I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. I’ve been terrible at finishing projects, leaving things for months (or years if I’m honest) because it just didn’t feel ‘right’ or wasn’t going how I’d planned. That, or getting annoyed that something I was making wasn’t perfect, and halfheartedly slapping it together.
I’ve been known to leave a sewing project untouched in my sewing box, because I just couldn’t figure out what would make it perfect. So I left it to ‘think’ about how to change it, and then promptly forgot it even existed.
But ever since I got my first bullet journal last year, that’s been changing. It’s funny, I’d wanted to have a bullet journal for years, but was way too afraid to start one because I thought I wasn’t artistic enough, good enough at drawing, creative enough. I was terrified that I’d start one and it’d look nothing like the beautiful journals I saw on Pinterest. And you know what? I never bought that bullet journal. In fact, my first journal was given to me by my partner as a Christmas present. He knew that I was too afraid to do it myself, and he gave me the kick I needed to start one.
I would stare down and the beautiful cream pages, filled with ideas and unrealistic expectations. I’d seen countless journals online that looked like works of art. Real calligraphers writing in cursive for titles. Artists drawing sketches and doodles. Everything was perfect.
Even the materials were overwhelming. Stabilo pens and watercolour brushes and mildliners and washi tape. Everything had to be the right brand, the right colours, and all I had was one marker pen.
Eventually, I realised I’d be staring at blank pages so long that the entire year I was supposed to be cataloging would be over. So I just started. At first it was super simple, only black ink pen on the plain pages. My writing was messy, rusty from a lack of practice. And even though I was so scared of messing up, I had to just go for it.
I messed up SO many times. I used twink to cover misspelled words. I ripped out pages that had gone catastrophically wrong. I covered ugly drawings with pictures from fancy magazines. I am by no means a calligrapher, and I’m definitely no artist, so these fixes happened oh-so often. I became more creative at fixing my mistakes, and from that, I became more open to trying new things.
I began using colour in the journal. I used pictures I’d printed or cut from magazines. I started my obsessive collection of washi tape (I am incapable of saying no to a cute tape). It became easier and easier to try something new, because my mindset had changed. Instead of thinking how bad it might look or how badly it could go, I just thought – who cares? It was only a notebook. I had been putting so much weight on getting this journal ‘perfect’ – just like the pretty pictures – that I’d forgotten it was only a bunch of paper.
Now, I’m happy to try new techniques. I can flick through the pages and see many times where it didn’t work out how I’d planned, or I’d written wonky titles in messy writing. Yeah, it does still bother me that it doesn’t all look amazing, but I’m damn proud when a spread that I’m doing turns out exactly as I wanted it too.
Finally, this attitude is starting to spread to other creative areas too. I still struggle with seeing the imperfections in my sewing projects (post with pics of my recent creations coming soon!), but it’s getting easier to give myself a break and just be proud of what I’ve achieved. I think that’s one of the biggest parts of it too: we’re so hard on ourselves. We expect to be able to achieve impossible things in short periods of time, to multitask and still perform at 100%.
It’s so easy to forget that we’re only human, and if something gives us joy (even if we’re not amazing at it), we should do it. The internet is full of videos of people doing things that others don’t approve of. My personal favourite is the video of the “dancing man” Sean O’Brian, who was fat-shamed when he was out, having a dance and enjoying himself. More than 1000 people attended a dance party held in his honour, raising $70k for anti-bullying charities. Obviously, this is an extreme example. But I think we should be proud of things we attempt even if we do them badly. Cause damn, at least we gave it a shot. It seems to me that never trying anything is way worse than trying and not getting it perfect. You always improve over time.
When I look back at my bullet journals from last year and my current one, I’ve improved so much. My drawing is more confident, my writing is tidier, and I’m putting together pages with a more practiced eye.
The picture at the top of the post is a recent embroidery project I completed. I found a random picture I thought was cute on Pinterest (I think it’s originally from a shop called hoopandheart on Etsy? It’s a bit hard to trace but full credit for the pattern goes to her if so) and just kinda free-styled it. It’s my first big project using embroidery and it’d taken me a long time to start it. I’d never stitched flowers before, and I went a little crazy trying to google how to make the different flower types shown. My stitches are super uneven, and I had to cut the thread a few times because I somehow kept getting knots in it that wouldn’t undo. I even forgot to complete part of the scroll on the left, which I only realised when I took the picture.
But I finished it! Even though it’s a bit rough, I’m still really proud that I finished it. Now I’m excited to try my next project (I’m embroidering a jumper dress I already own – more to come on this when it’s done…), and hopefully learn some more techniques while I complete that one.
Sometimes all it takes to start a project is to start. Ground-breaking, I know. But it’s honestly so hard to start sometimes. And that’s okay. But I think it’s good to take a step back, and contextualise what you’re doing to make it more manageable. What dire consequences could there possibly be from making an ugly/imperfect embroidery project? Famine? No. Death? Nah. Disease? Nope. Crippling self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy? Maybe. But at least you tried, and next time you do it, it’ll be a step closer to perfection.