Permission to be yourself

Published by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Today I was reading William Zinsser’s newest book of essays and was struck by what he said about his students, mostly women, who take his memoir-writing class:

Most of them are paralyzed by the thought of writing a memoir. How can they possibly sort out the smothering clutter of the past? But mainly it’s fear of writing about themselves.

… I want them to think of themselves as people — women who lead interesting lives and who also write, trusting their own humanity to tell plain stories about their thoughts and emotions. Why do they think they need permssion to be themselves? “Who would care about my story?” they say. I would. I give them permission to write about the parts of their lives that they have always dismissed as unimportant.

What Zinsser does for his students is what we do for our children when we support them to pursue their own meaningful work.

If they begin early enough, they may never hesitate and think that they need permission to be themselves. But if they start a little later, or if they hear messages from peers and the other people around them: Shh, don’t embarrass yourself. Don’t embarrass me. You’re not good enough. You’re not old enough. You’re not smart enough. Maybe later. Shh.

These messages don’t even have to be spoken out loud; they come through as gestures and grimaces and parents changing the subject. Enough of that and they may believe no one cares about what interests them. They may doubt that anyone will be interested in what they have to say. They may doubt whether they can be writers and artists and builders and makers. Does the world need or want what they can offer?

By being your child’s first audience, you send the message: Someone cares about what you think. Someone cares about what you make and do.

By supporting their work, whatever it is, you show them that they can produce what they consume. They can contribute something of their own. Their perspective and their opinion matters. Their ideas matter.

Many of us are paralyzed at the thought of doing whatever it is we want to do. We think no one cares or wants to hear what we have to say. We think our contribution is so negligible, it’s not worth anyone taking notice — and if they did take notice… well, our heart beats faster just at the thought.

When we do our own meaningful work and when we make it possible for our children to do theirs, we’re helping them avoid falling into this trap. They don’t need anyone’s permission to be themselves. They don’t need to be picked. They don’t need to be praised or rewarded. Their ideas matter. Their opinions matter. Their interests matter. The sooner they learn that — the sooner they know it’s true — the sooner they can own their feelings, their interests and talents, and their life.

Make sure they know they have your permission to be themselves.


Comment by Angie on November 19, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Fabulous. I needed this for myself as much as I needed it as a parent. I often worry what signals I'm sending, as I struggle to overcome the messages of my past. Your reminder here is valuable.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 11:57 AM

thank you! <3

Comment by Stephanie Bonin on November 19, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Once again you spoke right to my heart Lori.
There was a time that I omitted things from my journal even. My thoughts were that others shouldn't read this...when I die!
Can you say confidence problem?!?

Comment by Angie on November 19, 2013 at 01:09 PM

I relate to this, Stephanie.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 01:15 PM

that made me laugh but i know exactly what you mean! that sense that you are going to be seen and judged. that feeling of “i shouldn’t be putting this out there” … even when it’s in your private journal…

Comment by dawn suzette on November 19, 2013 at 05:36 PM

I know this, Steph! I stop. I think. I can't even write that!

Comment by sarah pj on November 19, 2013 at 12:42 PM

The part about how we're so scared to be ourselves resonated with me in a way too uncomfortable way. I'm still sabotaging myself and my project(s) with the belief that no one is going to like or want what I have to offer to the world. I'm not sure when I lost confidence in myself, but I think it was a long time ago. I'm so thankful that my children feel confident to be themselves. At least I've done that right!

Comment by Angie on November 19, 2013 at 01:10 PM

Me too, Sarah. I think my sense of worth eroded over time, based on external messages, the sort that Lori wrote of. Now desperately rebuilding, and hoping I am doing ok by my kids.

Comment by sarah pj on November 19, 2013 at 01:26 PM

Yeah, there wasn't a lot of tolerance for less than perfect in my growing up years. I'm still afraid to put anything out there that isn't perfect. Then, in the jobs that I have had, perfection was required as well, so oof. It is so ingrained in me that if it's not perfect, it's not good enough.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 01:17 PM

i think a lot of us get tripped up very early on — that sense of being judged and probably found wanting, that message that we should be SURE we’re going to be great before we ever take a first step.

and it’s so easy to see how that lack of confidence gets passed down! parents trying to protect their children from the things they always tried to avoid themselves: public embarrassment, shame, failure … even just seeming *ambitious*.

Comment by gthomas on November 19, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Absolutely! It reminds me of one of my favorite children books that I used to read to my kids, Miss Rumphius. Not exactly what you are saying but worth a read!

Comment by amy21 on November 19, 2013 at 02:02 PM

They don’t need to be picked.

