A common theme that I often hear is, “I can’t believe I keep making this mistake,” or, “When I perfect this technique,” and, “This project was such a failure.” The running theme amongst all of them is this pervasive negative connotation, that failure makes us less of a maker, less of a sewist, less of an artist. But that connotation is one that I think each of us can challenge and ultimately change within our community of makers.
The hard truth is that each day, we all fail in some small way in our making. Whether we cut a joint at an awkward angle in our woodworking, smudged the calligraphy we spent an hour creating, or sewed each of our French seams backwards, we all experience these kinds of mistakes, these tiny (and sometimes not so tiny) failures that occur. And if you’re anything like me, it can sometimes lead to backhanded remarks about yourself, poking at all the reasons why you think you aren’t good enough.
But in order to combat those types of thoughts, we have to re-frame the conversation. I personally like to redefine my approach to those negative ideas using the example of our uniqueness in our humanity: each of us are born as imperfect, flawed individuals. But we would never discard anyone simply because of their imperfections. We know that life will allow each of us to change over time, and our growth will lead us to become new, better versions of ourselves. As we overcome adversity and obstacles, as we have our eyes opened to blindspots in our actions, as we have chance upon chance to take a step back and learn, we know that we have opportunities every day to take a second to correct our behaviors and choose a new path.
Why should our making be considered any different?
We’re taught to be discouraged by any failures and to hang our heads low in shame at not performing with perfection, and I have decided to simply refuse to believe that. And I don’t think you should believe it either! I’ve come to see those moments of frustration—the ones we’ve been told make us less of a maker—as just this: the ultimate birthplace for creative opportunity. I can wholeheartedly say this with conviction, simply because I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed the true magic that happens at that exact moment that someone chooses to step away, agitated by a problem that has presented itself.
That moment, the one where we give ourselves the time to reassess and the space for a breather, it doesn’t mean we’ve given up. No, it doesn’t mean that at all! Although we may not quite know it yet, the reality is that our tenacious spirit and innate determination have had their switches flipped and are now up and running on all cylinders. Through the fog of frustrated, self-deprecating thoughts that are trying to claw their way into our subconscious, our innovative minds are actively combating that negativity. They are whirring away, tapping into our creativity in new and exciting ways, enthusiastically applying solution after solution, until it discovers a brand new way of problem-solving. That same tenacious creativity is forging new ground, clearing fresh creative pathways to foster growth in the present and greatness in the future.
Sometimes, this can happen in the blink of an eye. One moment, there’s a problem, and the next, you have a solution. And in others, it can take more than a little time. In some instances, it could be weeks before I discover the correct path in my creativity to overcome an obstacle. And it can be oh so tempting to want to berate yourself for taking your time to find the right solution, for not finding just the right answer that much sooner. But I’m here to tell you, don’t allow those types of thoughts in either! Do not let anything sour that moment, because that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction deserves its moment to shine. And the truth is, those successes that took a bit longer to come to fruition honestly always feel way more satisfactory than the ones solved quickly.
So lean into that willingness not to give up and kick the fear of failure to the curb. Use those instances instead as new sources and opportunities for your creativity to grow even stronger and more agile, teaching it to find those solutions from failures, to grab new footholds in your unique creative climb. Because what truly makes the maker is not their number of successes versus their number of failures. It is their persistence through each difficulty that truly defines them; it is both the knowledge they glean from each experience and the creativity that is born from that moment.
So makers, today I challenge you to not just see your failures as obstacles, but as exercises in resilience, tenacity, and perseverance. I challenge you to see your failures as chances to become more deeply rooted in your creative problem-solving, seeing it for the opportunity that it is to be yet another resource from which your creative magic can continue to grow. I challenge you to see the beauty in your journey towards solutions and to value your growth in your artistry. And lastly, I encourage you to embrace your creativity by appreciating your progress over obtaining perfection, while urging yourself to become stronger in your creativity, one failure at a time.