Fear of the Fear of Failure


Liberty Print MIM

The Liberty fabric above costs roughly $45/yard, slightly less if you're a lucky eBay bidder (click on the image if you feel lucky, punk). And though I often recommend that if you possibly can, you should sew with Liberty prints, many people tell me that they couldn't possibly cut into such expensive fabric — even people who have been sewing for many more years than I have, even people who have made tailored jackets, for pete's sake. They're too afraid they'll screw it up.

So I was wondering about this, and decided (very uncharacteristically for me) to do the math. So let's say you buy fabric for four Liberty-print dresses: that's ($45*4 yds)*4, which would be $720.00.

And let's say that you ruin, beyond hope of recovery, ALL FOUR of your Liberty-print projects. That's a lot of money wasted, right? That's a month's rent for some people. Two or three car payments, maybe. Months of groceries, depending on how many teenage boys are in your household.

It's also 5.76 $125 dresses bought at a department store. (I'm taking $125 NOT as the median department-store dress price, but because it's the absolute maximum price I think I could bring myself to pay for a new dress off the rack.) Have you bought more than 6 dresses in your life that you didn't like? That you wore once, maybe? That hung in your closet until you pushed them into the forgiving arms of the Salvation Army? (Replace "$125 dress" with "$45 sweater" and "6" with "more than I want to recall" and you have MY experience.) What did you learn from buying those dresses? A lot less than you would have learned from trying to sew them, I wager.

Here I'm assuming (highly unlikely) that you would be unable to salvage anything that you had sewn … but I'm also assuming (highly likely) that you would learn a GREAT DEAL from four sewing projects, even if they were all sobbing failures. So much so that with the *next* project, you would most likely make something wearable.

That's just what failure is, or what it ought to be: failure is just figuring stuff out the hard way.

Almost every Saturday morning my little boy and I go roller-skating together. And every Saturday I tell my son (who HATES to fall down) that if he doesn't fall down, he won't learn anything. If you don't fall, you won't ever know how fast is too fast, how tight is too tight to take a turn, how soon (after a mega-blast blue-raspberry Slurpee) is too soon to head back to the floor. And if you don't screw up something — anything — in your life, you won't ever know how good you could have been.

So I *hate* it when someone tells me they don't want to try something because they might screw it up. So what? Unless what you're trying to do involves tightrope walking 5000 feet up, you probably won't DIE. And short of death, almost everything is fixable. Don't ask me for advice if that's not what you want to hear, because I'm the person who is going to tell you to take the new job, to ask the guy (or girl) out already, to move to the new city, to wear orange. I'll tell you to stop focusing on what you might lose, and start thinking about what you might LEARN.

Sometimes when people say they're afraid of failure, what they really mean is that they are afraid of humiliation. Which is completely understandable. But, speaking as someone who has felt humiliated more times than she'd like to remember, humiliation passes. (It passes like a kidney stone passes, but that's another story.) Not to mention that humiliation passes differently for each person: you remember it for months; the witnesses remember it for seconds (they have their own humiliations to obsess over, and don't have time for yours). You wake up the next morning, same as always. You head back into work, you run into that guy again ("Uh, hi!"), you get a new haircut to fix the one that wasn't such a good idea, after all. But at least you tried, and now you know something you didn't know before.

Or … you try, and it works! It works beyond your wildest dreams. (Insert wildest dreams here.) Even if it works a little bit short of your wildest dreams, that's still further along than you were yesterday. And there's no rule that you can't try again.

So, that thing? That thing you've been scared to try, because you think there's NO POSSIBLE WAY you could do it? That everyone would point and laugh when you fell? Today looks like an EXCELLENT day to give it a shot. Take it from me. (Everyone's looking the other way, anyway.) Go for it!

And if you're going to do it, you might as well wear something orange while you do. (I'm just saying.)

0 thoughts on “Fear of the Fear of Failure

  1. Now THAT’s the way to wear orange, redheadedwoah! You look phenomenal! Just proves again that the only rule is that there are NO rules. Now, let me see, why don’t I feel so excited about setting off my brown hair with a brown dress…?

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  2. a waste of good hard-earned money when there are so many poore people in the world who could use some modestly-priced clothing. that is a lesson in charity.

