You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
– from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
When I didn’t know the details of the life I wanted to live 6 years ago, I tried imagining a new future. The other tactic I applied was letting the “soft animal of my body love what it loves.”
Although I didn’t have that language yet. I simply called it exploring stuff I was interested in. Years later, I’d refer to it as “chasing tennis balls” – inspired by a commencement speech by Dropbox founder Drew Houston.
I began chasing anything. Everything. If it interested me, if I was curious about it – I chased it.
Or at least I wanted to chase it. But some invisible wall or heavy chain seemed to hold me back: PERMISSION.
It felt like I needed someone’s permission to pursue the projects or ideas I was interested in.
This permission stuff must be a big deal – enough for three popular authors to dedicate a portion of their work to it. In her Big Magic workshops, Gilbert even instructs students to write “Permission Slips” from a fictitious, all-powerful headmaster or school principle, granting them permission to create / do / be whatever they desire.
Why do we feel like we need someone’s permission to chase something? Our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our lawmakers, our leaders?
I reckon it has something to do with how we’re trained and educated. The organizations we operate under stay standing as long as we continue to stand in line. Not only that – we must be good at standing in line.
And so we hesitate to begin. Almost like we’re waiting for some external force to tell us — YES, you’re good enough, and YES, this a worthy thing for you to pursue. Permission is that invisible wall between us and a deliberate, tennis ball chasing life.
This is the beginning of true adulthood: to listen to that quiet voice of truth inside you, loosen your mind’s grip on your stiff scared body, and let it love what it loves. Despite what anyone else thinks you should love.
It was difficult giving myself permission to chase things without knowing exactly why or what my hoped outcome or goal was. It felt like I needed a reason other than well, I just feel like it. But that’s how I learned what I actually wanted. It’s how I stepped closer to my “ideal day.” It’s how I still do.
If you don’t know what you want or where to start, try this: begin a phase of saying Yes. To everything that pulls you like a tennis ball pulls a dog. To anything “the soft animal of your body” loves – let it love.
You do not have to be good. You’re already good enough to begin.
And if you still need permission, here it is.