As a kid, I was considered short and underweight. So when I started playing organized basketball, I had to put every bit of my too-tiny preteen body behind the ball and hurl it underhand at the hoop. This awkward approach has an aptly mortifying name: “granny style.”
I looked ridiculous and was ridiculed for not shooting the “right” way. But it was the only way I could get the ball to the basket. So I persisted. And I perfected my granny shot so solidly I won multiple free throw competitions.
Other kids shot the right way. But I found a way that worked for me. And I took home the trophies.
Yet, despite my fairly won awards, the sweetness of victory was spoiled by a nagging sense of shame—I hadn’t done it the “right” way.
I was house-sitting in Los Angeles recently and discovered a basketball hoop in the backyard. There was no one to critique my form, so I tossed up a shot—this time, the right way.
The satisfying sound of textured leather slipping through woven ropes triggered a tsunami of childhood memories, and I closed my eyes.
I was tiny and 10 again, standing on the free throw line in a school gym. Kids shouting, parents clapping, coaches blowing their whistles. With my clammy palms clasping the dimpled leather, I blocked out the noise and focused on one thing: put the ball in the basket.
Squat. Granny shot.
My parents cheered. The coach chuckled and tallied the shot. I was an oddity. But odd isn’t against the rules.
When I opened my eyes that sunny day in L.A., weather-worn hoop before me, a tear slipped over my lashes.
An unexpected insight nearly knocked me over: My entire life, I’d let someone else’s definition of the “right” way dilute my joy.
From that childhood free throw line to college to my career, I’d limited myself to partial pride any time I didn’t do something the “right” way: I was a lower-class, public school kid who chose an obscure major at a private college attended by wealthy premed students and soon-to-be investment bankers.
I was a freelance digital nomad long before that lifestyle was in vogue. A solo female traveler. A single, childless woman in her 30s. There was a “right” way, and it seemed I was doing it all wrong.
“Jack of all trades, master of none,” they’d chide. “When are you going to get a real job? Isn’t it time to settle down?” they’d insist.
I’d earned scholarships, traveled the globe, built businesses, nurtured international relationships, and acquired a diverse skill set that kept me afloat—even in global economic crises. But my bliss was always diminished by a fear that I hadn’t achieved any of it the “right” way.
Standing in front of that hoop, I realized it wasn’t the approach that mattered, but the results. There’s no one right way to live a life. The relentless resourcefulness that led me to swish time and again in my life was a strength—not a shame.
Some people have perfect form and fit the mold. Others shoot granny style. There’s no shame—and sometimes there’s even great success—in that.
Sunny Fitzgerald is a freelance writer, international education consultant, and travel enthusiast. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic, the New York Times, and BBC Travel.