I have always tried to be a good girl.
It’s sad, but true. I have always been the kind of person to learn the rules, follow the rules, and even, annoyingly, expect others to follow the rules. I have been the park ranger asking you to remove your dog from the marine wildlife sanctuary (the Dog Beach is just a mile down the road, after all) and breaking your child’s heart by asking him to leave the shells he’s so carefully collected behind because they belong on the beach. I have been the neighbor who chases you down and offers you a baggie to pick up after your dog when you try to walk away and leave a fresh pile. I have been the cyclist who yells at you to “use your voice” when passing, and then yells my apologies for your rudeness to the person ahead of me as you also pass her without letting her know you’re there.
It’s not that I love rules, it’s that I understand the purpose they serve. In general, if they make sense, I follow them and ask you to do the same. (Believe me, I’ve lived in enough neighborhoods with Homeowners Associations to know that not all rules are good rules! If you want to leave your Christmas lights up until Halloween or hang unlined purple curtains with unicorns on them in your twin daughters’ bedroom with the street-facing window, go for it.)
I have to admit that when it comes to some rules – such as social ones – there is also an element of conformity involved, and with others – such as business ones – a fear of failure.
Take writing, for example. I still remember learning various grammar and punctuation rules in elementary school and I still cling to most of them – even though everyone else seems more than happy to throw them out – because they make sense and help make reading an orderly, coherent experience. Then, I went to graduate school to learn the “business” of professional writing: all the how-to’s and the industry standards and the best practices. I wanted to learn how to be a good writer as well as how to maximize my publishing opportunities and how to build a career. I learned how to format a poem vs. a short story vs. an article vs. a screenplay, how to choose which editor on the masthead to send your submission to, how to read a publication to determine whether your style, voice, or subject is a good match, when and how to seek an agent, what to expect from a publishing contract, how to set rates and ask for a raise, how to track submissions and when and how to follow up with an editor. In more recent years, I’ve read about how to build a successful blog and how to build a platform before you even begin writing your book.
All the while, I’ve been so obsessed with “doing it right” that I haven’t done anything at all – nothing of consequence, at least. Even this blog, which I began with such enthusiasm, has been a victim. I write a blog post and happily send it out into the world, then soon after get reminded that a “successful blog” is one that is targeted to deliver a specific kind of information to a specific audience. This causes me to feel anxiety that my blog is about me (I’m supposed to try to fool you into thinking my blog is about you) and not targeted and really random, and as a result, several months pass before I allow myself to forget that my blog is doomed to “failure” long enough to write another post. So, not only am I failing to build a successful blog, I’m also failing to satisfy my own needs for self-expression.
And, I’m sick of it. Constantly trying to color inside the lines is exhausting! So, here’s public notice that, from now on, I’m only going to follow the rules I want to follow. I’m 41 years old and ready to start making it up as I go along and making my own mistakes. Seriously, what mistakes can I make at this point that I really can’t recover from? So maybe I don’t maximize my opportunities or chart a nice, neat line to ultimate success. At least I’ll be putting myself out there and making myself happy. Entrepreneurship expert Pam Slim likes to say, “Test often, fail fast.” I think I could learn to love that phrase.
So, the two cliches I intend to keep at the front of my mind going forward:
1. Rules are made to be broken,
2. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission (my husband’s personal favorite).
What I’m really saying here is that there are no “life police” checking to see if I’m following the rules for how to be a good adult or writer or wife or aunt or planetary citizen, and no one else knows me the way I do. It’s time to stop trying to stuff myself into the boxes I think society expects me to fill and realize once and for all that I’m me and, no matter how I twist or turn or suck in, I’m never going to fit into a box made for or by someone else. Any role I take on has to adapt to fit me because I’m no longer going to attempt to edit myself to fit into it.
Time to let it all hang out and enjoy doing it my way! (Sorry! Couldn’t help it – I was a child of the ’70s, after all.)