Sachin is not going to make any mistakes. He’s going to be a trillionaire.
One of the things that always stalled me from doing things I wanted to was the question I asked myself, “What if I’m doing it wrong?”
This didn’t just apply to school assignments or writing lecture notes or a resume or a job, but my haircut and my clothes and my house decorating skills and my parenting. What if I do it wrong???
Oh, THE HORRORS. And so, I told myself there are right ways to do things, and wrong ways. I found these ways based on examples of people who I admired. Scratch that, I found these examples based on people I thought I was supposed to admire. Like, my parents really rich doctor friend who had a doctor son and a doctor daughter. That’s admirable. I want to be rich and smart and admired!
Except I’d find my mind wandering and thinking about the new graffiti on the sidewalk or the cute scene in Amelie or the girl with pink hair or the new Sweet Valley High book that I wasn’t allowed to read. (I was only allowed to read “real” books, and so my brother gave me Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man when I was 12, when he found out I was reading a SVH book, and my parents thanked him for that.)
On top of being afraid of mistakes, I’m a people pleaser, so if you tell me to do something, I’m gonna do it. If you tell me I’m wrong, I’m going to believe you. If you tell me I’m a lousy person/writer/mother/cook, I’ll believe one negative voice over throngs of positive ones, because my deep-seated fear is always there: what if I’m doing it wrong?
I was paralyzed with indecision. I remember when Keshi was a baby, I went with my sister-in-law into a baby clothing store with a gift voucher. “What do you want to get?” she said, motioning to all the cute onesies in front of us. I stared and my gut twisted and eventually I told her to pick. “I can’t. I just don’t know!” And that was about a piece of clothing that would be barfed and pooped upon.
So of course I couldn’t make my own decisions.
One of my favorite scenes in a novel is from The Outsiders, when Soda Pop eats chocolate cake for breakfast with Ponyboy. I think this is meant to convey how abandoned and neglected and uncared for these boys were, but in my teenage mind, this is what I thought: YOU CAN EAT CHOCOLATE CAKE FOR BREAKFAST?
Of course you can’t eat chocolate cake for breakfast. That’s clearly A Mistake. It’s Wrong. No no no. I did it anyway, for two months in seventh grade, keeping the cakes frozen so they’d never go bad. I don’t remember what else I used to eat for breakfast, but that? I remember that.
I have gone on to an illustrious career of making lots and lots of mistakes, but here is the thing that gets to me: most of the mistakes I make are not the ones that I’m told are mistakes (being a writer, self publishing, reading romance novels, eating gluten for goodness sake, marrying Gregg, living in an old creaky house, eating chocolate cake for breakfast, dying my hair blue). The things that were mistakes are always the things I was told were The Right Thing.
It was the Right Thing for me to choose a career that my parents wanted me to have. (No, it wasn’t.)
It was the Right Thing for me to marry a successful Indian man. (Uh.)
It was the Right Thing to read Ulysses. (Biggest mistake of my life!)
It was the Right Thing to live in the suburbs. (Barf. I hated the suburbs.)
And so on. I have so many examples, mostly from listening to what other people wanted from me–my parents or my brother or other family members. It’s not that they were always wrong about everything. It’s that when I felt like something was a mistake, instead of listening to myself, I didn’t trust myself. I trusted other people, because other people are better/smarter/more important than me. Right?
It turns out that I’m not indecisive. I’m afraid that other people won’t like my choices, and other people matter more than me. I’m afraid that I have terrible taste. I’m afraid I’m a terrible writer. I’m afraid that if I give a dollar to the homeless man, someone is going to yell at me and tell me that the guy is going to only use it on booze. I’m afraid to listen to crappy music. I’m afraid to run outside because I’m sure I look like a dork. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid.
There are so many reasons for my line of thinking, but most of them aren’t fodder for a public space. Just know that if you feel the same way as me, you’re not alone.
I’m taking the long route to undoing all my fears, of making terrible decisions left and right, decisions that make me wildly, wildly happy. Yellow bathrooms and funky glasses and polka dot shirts and jobs that don’t pay nearly enough and are definitely not going to make me admirable in most people’s eyes, but make me bubble with laughter at the end of the day. Big, huge, stinking mistakes. Decisions! It’s such a relief.
So, I’ve been on a journey to do it wrong. I’m over chocolate cake for breakfast, though. I’ve moved on. It’s cookies for me.