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  3. Thank you very much for this post. It came in a very timely fashion. Though wearing orange is not the problem for me. (Am currently wearing orange-purple-yellow-and-some-other-colors socks and an orange lace-shawl.)On the other hand I put off sewing my very first dress (also orange) because I gained a lot of weight and didn’t want to sew a dress for this year only (because I’m surely losing this weight until winter, ahem). But then I thought that maybe their will be more fabric and I can just sew a new dress next year. Or take the other one in. And have something to wear this year.

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  4. Sending to my 30 year old son (or maybe I’ll take him rollerskating). Thanks a big bunch. And snip, snip, snip

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  5. A big thank you to Erin for her encouragement. To me, failure only comes with quitting, not trying. Succeeding comes with trying once or a thousand times it just depends on you and if you accomplished your goal.My first skirt was a disaster if you took to examining it closely. To me it was not a great success, but I accomplished it. I learned. I love to learn. I am willing to try anything legal. Well, almost anything. I figure the more you can learn the more valuable you can be to helping others.I also think that what La Belladonna said is so true.because what you know does not mean you enable others who so often feel entitled to your efforts. This is what I love about Erin’s blog. So many ladies are so bright and full of common sense. I hooked like the rest of you. My hardest thing is to cut into something vintage. Like an oldlinen or tablecloth. Just because of its history. Sentimental I suppose.

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  6. Hear Hear! I never spend even close to $125 for a dress or $45 for a sweater.I do buy stuff that WAS that much but is on clearance because the season passed.This blog has made me braver. I do harder pattern in fabric that cost $10 a yard.and I wear orange dresses! (just not bright Clemson or street sign orange)! dark brown hair, fair skin, blue-green eyes, freckles.

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  7. Hmmmm. Yet ANOTHER brave, brave “Anonymous” poster, whose only aim, let’s not kid ourselves, is to bring down the spirits of everyone who reads this blog. Not for ONE SINGLE MINUTE do I believe that YOU YOURSELF are the kind of person who buys “moderately-priced clothing” for “the poore.” I’d be surprised to hear that you’d bought a single T-shirt for anyone of that description. Why don’t you direct your screed at the RETAILERS who are making money off high-priced clothing, instead of at the women who sew for themselves and those they love?Remember what I said about nobody being ENTITLED to your skills and your knowledge? The same goes for YOUR MONEY, which you EARN with the SAME skills and knowledge, and which you are entitled to spend as you see fit. And what about all those poor people trying to earn an honest living, by selling patterns and notions and thread and FABRIC, and who design FABRIC, and who MAKE FABRIC – they are clothing their OWN families with the hard-earned pennies spent by the women who come here to dream! There’s more than one way to help the “deserving.”You, whoever you are, why don’t you take your dismal unpleasant unhappy unkind miserable sanctimonious selfish self elsewhere? You contribute nothing of value here; you don’t like what we do here; be somewhere OTHER than here. THAT would be a REAL act of charity.

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  8. Erin, thanks for this great post!And, Anon, please. You can be sure that modest prices for fabric mean some textile worker somewhere got paid modest wages. Very. Modest. Wages.Not only this, but beautiful handmade things are the product of skilled labor and are a kind of daily, down to earth art. If you were going to spend money on anything, fabric for a home made dress, or a hand built desk, or hand thrown and glazed ceramics is *IT.* Until we all weave our own homespun, this is as close as we are getting to exiting the dirty global process that is the clothing industry. And because we all have to wear clothes, we all participate in that- Liberty Fabric is not worth a huff. No Sweat Movements- that’s worth a huff.

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  9. “…failure is just figuring stuff out the hard way.”Then I have to be one of the biggest failures in the world. The universe. And all of time and space even.Why? Cos I continually challenge myself to improve on stuff I think I know and to try new things I am not at all sure I can do. In the process, I discover just about every single way not do it.I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Well I am sure that it keeps life very interesting.

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  10. Beautifully put, Erin. ^^Oh, and if you’re worried about cutting into your gorgeous, expensive fabric, MAKE A MUSLIN VERSION FIRST. Saves a LOT of time, energy, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights in the long run. xD

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  11. I know how you feel, I just got some cashmere wool for $35/yd (reg.$70). It’s so nice. I hope I don’t ruin it.

