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You do not have to be good

Today I discovered how freeing it can be to write down all the ways in which I do not have to be good. These are stressful times and yet we don’t give ourselves permission to do less without feeling guilty.

We imagine that everyone else is productive and creative and bringing healthcare workers meals and saving deportees at the border. We think we are the only ones who are struggling to get dressed or have a shower.

But tense times make it difficult to motivate. And If you are a well-meaning person who wants to make an impact in the world, you are probably beating yourself up right now because there are people with much more difficult problems than yours.

Stop it. Give yourself a little self-compassion. Then join me in a little game that writing geeks like to play.

It’s called “extend a line.”

Here’s how you play: Use the first line of Mary Oliver’s famous poem “Wild Geese” which is “You do not have to be good…” and extend it with your own words.

Imagine you are writing a gigantic permission form to yourself and you want to list all the ways you do not have to be good. Lower the bar. You do not always have to be a self-improvement project. 

Here’s my attempt at extending the first line of “Wild Geese.” *Thanks to Adrie Kusserow for the idea!

Wild Geese in the Time of Corona

(by Susie Rinehart, with deep apologies to Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good. 

You do not have to walk 

on your knees through your Clorox-wiped floors, repenting.

You do not have to be good at sheltering in place.

You do not have to be good at sewing masks.

You do not have to be productive.

You do not have to wear pants.

You do not have to feel shame for losing your cool.

You do not have to pick up the laundry you threw out the window, 

or the iPad.

You do not have to keep your voice down. 

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours. And I will tell you mine…

–Read the whole, real poem here.

When I was done, I laughed out loud. I felt free of the loud inner critic. I felt light. I felt connected to all of you who might be going a wee bit mad. There is power in celebrating who we are rather than who we strive to be.




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