As a recovering perfectionist, I tend to spend a lot of energy avoiding mistakes.
One of my longtime hobbies is knitting. I learned how to knit when I was 10, but it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I learned an invaluable lesson about mistakes.
Up until then, whenever I made a knitting mistake, I couldn’t let it go. If I had made the mistake at the beginning of my knitting session, I would compulsively undo hours of work, fix the mistake, and then redo the work.
Thankfully, one day a wise woman in a knitting group that I regularly attended saw my distress over a small mistake and told me about Arachne, the knitting goddess.
“Better not fix that,” she said. “You’ll anger Arachne.”
She went on to explain that when your work is perfect, you are challenging Arachne. But if you leave in a mistake or two, you appease her by admitting that you are human. Later I learned that Arachne was a talented weaver who had challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest. Athena was so angry over Arachne’s beautiful but blasphemous work that she turned her into a spider.
We know that we’re human and bound to make mistakes.
But perhaps we forget this and set such high expectations for ourselves because we’re surrounded by media messages telling us to curate our lives to be flawless. Open any magazine or your own Instagram or Facebook feed and you’ll see images of perfection. Even LinkedIn will tell you in percentage terms how close you are to completing an “All-Star” profile.
So it becomes easy to believe statements such as:
- There is only one correct way to load the dishwasher.
- Everyone has one soulmate out there.
- We need to search for that one job that maximizes our interests and talents.
- There is one school for my child.
We may know, intellectually, that the above are not true, but we may, unknowingly, base our behavior on such ideals.
In some situations, mistakes can be harmful, and a fix is required. For example, in knitting, if you don’t fix a dropped stitch, a whole column of stitches could unravel, leaving you with a long vertical gap (similar to a run in nylon stockings).
But in many other situations, the error is noticeable to only the knitter who is searching for the mistake. Furthermore, in real life, we often learn the most from our mistakes.
Perhaps the worst thing about trying to avoid making mistakes is that it stops you from trying new things. Perfectionists often procrastinate because they fear they won’t get it just right.
I often wonder what would happen if all the talented women in the world with perfectionistic tendencies would just let themselves off the hook, accept that they are human, and try something new. What might happen if we allowed ourselves to take one small risk?
Imagine what could be unleashed on the world.
As the desire-filled, heartbreaking song Audition from La La Land by Jason Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul goes:
Here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make