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  12. redheadedwoah, if ever there was a perfect shade of orange for a redhead, you found it. You look fabulous in that dress!And I’ve always loved red hair. I’m a brunette myself (going silver-grey now) and I’ve always envied redheads because I think red hair is so pretty.

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  13. Wow! Well said and great words to live by. Now I know why I have so many projects lying around (fear of screwing them up) and also why I didn’t when I was younger (younger people are used to screwing up and tend to be a little more resilient). Thanks, this was a lot cheaper and faster than therapy : )JenL

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  14. Charity begins at home. I had a friend get out of prison today and she had nothing. i took her to the store and bought her quality(so they will last) clothing, down to underwear, socks and bras. I bought what I could on sale. Now,she has a few items to mix and match to go job hunting in. (and to feel better about herself in.) And after I take her measurements – I will make her beautiful things, hopefully to start a new job and a new life in.So don’t preach to me about how to spend my $125, or $45. I do practice what I preach.

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  15. Well said. A great read. I check your blog several times a week. Love shirt dresses, too, and wore them as a young woman, but my waist no longer looks like those on the pattern envelope. Sigh!

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  16. Erin, you absolutely rock.redheadedwoah: That dress is honored to be on you, and your photos are proof that a smile is the best accessory. You look gorgeous!theresa: Thank you for sharing your story, which I know I will remember for a long, long time. I hope we can all be and have such excellent friends.[ Sniffle ]

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  17. Unfortunately, I would buy a dress for $10 rather than $125, so this damages the mathematics of the initial argument. So my fear would be wasting money, or wasting the fabric more so. I find it amazing that people spend so much on clothes, to be honest. It seems quite crazy to me (and yet, the crazier thing is that the makers of the clothes are probably underpaid).

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  18. I’m only new to your blog (which I have been enjoying immensely), and WOW, what philosophical and sage advice/stance on life. It’s worth a cut and past to forward on and brighten someone elses day. Well said you!

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  19. My not-quite-New-Year’s resolution is to stop being afraid of things, and to remember what I have done that is scary (and that I wasn’t scared when I did it).I do a fair bit of dancing and take classes with girls who are half my age, and I fall about twice as much as anyone else. But then I found a quote from Twyla Tharp about a Balanchine dancer who used to fall on stage.. a lot. Twyla said that she always cheered this dancer on because she knew she was always trying to push herself past her boundaries…

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  20. Back in the day, when I was still working in costumes, I had to cut 4 coats out of a piece of fabric intended for 2. It was the most expensive fabric I have ever cut (I think it was around $75 a yard-changeable silk taffeta with chenille embellishment) and it was all that existed in the world – so once it was cut, that was it. We were going to flatline it anyway, so I laid the muslin out, fit all of the pieces in and cut. My draper was freaked out, but someone had to cut the fabric or we couldn’t build the costumes. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and cut.

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  21. May God Bless you all who posted your charitable efforts. Especially Theresa. Fabric is beautiful, indeed, and you all as well as I have the freedom to choose to spend our money any way we please, that is true.I am sorry if some of you were brought down by my post- that was not my intention. My intention was to promote thrift and charity as opposed to wasting anything expensive, fabric or otherwise.Thrift in sewing is a beautiful thing.Good luck and God’s Blessings in your lives. I agree; this is no place for someone like me. ‘bye.

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  22. Thanks Erin, that is just what I needed to hear (read) today! You are right and I need to get off of my ever expanding ass and sew those dresses up, no matter what happens I will learn something. And I won’t die. And I just might, maybe, hopefully will end up with a new dress that I can enjoy wearing.

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  23. The marquis in front of our local garage recently read, “even if you fall flat on your face, you are still moving forward.”This post is brilliant. Really. You should have more children.

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  24. WEll I agree that acting from fear is a bad habit but as much as my eye’s popped when I saw that fabric I couldn’t imagine that it is really worth it. I mean really if I had tons of extra money and was nervous of how it turned out I’d just make a muslin version first and make sure no one was around when I was cutting out the fabric but I don’t know if I could spend that much per yard. Yikes It might be cheaper to have some textile student to try and recreate some fabric that is similar.

