We Must Lose Our Fear of Being Wrong

Thursday, September 25, 2014

There are a lot of things that I don't like. There are a few things that I really dislike. There are only a couple things I hate. But there is one thing that I absolutely DETEST. 

I detest being wrong. I don't just detest it, I fear it. I fear what I think other people must think of me when I'm wrong: unintelligent, unkind, stupid, etc. I am afraid that being wrong is somehow weak. 

I have been wrong plenty of times. I have shouted out a wrong answer in class with confidence. I have said things I shouldn't have said. I have neglected friends and invested too much time and energy into toxic relationships. I have worried over nothing. I have been wrong, and I hate it.

However, here in France, I have been wrong so many times already. I have been lost. Hopelessly lost. I have said the wrong thing multiple times. At one point, my host father actually gave me a lesson on how to conjugate a verb that I had been conjugating very, very incorrectly, as well as a pronunciation lesson over dinner one night (apparently, I had been pronouncing the "s" at the end of mes amies when you actually don't do that in French... but then why is that letter there? I digress...).

For the first few days, I was embarrassed any time I said something wrong or incorrect. Before I said anything, I would go over it in my head to try and translate from English to French. At some points, I would even excuse myself from the table to go look up a word in my dictionary to contribute to a conversation at dinner. 

In my phonetics class, I struggle sometimes a lot. The French language is very different from English, and there are a lot of sounds that are similar but have nuanced differences. There are 4 or 5 ways to pronounce the letter "e" and the similarities are just so close that sometimes I just cannot hear the differences. At first, I was hesitant to speak up in class or volunteer my answers, but I wasn't really learning anything that way. Only by really offering myself up to be wrong, I have learned how to speak the French language correctly. I have learned about the parts of the language I struggle with, and it has allowed my professor to offer great help in how to work on overcoming those challenges (she calls them the "particularités de Zoe). My language level has already increased more in the past week than it had in the years I had been studying the language before. 

It has only been here in France that I have started to realize that being able to let myself be wrong is incredibly liberating. My fear of being wrong was holding me back from really trying to experience everything that this new place has to offer. I have realized that you can fail royally at something like speaking another language, and life will go on. Letting yourself make mistakes, be wrong, and mess up allows for exploration, experimentation, and the opportunity to figure things out at you go along. 

If you allow yourself to be wrong, you are completely and totally free. In some weirdly counterintuitive dichotomy, being wrong can be a good thing, and here is why:

1. The surest way to learn is to do, and to do doesn't mean to do perfectly. It means stumbling, falling, mispronouncing words, misconjugating verbs, and misunderstanding people, but it also means standing up, brushing off, and throwing yourself wholeheartedly into the next adventure. Being wrong is the only way to figure out how to be right.

2. You learn to trust yourself. Usually, when I'm wrong about something, I beat myself up. I hurl insults at myself, and tell myself that I'm unintelligent, not creative, or not a good person. Of course, none of these things are true, and I can only work on trusting and loving myself when I feel like I cannot be trusted or loved. Being wrong is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of being willing and able to learn... and that is very much a strength. 

3. You discover other things that you could have missed otherwise. As I'm wandering the streets of Caen at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, I am desparately lost and there is not a soul in sight. Right when I'm ready to call my host mom, I happen to cross the street and I find myself in a beautiful garden. I walk around the perimeter, noticing all of the beautiful flowers and grasses, and something rings a bell. I remember my host father talking about a garden by a church... and the Abbaye aux Dames? Sure enough, I have wandered straight to the garden of the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, one of the most peaceful places in the city. From here, I can use my map to figure out how to get home. However, had I not gotten lost just by wandering around the city, I would not have found one of my now-favorite places in the town. Similarly, if you are wrong about one thing, it could lead you to be right about another... how many times have you heard about accidental discoveries? 

Therefore, I would like to change the quote at the beginning of this post. Instead of, "In order to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong..." I propose that in order to live a life of value, adventure, and substance, we must lose our fear of being wrong, and embrace the freedom that comes with letting ourselves make mistakes and learn from them.  

I have begun the process of losing my fear of being wrong, and I have felt incrementally freer. 

How have you overcome your fear of being wrong? Have you? What makes you feel better about being wrong? 

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