What To Do When You’re Afraid of Being Wrong

I’ve narrowed my topic, found my niche, and tapped into my passion … and now I’m terrified to write about it, because what if I’m wrong?

I want to write about being a dreamer while you’re a mom, about using your skills both at home AND at work, or as a volunteer. Making a difference in both the small world of your kids’ lives AND in the great big world outside your door. I know it’s possible to do both, because I’ve done it for the six years I’ve been a mom. I am delighted with the career I’ve built, part-time, while raising children who also delight me.

 

But what if I’m wrong?

I was wrong before when I thought (and argued) that the only way to be a Godly woman was to have children and stay home with them. That’s the way I was raised, and that was my expectation for myself before my oldest daughter, Katherine, was born. I quit my full-time job at an ad agency to stay home with her. Then the non-profit whose account I had managed at the ad agency called me up and asked me to work for them a few hours a week. I worked there part-time for five years until we moved out of the country, and I loved it. And I know I made a difference in many people’s lives with my work.

I could be wrong now in saying, “Hey, if you want to work part time while you’re raising kids, here’s how you can do it!” Maybe I’ll eventually work full time again, and maybe I’ll be wrong when I talk about that as well.

I’m afraid of being wrong, and I’m also afraid of being criticized. I think I can handle criticism as long as I know I’m right…but I don’t know if I’m right. I now think that “right” is a lot more subjective than I thought it was 6 or 7 years ago. I recently saw what the Internet can do to people who dare to Have Opinions, when I commented on a Harvard Business Review post, Dear Colleague, Put the Notebook Down. I got lambasted in the comments, and I didn’t even write the original post! I only commented in agreement! People said terrible things to me, and worse things to the author. So…yeah. It’s terrifying out there.

So what do you do when you’re afraid of being wrong, but you want to express an opinion anyway?

1. Clarify that you’re giving an opinion

I have very strong opinions on a lot of things, and I think the world would be a better place if more people took my advice. I think natural childbirth is infinitely preferable to medicated birth. I think cats are the best pets in the world and that dogs are generally gross. I think people who have sex when they don’t want to have children are crazy, because babies. I think ketchup is a food group, and it’s pointless to eat a hamburger unless it drips ketchup when you squeeze it (and therefore Danish people who eat burgers with a knife and fork are doing it wrong).

But these are opinions. Well researched and extensively thought out opinions, but still opinions. Unless we’re talking about the Gospel, I don’t claim inerrancy or unchangeability for my thoughts. And so when I say, “I think you can do work beyond taking care of your kids and home and be a great mom,” that is also an opinion.

2. Be humble and apologize when you’re wrong

I’ve given people bad advice that I later deeply regretted. I’ve argued for ideas that I later decided I was against, and I’ve debated against concepts I later decided I supported. I’m sorry to everyone I’ve led astray, confused, or hurt in the process. Reflecting on my own growth and maturing process reminds me to be more humble and open the next time I’m in a discussion. I’m learning to go into conversations as a listener, not a convincer. The best I can do is choose my words carefully and be prepared to eat them if they turn out to be incorrect. I hope I can develop a reputation as a person who speaks up quickly to right a wrong and who also speaks up just as quickly to apologize if her righting is wrong.

3. Be friends with people from many different viewpoints

Murray Bowen was a psychiatrist who worked in family therapy. He talked about the concept of Differentiation of Self, which means staying emotionally connected with your family members even when you have different values and opinions. I think emotional health lets us develop these kinds of relationships, where we disagree with people but still love them.

I love looking through my friends list on Facebook. I am connected with people all over the world. Some of them think very much like I do. Some of them share almost nothing in common with me. Some of them express opinions that raise my blood pressure because SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET! Some of them express opinions that make me nod and click “like.” All of them are human, all of them are valuable. All of them are wrong about some things, and all of them are right about other things. All of us can learn from each other.

The best way I can balance my own tendency to err is to talk about things with lots of other people. My perspective will be modified, my rights made more correct and my wrongs righted. Like diamond sharpens diamond.

 

Maybe I’m wrong now about what parents can and should accomplish. I only have my experience to speak from (well, okay, and a fair bit of research). I know what has worked for me. I have lots of ideas about building other meaningful work in addition to the meaningful work of caring for your children, so I’m going to start writing them and sharing them, and hopefully if I do it humbly enough, and with enough disclaimers, that we can all benefit from the conversation.

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  • Nichole

    I noticed a few years back that you’ve matured in this way and I’m so proud of you! I do think one will be well received if one is humble and open minded and I do think I and a lot of other women can benefit from this particular discussion. Great idea to focus on!

  • http://www.facebook.com/twentysixcats Ashley Borrego

    This is something I’ve noticed with a lot of my friends as we’ve aged from our 20s to our 30s. I used to think I knew all the right answers, too, and I can tell you that I have really hurt some of my friends for blasting them when I disagreed with their choice. As a long-time follower of your writing, I would love to know some of the areas you’ve changed.

    I look forward to reading more of your writing!

    • http://www.facebook.com/BeckyCastleMiller Becky Castle Miller

      For example…years ago I would never have identified myself as a feminist. There were too many bad connotations for me, largely because of the negative effects of second-wave feminism, particularly regarding abortion and the attacking of motherhood. But the more I learn about the deplorable conditions for women around the world, and the more I see how radical Jesus was to treat women as valuable humans instead of property, and the more pro-life feminism becomes a thing, the more I lean toward being comfortable with that label. I am really looking forward to reading Sarah Bessey’s upcoming book “Jesus Feminist.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/cmpoulsen Christina Marie Poulsen

    I enjoyed this post quite a bit Becky. I feel like it related to me at this point in my life. I actually love a good, clean debate, which is why I enjoy having friends on Facebook with so many different opinions! To me, the point isn’t to prove I am right, but to get people thinking about a certain issue. Too many people don’t think for themselves these days! And as far as your topic of working part time while raising kids, I think that is awesome for you! Unfortunately, not only do I not have the skills, but I do not have the personality to juggle many hats without becoming completely overwhelmed! Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom works for me. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for me. But that doesn’t mean only one of us is right, or that we can’t learn from each other. Moms tend to get very worked up about parenting styles, so yes, clarifying that you are ‘giving the option’ is necessary! I think this post is spot-on. Thanks (again) for sharing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/BeckyCastleMiller Becky Castle Miller

      I think it’s largely a personality issue. I am guessing that your Myers-Briggs personality type is something along the lines of ISFP. (You can do a free test here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm) You are a natural caregiver. You will probably always be most content, using your best skills, when you are providing care and nurture for other people. That makes you an amazing stay-at-home mom.

      I would disagree with you that you’re not working, though…homeschooling is MORE than a part-time job!

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  • Dani Byham

    Becky, keep being brave, as well as, humble and honest! Your words can connect people. They can encourage someone. There is this quote I like: “About all you can do in life is be who you are. Some people will love
    you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some
    won’t like you at all.” -Rita Mae Brown
    Just keep being you :-)