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  25. Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the compliments on the dress! It’s the only thing I ever spent a lot of money on (about $130, if I remember right), but I thought the orange was absolutely worth it!

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  26. this has inspired me to start that dress I’ve been meaning to start for weeks, it’s just been sitting there on top of my sewing box, so next week’s midterms be damned, I’m sewing today!

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  27. Could I say to the Anonymous who is clothing her newly-freed friend, what an amazing thing you are doing. PLEASE don’t go away. Everybody has their understandable sticking point on what they consider to be crazily wasteful, frivolous, or downright self-indulgent. For some it will be spending too much on fabric; for others, bothering to sew at all; yet others will find reading blogs an unjustifiable waste of time (let alone writing one), and don’t let’s get started on the merits (or otherwise) of Facebook! Everything’s relative. There’s a lot of extremely good stuff here, and I’d hate for you to miss it. This is a broad church, and on behalf of the church wardens I urge you to remain seated in your pew: I’m absolutely sure you’re worth it. A word about Liberty fabric – yes, it’s worth it too. Until you’ve felt this fantastically delicate, close-woven fabric, you won’t know. It is light yet strong, fiendishly soft, and a total dream to sew, nevermind wear. Please tolerate our addiction – maybe, one day, you’ll understand.As to whether one should be focusing on sewing vintage dresses out of arguably over-expensive fabric while there are people suffering, starving etc, fair point. I’d echo the point of another commenter that our store-bought bargain clothes may generally be too cheap due to exploitative production, but let’s not go there. What I’d really like to say is that our lives are mostly lived just where we are, whatever our ethical and political views. And (to paraphrase my guru Kaffe Fassett again) a little fantasy and beauty simply make life a little less suicidal. The decorative arts (dressmaking included), beautifully done, are not frivolous. They are important to life; they make an event out of something that could be just plain pedestrian. Life-enhancing things, wherever they occur, ought to be encouraged and celebrated by all of us. There’s enough negativity out there, and the pull of the vortex is STRONG, Sisters! We… must… resist…Here endeth the lesson. Apologies for being over-preachy. I’m past forty and past caring… Happy sewing, everyone, and hope to encounter you again, Anonymous.

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  28. But I loathe orange, and it’s the cheap fabrics I keep falling in love with…I have a perfectly beautiful blue-&-purple-violets-on-black print that was clearanced at $2/yard. It WILL be a dress, eventually. It has to be, I already have jewelry to go with it.

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  29. Eirlys, not to take away anything from Anonymous, but I believe Theresa is due the credit for taking care of her friend (not that that’s why she’s doing it, but the credit for same still goes to her). Theresa, there are also organizations which your friend may be able to utilize to help build on what you started, geared to providing work-appropriate clothing and accessories for women; you may want to guide her in that direction, if it could be of use. Good luck to her!Oh, Minya, it sounds LOVELY! My colours, too! How lucky! I managed to pick up dollar-a-yard pink damask at a flea market, which will be a dress also (as soon as I unearth it).Eirlys, I don’t want to scare you – or anyone else new, including Anonymous, if it was indeed her first time. I should perhaps explain that occasionally, a troll keeps coming by here – HERE, of all places! – to harass Erin and her readers. Most of the time we ignore it, but my indignation got the better of me. This blog is a haven for those of us who come here to play and share. We may disagree with each other’s choices, but we don’t do so in such a way as to make other people feel bad. But trolls – bah! How feeble, trolling on a sewing blog.

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  30. Hey, can I ask…What makes Liberty fabric special? The prints are pretty, but is it more than that? And what weight is it? It looks like lawn from what I’ve seen.

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  31. Great entry today Erin, and great posts everyone. I made a pilgrimage to Britex last month, drooled all over the Liberty cottons and the amazing rainbow of woolens on the main floor, and left empty handed. So my goal is to test drive a few of the patterns I have set aside for myself and return next year, older, wiser, and with a more willing Visa card in my purse. I find it’s easier to spend on others and not myself sometimes, so it’s hard to not only afford the expensive beauties, it’s harder to justify it to myself and not feel selfish.As far as risk taking, cutting that Liberty fabric is an easy one! I have a far harder time using my vintage, can’t-be-replaced-ever fabric!

