A surprising thing happened yesterday on the way home. After listening to a recent episode of the Knitpicks podcast I was inspired to order the two books reviewed in the episode - Knitting in Plain English and Sweater Design in Plain English, both by Maggie Righetti. (By the way, how cool is it to order things while on vacation and return to the office to find the packages sitting at your desk?!)
I was looking over the books yesterday as I finally got around to taking them home, and I read the first chapter of Sweater Design in Plain English. This chapter is called "Overcoming Your Fear of Failure and wow! It's really not about knitting, it's about life! Apparently, when Maggie Righetti talked to beginner designers, their biggest fears in designing a sweater were of criticism and failure.
I didn't buy this book because I'm planning on designing a sweater. My creative/design skills are pulled more in the direction of architecture (my profession), photography, graphic design, writing. I love knitting but right now I do it for fun, enjoyment, relaxation. I try not to be too much of a perfectionist or stress out about it - I don't want it to become too much work. Plus I haven't even really knit what I would consider a "real" sweater yet ie one that requires some real attention to fit and sizing to the degree that it will make or break how the piece looks. A baby cardigan obviously doesn't count and nor does a tank. The lacy hooded tunic is too loose fitting to count, and the asymmetrical wrap, while sweater like, doesn't require much shaping to speak of either, and in all cases I just followed the pattern exactly.
However, I bought the book because of Kelly Petkun's description of how helpful it is in describing what sweater shapes best suit different body types, almost in the way that a personal shopper can be helpful in wardrobe choices (I would really love a personal shopper! I'm thinking of trying it...) And I would like to feel more confident about picking sweaters to knit and making modifications so they fit and look good.
But back to the surprising part - the non-knitting part, because fear of criticism and failure is not a big factor for me in my knitting, but it rang some big bells for me in life. I remember a wise old professor, since deceased, telling my parents at graduation that was a true free spirit. I will always remember that because I don't feel like I look like one or even feel like one, but deep down I am, and I guess it's not so much about lifestyle or outward appearances or attitudes, but about my inward approach to life. I mean, probably it's not as inward and hidden as I think, but I am a risk taker. I don't accept the status quo and I push for change. I question how things are done. I don't follow tradition or precedent just because. I figure out how to get things done.
I used to think I was a perfectionist but I think it's just that I have high standards, because I prefer imperfect action to perfect inaction. I think it's partly a result of learning over the years to overcome my own tendencies towards procrastination. I also no longer think that no one can do it as well as I can, and if I want it done right I have to do it myself. I've discovered the joys of having other people do things! I've learnt the thrill of collaboration and delegation - of being able to achieve more through others than I could by myself.
Yes, this chapter reminded me of all this because this chapter also reminded me that "there are many critical people in the world" and that I "must expect to be criticized for creativity, for solving [my] problems in a unique way, and for making innovative changes whether or not [my] efforts are successful."
Fear of criticism doesn't paralyze me, but I don't take too kindly to being criticized. The chapter also reminds me that "one of the best ways to get over the effects of unwanted criticism is to consider why it was made." Possible reasons include inferiority, lack of experience or knowledge, jealousy, fear of anything new or different, fear of being left behind... and this is where the bells really started going off. I know this of course but sometimes we have to be reminded of things over and over - but yes of course! Criticism is often more about the person criticizing than the person being criticized! And this is another rule of thumb that I've learnt the hard way but apparently still have to be reminded of - it's not about me! People are generally all about themselves and not about other people. I'm about me. Other people are about them. This doesn't mean that criticism can't be useful, but it means it should not be taken personally, and you can discard the rest.
I think I have a hard time with criticism in part because I can't do more than my best. And criticism is generally of things that can't be changed. It's funny because I didn't have a problem with the "crit" system in architecture school - in fact I enjoyed it, but I think "crit" as in critique is different from criticism. A critique gives you further insight into your work and helps you move forward. It's a discussion. You get to present your work first, and a good critique is balanced and fair and talks about the good and the bad. It's an overall assessment. When I was researching performance evaluation systems for work, I remember reading that criticism does NOT motivate employees or improve performance. (Discussing expectations and setting goals does.)
The other part of the chapter is about fear of failure and once again, the book reminds me of something I already know - "it is okay to make mistakes. Even experienced designers make mistakes... this is the nature of innovation." No one likes to fail, but it's good to remember that we learn as much if not more from mistakes, and it's a privilege and a luxury to be allowed to make mistakes (ie to not be so heavily supervised that you can't make your own mistakes).
Shoot for the moon - you will be criticized and you will make mistakes but the only other solution is to do nothing.
And all this from a knitting book!