Sometimes You Fail

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For a very long time, I avoiding trying anything new. Starting a new job or a new project was weighed down not by excitement, but about all the “what-ifs”. What if I’m bad at [blank]? What if I embarrass myself? What if this is a mistake I can’t come back from? I try really hard not to linger on the what-ifs of life, but they’re there.

I know my strengths and my struggles and I’ve found in my “adult”hood that I lean into my strengths and work around my struggles rather than working the skills I’m lacking. For instance, I would much prefer to write a blog and reignite my writing skills (strength) than I would create a YouTube channel which would require one of my struggles (human interaction/speaking confidently/extroversion). I take up new hobbies that I’m already somewhat prepared for (quilting, writing, reading, cross-stitch), instead of trying to strengthen a skill I don’t already have (athleticism for example).

Don’t get me wrong, I still fail in the things I think I’ll be good at. For instance, a few years ago, I wrote a blog post about taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I never followed through. Life got in the way. Or I wrote a blogpost recently about making my first quilts. I’ve got the basics down, but you can ask my mom about how useful a seam ripper can be (particularly with pesky triangles). Even within my safety net of strong skills, I can fail.

And it’s scary. Failure sucks. Rejection sucks. (Sometimes being an adult sucks.) But it’s part of life.

Because the last twelve months have been such a mess, I was reluctant to make New Year’s goals this year. Especially if I decided to share those goals online or with friends and then ultimately failed. So I’m not making goals this year.

I’m taking my own advice. When I wrote about NaNoWriMo, I talked about being creative for the fun of it, for the flexing of that side of the brain, instead of for perfection’s sake. So I want to make things this year – both physical, like quilts, and written, like this blog – because it is fun, not because I want perfection. I’m leaning into my what-ifs and saying “Yes, I will fail”. That finished quilt may suck, but at least it’s done. That blogpost may be the worst thing I’ve ever written, but at least it isn’t a blank page. I’m going to try that silly YouTube dance workout, not because I’m ever going to be a Superbowl halftime show performer, but because I like the song. And if one of my neighbors sees me dancing through the window, maybe I’ve provided a spark of entertainment in their day.

Will I fail at this non-resolution resolution? Maybe. But for now, it’s a challenge. And the competitive side of me loves a challenge.

Creativity for Creativity’s Sake

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I’ve been thinking about the benefits I get from being creative in a variety of ways. I sang and played instruments for years; I tried cross-stitching and embroidery; I wrote prose and poems and blog posts; I spent hours making little watercolor roses. I have artsed and I have craftsed. And I was never amazing at any of it.

But I’m starting to realize that that is quite alright. If I find joy (regardless of the outcome), isn’t that enough?

I think I grew up placing a lot of pressure on myself to perform to high standards (set both by myself, as well as by my education and my upbringing near a city like Washington, DC). If I was going to do anything, I wanted to do it well and I wanted to do it with purpose. Because of my mentality, I struggled to be creative if I wasn’t “good”. Writing or painting or crafting seemed to only be worth it when I liked the outcome, regardless of whether I enjoyed the experience. I could never start a creative project if I was concerned about whether the outcome would be good.

(If you haven’t yet seen Set It Up, it’s a rom-com on Netflix with a scene where the main character’s roommate encourages her to write the worst article of all time in order to break her writer’s block. 10/10 recommend for any rom-com lovers out there.)

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve accepted that I will probably never be a professional artist or a professional crafter – and that’s okay. I like where I’m heading career-wise.

But I miss the feeling of creating. So the other day, I pulled out my paints and a mini canvas and started painting for the sake of painting. A layer would dry and I wouldn’t love the outcome so I would paint another layer. After a while, I felt comfortable with letting this cheap canvas sit. It won’t be on the walls of the Louvre any time soon but I enjoyed the feeling of a paintbrush in my hand.

A lot of this reflection is related to November being right around the corner. Each November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Nanowrimo is an online challenge where participants write throughout the month with a word count goal (usually 50,000 words). Fun fact: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was a NaNoWriMo book. The idea is to get in the habit of writing everyday and in the habit of writing without self-editing. The challenging part is getting everything written without giving in to the urge to edit each paragraph – that’s what December and January are for. The organizers set up writing meetups around the world and have accounts designed to challenge you to write in different ways over different chunks of time. I’ve participated with various levels of success in the past and am debating trying this year.

But it fulfills my desire to creative without an expectation of perfection at the end. I don’t think I’ve looked back at what I’ve written during past Novembers, but that’s alright by me. (I may look back in ten years and die from laughter and/or embarrassment) but at the time those were the words I needed to form.

Will I succeed in writing a novel (with no edits) by the end of November? I don’t know. Will it spark my creative juices? Perhaps. Will I expect perfection? Hopefully not. Happy NaNoWriMo, y’all.

Let me know if you’re planning to participate or if you have in the past.