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7 Alternatives to being right

16 Feb 2015 | Mind monkeys

When my son was 9, he had a meltdown over his homework.

His class was transitioning to joined up handwriting, and his homework was to write a set of words in his best joined up handwriting.

Like most things that are new, it feels awkward at first and doesn’t come easy. And the more mistakes he made, the more frustrated he got. The more frustrated he got, the more mistakes he made. Eventually he had a complete meltdown with a whole heap of “I’m rubbish” and “I can’t do it.”

Oh how I miss the days when “I can’t do it” was easily fixed with “Here let mummy do it”. Now he’s at the age when the learning – and learning the process of learning – is too important to take away from him.

So we talked. Talked about why he was frustrated, and it came down to an overwhelming need to get it ‘right’. It didn’t look neat, therefore it wasn’t right, therefore he had failed, therefore he was rubbish. That was his reasoning.

And I felt for him – because I know what it’s like to be stumped by ‘right’.

I know what it’s like to feel like I have to be right. To feel the pressure to get it right when everyone else around me seems to have it all worked out.  Or to be the ‘expert’ who is expected to have the answers.

But sometimes right is the wrong thing to aim for.

Aiming for right can stop us from getting started, when it seems so far from our current reality. It can stop us from stepping into something new, where everything is unknown and uncertain and there is no ‘right’.

We can become too focussed on having to have the right answers, that we forget to ask the right questions. We can be so obsessed with ‘right’ that we forget to have fun.

Sometimes we have to get things wrong in order to figure out what right even looks like.

And sometimes the journey to right looks nothing like right.

Here are some alternatives to being right:

Be curious

Embrace the fact that you don’t know. Be the one who’s asking questions, rather than the one who has all the answers.

Be an experimenter

Be the one who’s testing, rather than the one who’s being tested. Experimenting isn’t about getting it right. It’s just about doing, noticing and learning as you go along.

Be a curator

Some of the best ‘experts’ in the field are actually curators. The people who bring together other people’s experience and expertise, who capture the questions and the answers and weave together the stories and the knowledge in such a way that it brings new light to the subject.

Be a pioneer

Step out from what you know. Explore the unknown, the place where there is no ‘right’. Seek new answers beyond the ones you already have. Go into uncharted territory and see what you discover.

Be the fool

In olden days, the fool, or the jester, could speak to the truth to the King when no one else dared. Precisely because they had no authority, agenda or expert status, they could say it exactly how they saw it. They could speak the truth and be heard.

There is a freedom that comes with not knowing. With a fresh perspective that is unencumbered by prior knowledge, you can ask the silly questions, address the elephant in the room and bring the breath of fresh air that everyone’s been waiting for.

Be practising

Sometimes all it takes is practice. Fall down, get up. Try again. Rinse and repeat. I reminded my son that everything he’s gotten good at, everything that now comes naturally to him – from computer games to burping (yes really!) – was at one point difficult and alien.

Sometimes we have to let go of getting it right and just put in the practice. Instead of “make it look perfect”, my son’s new goal became “just fill the page”.

Be playful

Our creativity gets stifled when we take ourselves too seriously, when we put too much pressure on getting it right. I experienced this recently with a big hairy scary project I’ve been stalling on.

A friend’s notes from a conference reminded me that the best dream to pursue is the one where you enjoy the process as much as the goal. I realised I had made my goal so scary, that I’d forgotten to have fun, to lose myself in the process of playing with it, and trust that process to lead to the ‘right’ outcome.

What about you? Where is ‘right’ getting in your way? What alternative would you choose? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Glyn

    Grace this is an interesting take on the old chestnut of perfectionism.

    We do put things off and become frustrated because of our need to have everything ‘just right’, and of course, ‘just right’ the first-time around. We then end up not achieving anything. If we do produce something then we constantly beat ourselves up for not being better. It is as you say, we should enjoy the process and not be too concerned with the end result.

    You are right; whenever I get past ‘having to have things right’ I am always amazed with what I have achieved. At least I have something – a result of sorts. Strangely I sometimes feel quite proud of the fact that I have persevered and at least have something tangible in the way of a result.

    Thank you for listing some approaches to get past our faulty thinking about how life is all about being ‘right’ every time and nothing else will ever do.

    The points you make are very practical things to try and so I will keep these handy as a reference for whenever I find I am re-doing things, or worse still, failing to even start.

    Thank you

    • Grace Marshall

      You’re most welcome Glyn. Sometimes our best discoveries come from mistakes, and sometimes the result can be even better than anything we could have initially imagined or planned for. I find it freeing to know there are alternatives when ‘right’ isn’t working 🙂

  2. Eve

    I really liked a saying I heard for the first time last week: you don’t need to be good, on time or nice at the same time. Two is enough 🙂 It stuck with me.

    • Grace Marshall

      Oh I like that Eve. Given my previous post on latecomers, you can probably guess which two I usually go for!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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