Embracing Imperfection: Keep the Mistakes

Fear of failure, looking dumb, or incompetent, and wanting to always appear successful in front of people consumed me for most of my life.  It’s still a pretty big barrier to some things for me. I’m guessing most people can relate to this in some manner.

 There is at least one error in this shawl - only one of my very experienced knitting friends seems to see it. After I moved on from that, I got confused about rows and had to put it away for awhile. But I love it anyway. 

There is at least one error in this shawl - only one of my very experienced knitting friends seems to see it. After I moved on from that, I got confused about rows and had to put it away for awhile. But I love it anyway. 

And I’ve learned this lesson repeatedly through the years.  Failing, looking dumb, and not knowing things are part of life. If you don’t make any mistakes, you’re not learning, creating or experimenting enough. It’s painful in the moment and feels like eternity, but as my son says, NO ONE CARES. It’s true, most of us are so absorbed in our own concerns that we hardly notice what other people are going through - good or bad.

Social media and digital photography hasn’t helped that. We can take an infinite number of photos to get one demonstrating how perfectly we executed something, or how happy and successful we look. But it’s just that - one perfect, staged second in a day full of painful effort to pretend we have it all figured out.

Where am I going with this? The imperfections in life are what make it memorable and worth living, talking about, and continuing.  A very tangible place to apply this is with making something. When you’re learning something new, it’s very rare to get it right and make something perfect and beautiful and worthy of praise and ready to sell on your first ever try. And yet, that is what people expect from themselves when they learn a new art or craft skill.

I meet so many people who say they really want to learn how to sew, knit, paint or draw, but they never do anything to pursue that. They don’t try on their own, they don’t get together with a friend who can teach them, and they certainly don’t sign up for a class. They just pine away and say for years how they wish they could do that certain thing, and then follow up with some kind of but.  

 This was my seventh attempt at arm knitting and I'm still not 100% certain how I feel. And this photo was the best of 35 and not my favorite. But, it's fitting for this post.

This was my seventh attempt at arm knitting and I'm still not 100% certain how I feel. And this photo was the best of 35 and not my favorite. But, it's fitting for this post.

For the people who do try, they generally make something ugly and screw things up (me, too here).  I still mess up some things on projects with crafts I’ve been practicing for years. At this point, I make a decision - does it ruin the project so much that I need to start over or is it small enough that I can live with it and embrace it as a reminder of the learning I did on that project.  

This little tidbit is what separates people and allows some to take that plunge and try something new.  Since my business is to teach people things they have little or no idea how to do, I see a lot of mistakes, fear and frustration. I tell students I expect them to mess up something or several things because they’re here to learn. Then, we always find a way to work through mistakes, fix the ones that need it and adapt for the ones that aren’t as big a deal (or even find the “mistakes” are what turn the project into something cool, custom and unexpected).  And, the projects turn out great.  Totally usable, beautiful, and something each student has been proud to take home.

Think about your life.  Your moments of ease and acing something probably fade into the background compared with the times you had to work really hard for something or failed at first. If you prevailed, those are the times and projects you probably talk about and remember fondly now.  They are the special and interesting times.  You remember the challenges you overcame to learn and create your special item.  You don’t remember and cherish something as much if it was easy and you never had a single thing to fix or change. Imperfection is an important part of the creative process and being human.

I have a lot of handmade things in my home and my wardrobe from years of making things myself and receiving handmade gifts from my family. Each thing has some kind of “mistake.” In fact, one of our rituals when giving a gift is to graciously receive the thank yous from the recipient and then quickly move on to the challenge. “Can you see where I messed it up?” It’s a game to see if we can spot the imperfections in each others’ seemingly perfect work and then decide whether it is glaring, adds character, or whatever.  That might seem weird, but we have fun with it. Then we can look back over the years and see the progress in our skills, note the tweaks in future designs.  

So, take the plunge and try that thing you’ve been wanting to try. Have fun and try again. Start small (sew a pincushion) and build-up to your pie in the sky goal/wish (making a quilt or dress).