April 1, 2014

the gift of feeling floppier

And my fear of failure has been lifelong and deep. If you are what you do...and you do poorly, what then? It's over; you're wiped out. All those prophecies you heard in the dark have come true, and people can see the real you, see what a schmendrick you are, what a fraud.
-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

One of the classic kid-stories about my childhood is me, at about 5-years-old, sobbing, "I hate being wrong!" So no, there have never been any perfectionist tendencies in my oldest-child, type-A personality. Why do you ask?

Anyway, I totally failed at a project that I thought would be foolproof and flawless. Here's how the story goes:

My sweet, talented and creative friend, Caroline Brewer, and I were asked to decorate for Bri Emery's Blogshop workshop that was coming to Nashville. We were so pumped and so ready to tackle the project. We were stepping outside of our creative safe-zone and working with colors we only admire from afar--hot pinks and neon yellows and glitter. But you know what? Bring it on, because we were ready and this is what we're good at.

Our plan was to hand paint popsicle sticks and glue them together in a herringbone pattern to create the 8'x10' photobooth backdrop that would be at the event. How many popsicle sticks? Oh, just a cool thirty-five-hundred. Three-comma-five-zero-zero popsicle sticks. We split up the painting and reconvened to lay this beautiful idea down on paper. So we started hot gluing and chatting and gluing and chatting and about three hours into laying down the pattern, we decided to take a look at our work--our wonky, totally skewed work. I'm not sure how it happened, but we'd somehow gotten off track and our pattern was about a foot wider at the top than it was at the bottom, and we were only about 1/4 of the way done. *Cue panic mode.*

The details are boring, but the gist is that I failed. I failed at something that was so beautiful in my head, but I couldn't execute in real life. I failed creatively, and isn't that what I'm supposed to be good at?

So we started from scratch, brought the aesthetics back to something more us and in the end, we created something we were really proud of and that felt beautiful to us. I doubt we would have been as proud of the end result if we hadn't wasted so much time and energy on our initial idea, but that's one of the gifts of failure, I think.

...by then I'd figured out the gift of failure, which is that it breaks through all that held breath and isometric tension about needing to look good: it's the gift of feeling floppier.
-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

So, if that's the case, and I think it is, I felt totally floppy. I was tired and discouraged. But it didn't mean that I was the worst and completely inept. It meant that I'd tried something that stretched me and that failure is part of the process. It meant that I got to take another swing at my facade of perfectionism, and AMEN to that. It meant I was able to be a little more real and vulnerable.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life... I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life

Here's to screwing up, feeling floppy, trying again and having fun while doing it.

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And as a side note, if you can't tell, Ms. Lamott is my favorite author and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith is my favorite book. Her writing is so full of honesty and grace. Pick up a copy and have your pen or highlighter ready.


Shannon said...

Thank you for sharing. I can't believe this is what you shared today as I just read out of Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist and she spoke on this very thing. And I am sure it was beautiful! You are so gifted.

Gaby said...

i love her books as well! i just finished operating instructions (i have a baby) and i wanted to highlight the whole damn thing. she's wonderful. and what a wonderful story :)

Natalie said...

i love your perspective on this (and so sorry about what happened!). you are amazing at what you do, and i'm sure the final result was stunning.

Nicole (Bellenza Party Suite) said...

That was really nice to read. What a lovely story and lesson.

Iglika said...

I stumbled on your blog today because of your wonderful images…then I started reading your post and I couldn't stop. I found it at the perfect timing. Lately I have been struggling with what we call success and failure and how to fall, but not to stay down for a long time.

I am sure the end result of your project was beautiful. Sometimes we are the hardest critics.

Your blog and work are wonderful. Keep creating.

Laurel said...

I love Anne Lammot! And its so nice to hear this perspective from someone else who struggles with perfectionism. Thanks for being real! You're work is so lovely!!