In The Elements of Style, the author’s English professor, William Strunk, was obsessed with tearing down weak writing. He hated any form of expression that held itself back. To him, timidity was worse than ignorance. Strunk said:
“If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!”
I’ve spent my life not living this philosophy, but now I see the beauty in it. Not only is it ok to be wrong, but holding back what you want to express kills its potential.
Reasons You Should Risk Being Wrong
- The quicker you’re wrong, the quicker you can course correct.
It’s similar to the artillery analogy: “Fire first, calibrates second.” You have to be willing to show your ignorance to get to the root of the problem. You gain valuable knowledge from having your perspective questioned.
- What you’re afraid to say could be exactly what someone needs to hear.
In the past, when I felt the urge to speak, I would tell myself that no one wants to hear what I have to say. But when I started saying screw it and speaking regardless, people appreciated it. Your timidity lies to you. You might not see it right away, maybe for years, but your words do impact others.
- If you’re wrong, you can learn something about yourself.
How are we supposed to improve without feedback? If you keep running from being wrong, you’ll stay stagnant. Risking the embarrassment of being wrong is an act of vulnerability, and vulnerability is tough to embrace. But in revealing our biases, we identify our gaps.
- You’re cutting yourself off from others.
You’ll never reach other people unless you’re willing to be vulnerable with them. If you choose to be polarizing and honest, you will attract the right people and chase away the wrong. But if you’re a neutral, timid, unexpressive social chameleon, you will feel unbearably alone wherever you go.
- Half-assed expression isn’t compelling to anyone.
The best a timid person can hope for is someone with a tender heart being willing to listen to them. Unfortunately, most people aren’t that nice. It’s going to require a willingness to be wrong if you want to compel, captivate, or get through to anyone.
Be Humble, Not Timid
The expression should be declarative and passionate if you want it to be effective, even if you’re embarrassingly wrong. This is especially true in writing.
Being timid is not having the strength to state your opinion without apologizing for it. So take the risk. Assert what you feel without apology.
It’s true you shouldn’t blurt out whatever you feel like regardless of the consequences, but don’t let the fear of being wrong stop you from expressing yourself as profoundly as you can.