A Month of No Mistakes

Imposter syndrome is hardly the most uncommon ailment among makers and artists. I’m doing this stuff, but not really, or not the way I’m supposed to, or somehow perfectly right even though I’m a fraud.

I struggle with it daily, and it comes out in the way I present my work. I point out all the flaws as I show it to people. Look, I did make this, but I’m under no illusions of legitimacy.

So on the 5th of September, following months of polite befuddlement from others at my pronouncements of unworth, I decided to stop doing that. I imposed, on myself, a ban on pointing out errors in my work. It was a heady moment of self-worth, really. I posted it on Twitter and on Facebook, I notified my friend Bear that they could shout at me if I broke the promise; I was all set to spend a month not criticising my own work.

It coincided with a period of increased output; I’ve been working hard to keep producing things on a more regular basis. When you’ve decided not to criticise your own work, however, it’s harder to keep showing off everything when you’ve promised yourself you wouldn’t say, “This went disastrously wrong, but here it is anyway.”

So barrier number one was forcing myself to keep showing stuff. I stumbled at this hurdle a little bit, but I did my best. It went okay. Ish. I have a number of works I haven’t shown to anyone purely because I wasn’t able to deconstruct them as I did so, but I also made a lot of stuff that I saw as deeply flawed, only to hear from others that they loved them.

Barrier number two was simply stopping myself from criticising. What I saw initially as an outward-facing problem (criticising my own work whilst showing it to others) quickly turned out to be a much more internal one.

[It’s okay if you want to take a break here to sound the trumpets of OF COURSE IT DID]

Yes, absolutely, I need to stop presenting my work to others with a list of faults. But perhaps more importantly, I need to stop presenting it to myself with a list of faults. Or, perhaps, to stop viewing any type of error as a failure.

Chris recently talked, in passing, about iterations – in the sense that they are playgrounds for error-detecting (paraphrased). I took notice at the time, but only applied the theory to the physical things I make which are intended to have a use. I don’t make a lot of physical things which are intended to have a use, so that was already an excellent move on my part… But I realise now that, even if I only paint the same watercolour, draw the same picture, sculpt the same sculpture once, every single item I make works in the same way.

It doesn’t matter if a line is in slightly (or even extremely) the wrong place, it doesn’t matter if the colours didn’t mix as I’d hoped, it doesn’t matter if the living hinge doesn’t work the way I’d envisioned. What matters is that something was learned, some skill was practiced, and something – however flawed – was made.

And if I can draw that understanding, that learning, and that acceptance from every single thing I make, then in their own way, they’re all perfect.

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