You Don’t Have to Be Good

One of my favorite poems of all time Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver, begins with that line.

“You don’t have to be good.”

The poem is a masterful comparison of human beings to the nature around them: raw, animal, and deserving of compassion for being so. The statement of it has stuck with me for years as one of the most arresting notions I’ve come across.

I think that is because, somewhere along way for humans, being “good” became a really important thing. Something that we strive for, and also a benchmark that ultimately generates a lot of shame, fear, and resistance to spread our wings, like the geese in Oliver’s poem.

We grow up seeing talent and performance praised, and everyone tends to divide and conquer. The “good” athletes play sports. The “good” artist become art majors, the “good” cooks build a repertoire of recipes, and the “good” musical types sing songs and learn to play instruments. We pursue what we believe we are good at. And that is fair enough. Often, we enjoy it. And it is a survival skill, too. Talent is a great way to survive, and often is a key to fulfillment.

But, last week I had a dream that I was sketching fantastically. I woke up amused by it. And in an unlikely reaction, I pulled a never-used sketch pad and pencil from my shelf and just went for it. The result was not the level of artistry that my dream contained, but I felt good about it.

It dawned on me then that I hadn’t drawn a picture in a few years, because I don’t think I’m a good enough artist to bother. In that moment, still bleary-eyed in bed, I realized how many things I don’t do because I stopped believing, at some point, that I was good enough to do them. I even get inhibited to write sometimes because mine not as good as the work I read— and that is something I feel fairly good at! So here I am, now with years of neglecting things I once enjoyed -dance classes, singing, water sports, drawing.. I have such strong ideas of what I’m good at and “not good at”, without even trying in recent memory!

How can we know what we are good at if we haven’t even practiced in years? Or perhaps even since we were children? And who said we have to be good at singing to sing, or good at drawing to draw, or good at anything to keep trying? I’m done not doing stuff just because someone once made me feel I wasn’t as good as somebody else. I’m not gonna live to be the best- there will always be someone better. And life is not a competition- it is an experience.

So, sing your heart out, even if it is off-key. Pick a class or a daily practice that once made your heart come alive before self-consciousness stepped in and stomped out your joyful expression. Treat yoself! Life isn’t about being good. It is simply about being.

In Love, Caitlyn

Caitlyn HoweComment