The Thief of Joy

Perfection. We strive for it. We want it. We can’t have it.

It’s a cruel trick, isn’t it?

Perfection is an unattainable ideal that steals the joy from our lives, our craft, and our work. (Yes, crafting and making are real work!) And yet, quilters seem to think we have to be perfect.

In online forums, I’ve seen lovely quilts that the maker said had a “mistake” and spent a good 5 minutes looking for where the darned thing was. Never did find it. Very frustrating. I never liked Where’s Waldo either, to be fair.

In my journey to really understand what perfectionism is doing to our craft, it’s been helpful to remember that perfection is not the same as beauty. If, as makers, we can shift our focus from perfection, which is completely unattainable, and instead focus on beauty, what creative exploration might open for us? How might we begin to see our craft as art rather than a carefully crafted pattern, or worse, a simple expression of ego?

I have an anxiety disorder, so by definition perfectionism plagues me. I’m working with a wonderful therapist who once told me, “You don’t get stunning sunsets or sunrises without some clouds.”

Since then, I pay close attention to sunrises and sunsets when I get the chance and he’s right. The truly gorgeous ones have clouds. The clouds make the beauty.

If we apply this metaphor to ourselves, our own mistakes are what make us learn, grow, and nudge toward something new. The struggle is what makes us; it creates our brand of unique. The struggle makes us accessible people.

If we apply this metaphor to our quilts, rather than focusing on our mistakes, we focus on the love, attention, fun, and anticipation that went into making our quilt. Our quilt becomes a gift of joy that we look at with affection rather than dread or embarrassment.

This shift isn’t easy. I quilt for others, so I see EVERY mistake, but I’m working on it. It’s a practice just like meditation or yoga. So what does this practice look like?

  1. Intrusive judgmental thought occurs.
  2. Ask myself: is this thought useful?
  3. Yes/No

Usually, just the act of asking myself if the thought is useful is enough to dissipate the negative, useless thoughts. If the thought doesn’t go away, then I know the thought is a red flag, a gut instinct, something that needs correcting. Then I correct it.

Again this isn’t magic, I have none of that. But it is a practice to alleviate the judge in our minds. You know the one: it may be your father’s voice, your mother’s, a particularly critical aunt, teacher, or an old “friend”. But the voice is there on audio loop, blocking you from truly seeing your quilt, eroding your confidence, telling you that you are an imposter.

The important thing to remember is that mistakes happen and to give yourself grace. Perfection is not the same a beauty (looking at you, weirdly shaped Barbie dolls emblematic of unattainable “beauty”). And that voice in your head looping around telling you a story about yourself? That voice lies.


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