Friday, January 11, 2013

What keeps us from moving forward?

My last post, plus the New Year, lead me to address the following (posed long ago on Ravelry): "I keep wanting to experience new things with my knitting. But then I go back to what I know how to do. I seem to be stuck somewhere within my comfort and can't seem to blast myself through that wall that's preventing me from moving forward."

I have a virtual arsenal of quotes, and stories, and opinions on this subject. And I'll begin that assault in a moment. But before I do, just let me say that while we can speak to this from our heads, we cannot think ourselves out of this place of safety. It is our feelings—usually fear—that need be conquered. So while you read what follows, listen to what resonates emotionally.  If you feel something, a button has been pushed . . . and that's where you need to go looking.

Okay. Let's start with a concept that I embrace.

There is no such thing as a mistake.

How in the world can I say that? Because you cannot be born knowing everything there is to know. (There are people who think they are, but we're grateful we're not married to them.) Your parents, your teachers, your knitting instructors could not anticipate and teach everything you need to know.

So . . . there are things you don't know and mistakes you are capable of making. And you will make them . . . until they bite you . . . and you think That isn't serving me very well. And so you do the work to learn what you need to learn to not make that mistake again.  And what can we conclude from this?

If we are capable of making a mistake, then we needed to make that mistake in order to learn what we needed to learn to not make that mistake again. And so the mistake is just an experience we needed to have so we could learn and grow.

Maya Angelou said it much better: You did the best you could until you knew better. And when you knew better you did better.

If all that seems too theoretical, let me give you a practical example, paraphrased from the book Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

On the first day of class, the pottery teacher announced a new way the class would be graded. The half sitting to the right would be graded on quality (the usual way): one perfect pot would earn an A, etc. The half sitting to the left would be graded on quantity: 50 lbs of pots would earn an A, 40 lbs a B, etc.

When grading occurred, a curious fact emerged: the pots of best quality came from the quantity side of the class. That side had turned out lots of pots, exploring ideas to produce some really good work. The quality side, on the other hand, had produced no wonderful pots: they had sat theorizing about the perfect pot rather than putting in the hours of trial and error to actually get there.

Unless we dive into our materials and just give it a go, often what holds us back from moving beyond our comfort is fear—of frustration, of failure, of waste (time or money?), of humiliation.

How do we deal with our fears? By embracing the following truths.

  • Frustration is painful but an inevitable step on the road to learning. As Winston Churchill said Creativity is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
  • There is no such thing as failure. As Henry Ford said Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.
  • I believe that there is no such thing as a waste of time. Our left brain, which is the clock-watcher, is also where established patterns reside. So when we try to establish a new pattern, this side of the brain feels out of control,  gets critical, and accuses us of wasting time. This is no reason to give up. And fortunately, knitting is a right brain activity in which time is irrelevant. (I truly believe that whatever we are doing in any given moment is exactly what we were meant to be doing in that moment. This helps me get through life.)
  • There is no waste of money in knitting: we are much to be envied because we can rip out our materials and re-use them.
  • And finally, humiliation is something we do to ourselves. (No-one can do it to us unless we let them.) And why would we do this to ourselves? We should treat ourselves as we would a grandchild.
So, what to do when we find ourselves stuck? *Try something new. Be prepared for frustration. Ignore the yammering left brain. Be persistent. Be prepared for mistakes. (Understand that these are lessons to learn before proceeding.) Learn (or teach yourself) every fix-it technique available to knitters. Employ them until you achieve success. Repeat from *.

And, sadly I suppose, be prepared to produce an occasionally truly ugly sweater. We could have a competition. But I promise you I'd win! I'd have to, if only because—over 56 years of knitting—I’ve produced a great volume. But I look at these sad pieces and comfort myself with a quote by Chekov: One would have to be God to look at both success and failure and know one from the other.


  1. Lovely article; I really enjoy your blog.
    Should the title be "What keeps US from moving forward?"

    1. Yes, absolutely, it should have been US.
      I spend so much time editing the post and am clearly neglecting the title. hmmmm . . . lesson there? something about the details?

  2. Inspiring and insightful post Sally !!!

  3. I too believe in knitting, as with most creative activities, there are no mistakes, only what works and what doesn’t. This is not mere semantic but we are what we say to ourselves.

    Love your blogs, Sally! They are always inspiring and thought provoking.

  4. Thanks to both Alice and Violinit. I appreciate your hanging in for a lengthy post and for your notes.

    I'm thinking about that "what we say to ourselves" thought. Very important stuff!

  5. Love this post! I shared it with my daughter who is an aspiring seamstress that was experiencing frustration because she felt she wasn't getting something 'right'. It was timely and welcome and relieved her frustrations so she could 'move forward'. Thanks!

  6. That's so wonderful when the right thought comes along at the right time! Thanks so much for writing! And all the best to your daughter!