This. This whole idea of not having to wait for someone to pick us... I think it's hard to get through your head if you've been brought up the usual way, where everything was a competition to be picked--for the softball team, for the Honor Society, for the Good College, for the Right Internship (assuming you could afford to work for free), for the Correct Job. And then we think we have to strive to get picked for something and we're failures if we aren't, and it's a revelation when you realize you can JUST PICK YOURSELF. And hopefully we are doing things differently so our kids will grow up *knowing* that.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 06:06 PM

+1 everything you said

Comment by dawn suzette on November 19, 2013 at 05:47 PM

Thanks for this, Lori!
I would say' "really great timing" but everything you write is pretty timely all the time!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 06:04 PM

aw, thank you! :)

Comment by MirandaMiranda on November 20, 2013 at 12:34 AM

This is timely for me too - I wrote in the forum about my daughter's desire to do something in public, from a lucky dip stall to selling her artwork. Until recently I automatically discouraged her, feeling that we couldn't impose on people, that it is too rude/demanding to ask 50c for a drawing. I can directly relate this to my own sense of self-worth.

I am so proud of my daughter for not yet being squashed by my (and the world's) lack of faith. I am committed to trying to help her find a way to get her work out there, whatever that may mean. Even though I still cringe at the idea of asking people for stuff...!

Now she wants to put on a whole mini-fete at the local park, raising money for the Philippines (bless! plus a bit for her she says), manned (girled?) exclusively by her and her twin 6 year old sisters. I am uncertain if collecting money at the park is even legal! But I feel strengthened by the reminder of the importance of her self-belief in this and in in everything.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 20, 2013 at 08:41 AM


i love that so much. and it makes me think of amy’s daughter making cards to raise money:

and if your daughter keeps a bit of the money for operating costs, that has plenty of precedence in the world of charity organizations! ;o)

re: not even knowing whether it’s legal, that is a whole line of inquiry she will have to do! she’ll have to contact the right people and find out whether it’s allowed, when, whether there’s a fee, and so on. great learning. :)

i can’t wait to hear more about this! and hugs to you for supporting her even though it nudges you out of your comfort zone. xoxoxo

Comment by Abbe on November 20, 2013 at 08:23 AM

Beautifully put, Lori! Since my homeschooled children are a little older now, I find myself thinking a lot about my next career choice, but I am out of practice with "putting myself out there." Time to build that muscle up again! What's the title of the Zinsser book? The Writer Who Stayed? Looking for a car trip read! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 20, 2013 at 08:38 AM

yes! that’s the one; it’s his latest. it’s a collection of his “zinsser on friday” columns, so a bit random; i especially enjoy his writing on writing. :)

Comment by christi10 on November 20, 2013 at 10:29 AM

So timely...i was so scared for my 7 yr old to put his models made from recyclables on display at the library, but i realized that was my issue not his. He pursued getting the display space and was determined to show the world what he'd accomplished and i wasn't about to squash that no matter how worriec i was people would not understand what he'd made. it wasn't a perfectly made craft, but creations totally his own and he was excited about them and very proud. I hope he's never afraid to put himself out there and that he continues to pick himself and, most importantly, that i never get in his way.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2013 at 08:58 PM

wonderful :)

hopefully he can keep his self-confidence and build on his experiences!

Comment by sparklingbay on November 23, 2013 at 05:10 PM

I posted about this very issue on my blog recently. How instead of being proud of my daughters confidence and openness, instead I am embarrassed..figured it was because I was controlled as a kid. Gotta love and accept yourself before you can accept your kid. Hardest thing about parenting but one of the best. You have to give yourself the parenting u never received and simultaneously give it to your kids. Would love to know more about your background some day Lori, to know where all these wonderful ideas and self belief came from. It's hard for us who didn't have a great start. Most of us I bet !

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2013 at 09:01 PM


even if we’re lacking confidence ourselves (from experiences when we were kids), our kids can help *us* learn to put ourselves out there. a great thing. :)

you can read a little about my background on my about page here: — my own motivation came more from uninspiring experiences in my youth; i wanted better for my sons!

Comment by Leah Courtney on January 14, 2014 at 12:20 PM

I love this. It's so true. Some of my kids' friends go to traditional school, and often it seems they are much more self-conscious and easily embarrassed. I know some of it is personality, but I think some of it comes from the "safety" of being yourself when you are homeschooled.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2014 at 12:54 PM

agree completely. when you’re in a social situation where you’re going to get immediate negative feedback every time you step out of the socially accepted norm, you’re verrrry careful about what you do and say.

my kids are so confident about who they are, and they’ve been that way from such a young age!

but when you grow up in a situation where you’re not  constantly being “corrected” by your peers and you have a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, your *normal* differences (“weird homeschooled kid” usually means “confident, doesn’t care what other kids think” to me) seem … normal!

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