.

(Quick pause to say: depression lies.)

In my brighter moments, though, I’m filled with energy and excitement about all the small pieces that make up my existence, two of which are reading and talking about books. For many years now, I’ve been writing short reviews on Goodreads of everything I read. This January, I decided that I wanted to also post those thoughts on Instagram. What a great way to start bookish conversations, right? Yes! Let’s do this!

And then I immediately got behind on those reviews. I now have a backlog of about twenty books that I’ve finished and haven’t written about yet. Why? I’ve been trying to figure this out for months, and what I’ve slowly realized is that I’m afraid what I say will be wrong.

What?? Didn’t we learn from High Fidelity that it can’t be bullshit to state a preference? Isn’t the same true for opinions about the books we read?

For whatever reason, my dumb little lizard brain thinks I have to be some sort of authority on reading, that my reviews and Instagram posts and blog posts have to be right. And because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, I just freeze up and say nothing at all. And then the reviews waiting to be written pile up and pile up and suddenly the thing that brought me joy has become a dreaded chore that I have no possibility of correctly completing.

And, zooming back out to life in general, since that’s where I started: the same thing seems to be happening on a broader scale. Why don’t I dive back into the lettering and design business that I started ten years ago? Because I’m afraid if I try again I won’t do it right. Why don’t I actually submit work to some of the freelance writing gigs I’ve had my eye on? Because I’m worried my writing will be wrong, or not good enough. Why don’t I post photos of the things in life that have been bringing me happiness? Because I’m worried that maybe I didn’t edit them well enough. What’s holding me back from doing pretty much everything I wish I could be doing right now? Yep.

I’m stuck in a billion ruts because I’m scared of being wrong.

So I guess this is me telling that ridiculous part of myself: Hey, I see you, asshole. Quit it.

You do not have to be right.

The world can only be made better by your creations, your enthusiasm, your opinions, and your efforts. Get out there and do the damn thing.


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