What if you don’t have to get anything right?
Just typing that question causes something in my lower back to release. I can feel my buttocks settle into the cushion on my chair as I stop working quite so hard to live up to whatever unconscious standards are running in the background of my awareness.
How about you?
The hardest thing in life is thinking we need to get it right
It seems to me that the hardest thing in life, the hardest thing in building a business, the hardest thing about raising children or growing vegetables, is dealing with our ideas and judgments about getting things right.
Those ideas about what is and isn’t right keep us from going with what we know is true for us in the moment. Preoccupation with getting it right can make decision-making pure hell.
What makes making the right decision seemingly impossible is believing that there’s a right decision to begin with.
The need to get it right goes deep
The imperative that one must get things right is layered, persistent, sneaky. If you’re like me, you let go of the need to get things right, only to discover that you have a new imperative to not need to get things right.
Even (especially?) illness comes with imperatives about what’s right
As some of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of June. As you might imagine, I’ve had lots of different feelings and thoughts about it.
Far and away the hardest thing about it has been the persistent arising of theories or concepts about getting it right.
Having the right feelings. (Yeah, like I’m in charge of that.)
Making the right choices. (For whom? When?)
Sending the right messages. (Hopeless invitation to self-absorption.)
What I’ve learned about making the right decision
I’ve been keeping a journal of my breast cancer journey at CaringBridge, and here’s an excerpt from my entry on June 24 about decision-making and getting things right. I wrote it after deciding to get a bilateral mastectomy, but I think it applies to decision-making in general.
“The hardest part of the past couple of days has been wondering if I’ve made the right decision. And the hardest part of that has been wondering what other people would think of my decision. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned.
- “Decisions make themselves. We don’t know what we are going to do, and then we do. The less sound and fury I can inject in the interim, the better able I will be to discern the “right” decision. More about what constitutes “rightness” below.
- “It’s not over until it’s over. Another way to say this is that I reserve the right to be inconsistent, erratic, and change my mind. If I’m struck with a sudden insight that changes how I see this, I’ll punt. I’m grateful to Dr. Wechter for explicitly giving me permission to change my mind, though she did ask me not to do it the day before surgery. 😉
- “This decision stands until it doesn’t. Insight doesn’t flow from second-guessing. I like how I feel about this decision when I am settled down, and I’m going to stand in that. I won’t be surprised if I second-guess myself anyway, but I don’t intend to put a lot of energy into it.
- “The right decision is the one you make. I have a bias in favor of decisions made from a place of peace, from what Syd Banks called “a nice feeling.” But there is no ultimate basis for grading the rightness of this decision. How could you or I judge? By whether or not the cancer returns? By whether or not a new treatment is discovered in six months? By how these journal entries affect an unknown reader? Will I meet my new best friend on the ferry one day en route to get my new boobs inflated? (Stay tuned. Or not. LOL)
- “We’re all always doing our best. Full stop.”
There is no such thing as the “right way”
When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as the right way to do something; there is only the way we do it. The only justification I have for my choice to have a bilateral mastectomy is that I felt clear, grounded, and peaceful when I let myself want what I want.
And hey, if the best I could do happened to be to make a choice from a place of feeling, confused, ungrounded, and anxious, then that would have to be okay, too.
Because, as I wrote above, I see more clearly than ever that we truly are always doing our best all the time. The only thing that keeps us from seeing that are persistent fantasies and judgments about what our best ought to look like. Those fantasies and judgments are mental constructs, though, and they are utterly trumped by the reality of whatever we are up to in the moment.
I hope to serve, and sometimes I suck at it
As I reflect on my life, I see that I have always hoped to serve. I love it when sharing my experience helps others, and I feel so fortunate that for many years I have been able to earn my living by doing that.
But sometimes when I experience confusion or anxiety or any number of less than, in my opinion, admirable states of mind, I get seriously derailed. I start imagining that I have to get something right in order to be of service, and as soon as I’m on that track, I’m lost in endless self-absorption and self-criticism.
Which pretty much shuts down the creative process, prevents authentic connection and communication, and generates a seemingly accurate self-fulfilling prophecy of wasted potential, meaninglessness, and alienation.
And in those moments my life looks like a wasteland. The idea of service seems like a cruel delusion.
And that’s how it is for all of us. When we are lost, we see loss and waste.
But it’s not real
It sucks to feel like we suck. But the important thing to know about those self-fulfilling prophecies is that they are only seemingly accurate. Because our scary self-fulfilling prophecies are dreams. They are not real.
And sooner or later we come home to ourselves.
We come home sooner when we understand what is going on
We come home to ourselves sooner rather than later when we understand what is going on.
When we understand that, even though they feel very real and compelling in the moment, our fears and judgments are phantoms, we are less inclined to amplify and invest in them.
And like any fire that lacks fuel or oxygen, even the most intense emotional blaze passes when we don’t feed it.
It may burn for a while, but it will not burn forever.
What would you do if you didn’t have to get it right?
If any of this has resonated, I invite you to hold this question lightly. What would you do now if you didn’t have to get it right?
If no answer appears, that could be your answer. Nowhere is it written that you have to know what you are doing or why you are doing it. Wisdom runs deeper than language, and life is far more mysterious than that.
Talk back: I’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome them in the comments section. Also, if you would like to read my CaringBridge journal, it is being cross-posted to my blog at Owning Pink. owningpink.com/users/molly-gordon
Photo by Werner Weisser via Pixabay