Precious Mistakes

by Mar 3, 2015

There is one thing worse than making a mistake: making everything precious. Mistakes are a part of life, every aspect of it. If you work hard and make mistakes, you learn a better method of doing things. You learn how to recognize potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. Mistakes are to be expected, mainly because they are unavoidable. But when you make everything precious, mistakes are no longer potential learning experiences. They are devastating bombs that can derail everything you’ve done and cut deeper than you have ever felt before.

When I was in art college, I was still weaning myself off of treating every art piece as precious. Each interaction of my pencil to paper was supposed to be a masterpiece, and when it failed I took it hard. Really hard. Prior to college, I was one of a handful of kids in my high school that were labeled “artsy” by my peers and teachers. It was a badge of honor more than a label to identify where my loyalties were. It was a very sports oriented school, so the artists were brushed aside for the letter jackets. But it gave me an identity that I was happy with. When I entered college, I was one of hundreds of other teens that bore the same label of artist. It was overwhelming but also irritating. I wasn’t nearly as good as most of the students, and it was a huge blow to my ego. Every assignment I did, I thought it had to be perfect the first time around. No preliminary studies, no brainstorming sketches, just perfection. When the turn-in day came around and it was absolute shit on paper, I was devastated. I was taught to make mistakes but I didn’t have the patience to go through the motions of actually making them. I thought I was some kind of artistic prodigy and everything I did would be amazing. I wanted the fame without the work. It was the best four years of my life, but it was a hard pill to swallow.

Now, as a free agent, I still catch myself treating everything as precious to some degree. I want to produce the best work, and I’m much more willing to accept mistakes and learn from them rather than push back. But when I do treat something as precious, the sting is even more pronounced than it was back in college. I should know by now what the hell I’m doing. But I don’t. Designers that make it look effortless never delve into the weeks and weeks of stress and revisions to get something just right. Maybe not even perfect, but close enough. I know if the project is for someone else, I’m less attached to the notion of it being perfect. If it’s perfect to them, that’s all that matters to me. If it’s a project for me… well, let’s just say I’ve created my own grey hairs for that kind of fun.

Things that are seen as precious will consume you in one way or another. They are seen as infallible and perfect, when really nothing can or will be. There is nothing in existence that could ever be perfect. It’s a matter of accepting things as they are or finding a way to improve them (things not people). If what you make isn’t perfect, it’s a moment you need to examine and not let the feeling of failure consume your mind. Sure you didn’t get it right this time, but you’ll get it the next one. In this line of creative work, ego is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. Don’t let your work control you. Hell, you’re the one that made it.