My parents always voiced - and lived by - the tenet "just do your best". Somehow, somewhere along the line, I went ahead and translated that into "just be perfect".
They never told me that. They never modeled that in their behavior or their expectations or in their reactions when I came up short. It's a mystery to me where I absorbed that perfectionist mindset from, and for many years it proved to be the bane of my existence. If there were a map of my life so far, somewhere between Then and Now, there'd be a swampy area and in the centre of it, a big 'X' called The Black Pit of Perfection. It was the place where well-conceived plans and projects got bogged down and eventually choked out by fear of failure that grew like rampant weeds. Because that's all 'perfectionism' boils down to: fear of failure. I cannot tell you how liberating it felt to one day release myself from that madness.
When I finally decided to pursue my passion for ceramics, it was an act of surrender to my soul's calling. Who knew that 'surrender' can also mean 'liberation'? Well, it does. It's the difference between "giving up" and "giving in" ...that's worthy of a discussion in and of itself!
For now, I'm just so grateful that I dare to TRY. That I don't fear failure. That I don't expect perfection from myself or from others. When I made friends with failure, I freed myself to try. To learn. To grow. A simple shift in perspective has transformed my walk through life from an exhausting trek through a swamp of frustration to an uplifting stroll on the beach.
And guess what? I am called to the one visual art that is (to my untrained, art-novice mind) the LEAST predictable form there is. Ceramics asks you to understand the idiosyncrasies of the clay. To coax it and work with it. To push it to the limit, but always stay keenly connected with its boundaries because just when you rush it, or shift your attention away from the moment, it will remind you that it is fragile and needs you to consider its needs as you bring your vision to life. And just when you think all has gone well, you say a prayer and fire up the kiln and accept that you've done all you can and you will accept the outcome. At the end of the cycle, you either love it, or learn from it. These days, I try to do both. That broken mug taught me a lesson that would have remained hidden had it stayed intact after the kiln firing. It wasn't a failure to be hidden in shame. It served its purpose and I'm thankful for it.
While it remains a mystery to me where my insidious weeds of perfectionism came from, I'm grateful to be certain that they were not from my parents, because that certainty underscores what I'm about to remind you of: if you have kids under your influence, be their voice of encouragement. You see, somewhere along the line, someone will sow weeds of doubt into their mindgardens and only the echoes of your encouragement will help them find the strength to get back onto (or stay on) their path of purpose.
My biggest wish? That all influencers of children will resolve to stop saying "Failure is not an option." Failure is an option. It's the only way to improve.
Let's try some of these instead:
"There is no such thing as failure, only feedback." Brian Tracy
"Your best teacher is your last mistake." Ralph Nader
"Making mistakes is better than faking perfections." Unknown
"When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic." John C. Maxwell (Failing Forward)
"The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get." John C. Maxwell (Failing Forward)
"You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried." Stephen McCranie (I'd strongly suggest you visit his website: "DoodleAlley")
Yep. I'm well on my way to becoming a master.