Does this email read OK? 

Whenever I post on social media or send an email, I completely overthink it. Can you help me stop stressing?

Our elder helps this letter writer let go of perfection in favor of ‘good enough’.


Dear EWC

Hi! So, whenever I send messages or emails, I always go over them to the point of obsession before I send them. I’m always afraid I sound weird, or I made a mistake or problem in the message. It happens for social media posts, work/school emails, texts, and even regular letters or notes. And after I send them, I worry about it until the person responds. If I have an outbox, I check it and read over the message again and again. Sometimes I get discouraged from sending messages at all because I’m afraid of sounding weird. To combat this, I try to call or talk in person whenever I can, or just put my phone or computer in another room to try to distract myself. My question is, can you think of any way to stop stressing out about sounding strange over text? And this is just localized to messages or posts; I’m a writer! I never worry about my work sounding strange. (I read over this letter about 20 times before I sent it too; I hope it sounds OK!) Thanks for your help!


William replies

Thanks for taking the time to write in and share your dilemma with us. I picked your letter because I also tend to do what you are doing. For whatever reason, we seem to feel others judge us by the quality of what we write. I say this in the context of grammar and spelling, not the intellectual content. That’s a different issue.

First, I agree if it’s an important document like a resume, a literature assignment in school or university, a legal paper, or the like, proofreading is essential because a misspelling or bad grammar can cause the reader to think we are careless. Even worse, there are cases where a misplaced comma or similar can change the context of what we write. In extremely rare cases, there have been legal or financial consequences. However, you are not talking about legal letters or Fortune 500 company’s statements. You are talking about day-to-day correspondence.

Most of our correspondence isn’t very important in terms of grammar. This is especially true with simple things like text messages, emails to friends and relatives, and most social media postings. Still, I cringe when I see things like “I will be their @ 6 an hope U can make it too?”  Sure, I can understand what the sender of that hypothetical text is saying, but it still isn’t right.  You don’t strike me as someone who would send something like that. For example, your letter was great. Nothing was misspelled and the grammar was A1.

The savior for me was the French philosopher Voltaire who said, “Perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough’.”  That quote saved my bacon many times, not only in over-proof-reading my writing but in most things I do in life. I have it on a “fridge magnet” on the wall above my desk, and I glance at it almost every day. At some point, even if we know we probably could do better if we kept redoing a task, we have to say, “That’s good enough.”  If we don’t, we’ll never finish anything. It’s hard to hit the send button, but sometimes we have to do so because it’s more important to get the message out than to fret about all the grammar details. I agree it is very annoying to send something and then read it 10 minutes later only to find we put a “you” instead of “your,” “there” instead of “they’re,” etc. We can read the thing ten times and not see this, and once we send it, it jumps out at us. Arrgghh!

Look at it the other way. When you read something, another person has written, do you dismiss them as dumb or not understand their message because of a few typos? I bet you do not. And 99 percent of the time a reader will not think twice about a few typos we make. Adult communications aren’t school with a strict grammar teacher standing over us ready to criticize. Look at the writings of prime ministers, presidents, CEOs, etc. Their communication is not often grammatically perfect, yet most are successful in their chosen field.

The bottom line is we are our own harshest critics. It’s hard to stop doing so, and I don’t think there is a magic answer to change this behavior overnight. It takes time. It takes practice to un-learn these things. Memorize Voltaire’s advice:

Perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough’.

When you write something, and you are tempted to give it “just one more proofread”, say that phrase to yourself and ask if it needs to be perfect. That works for me. My guess is there are a few grammar errors in this response. Would I like there to be none? You bet! However, I can spend all day revising this, and I probably will get it close to perfect. If I do that, you’ll have to wait longer for my advice, and I have other letters to consider answering. I will re-read this once, maybe twice, and then send it. I know that it probably isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough. My goal is to give you the best advice I can, not to write an ideal paper for an English assignment!

Thanks for writing to us. I hope you’ll write back and let me know how you are doing. If you do choose to write again, I expect to see ‘good enough’ grammar, not perfect. 🙂  Good luck!

Article #: 435813

Category: Self-Improvement

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