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  32. Many people tell themselves they don’t do things from a fear of failure because it’s preferable to believing that they’re just plain lazy. And for all of you who just had to write about how daring and or generous you are, and how much you have accomplished or contributed… please know you make my ass tired. Really well written and inspiring post Erin, thank you.

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  33. Thank you so much for your post, it is so very encouraging to remind ourselves that we need to fail and we need to let our children fail and struggle at things… it makes the successes so much sweeter…

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  34. I think I need to save this or crosslink it to my blog. Such great motivation to Just Do It!I actually have been getting over my fear of cutting into expensive fabric for myself by cutting into expensive fabric for other people! Nothing teaches you troubleshooting like messing up the cuts on $100 a yard silk for speciality window treatments!

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  35. Okay that was the cutest, smartest, most hilarious post ever. Right on! I am always petrified of cutting expensive fabrics or vitnage fabrics since I know odds are- I will find a way to screw it up. But, thanks to your mathematic breakdown and positive words- I might just cut a little fabric right this second. Find me something to snip! Also, thanks for the encouragement on wearing orange! Totally underutilized color.

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  36. Okay that was the cutest, smartest, most hilarious post ever. Right on! I am always petrified of cutting expensive fabrics or vitnage fabrics since I know odds are- I will find a way to screw it up. But, thanks to your mathematic breakdown and positive words- I might just cut a little fabric right this second. Find me something to snip! Also, thanks for the encouragement on wearing orange! Totally underutilized color.

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  37. Okay that was the cutest, smartest, most hilarious post ever. Right on! I am always petrified of cutting expensive fabrics or vitnage fabrics since I know odds are- I will find a way to screw it up. But, thanks to your mathematic breakdown and positive words- I might just cut a little fabric right this second. Find me something to snip! Also, thanks for the encouragement on wearing orange! Totally underutilized color.

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  38. Oh yes, I wasn’t reading comments carefully enough, Bella Donna. Thanks for putting me straight there. Not sure about the trolling reference – I’m probably desperately naive (guilty as charged) but would rather give people the benefit of the doubt.

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  39. I, on the other hand, really enjoy hearing how daring or how generous other people are, what they’ve accomplished, and what they’ve contributed. It doesn’t fatigue my backside, or any other part of me. This is why ice cream comes in more than one flavor, too.

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  40. Well Done, Well Done! And everyone (that I read, I don’t have the time to read all of the comments) had great advise too. Hmmmm I’m thinking that a sewing advise column is in the making! Towards the top of the comments someone said that she had fabric from a grandma (or some family member) that had never been cut into… and that you encouraged her to use it! Way to go! My dad bought my mom some lovely silk when in Japan during the late 60’s early 70’s. She never used it! It had the lining and everything. So a couple years back she gave it to me! For Christmas the following year I made her a beautiful (of course it was beautiful, it was pink on pink floral silk!) jacket! She was pleased! If it hadn’t sat soo long, it may not of gotten the stains it did, which I had to cut around! So, let that be a worning too… if you don’t use it; you have wasted your money and maybe even the fabric!

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  41. Well donna, most well bred people were taught at an early age not to blow their own horn. And, if they do something charitable, it should be done without calling attention to themselves or seeking some reward(including the positive regard of others.) I enjoy hearing about the accomplishments of others, only not in the first person, and in a forum where the claims have been verified. But, I find it pretty obnoxious when someone writes a great post intending to inspire, and people have to comment about how this really doesnt apply to them because they already are so daring and courageous and accomplished, etc etc, or theyve said all of that first and better. Everyone knows the internet is completely anonymous and anyone can claim anything. But, in my opinion the point of the Comments section is not to seize the opportunity to brag about yourself, or rant on about how unappreciated you are. Doing so could constitute provocative behavior, something that you seem to believe only applies to others and not yourself, huh donna?

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  42. Actually, I want it known that the above comment was published by 7/10split, only I could not make an entry with that name. I could only publish if I published under anonymous. What’s that about?

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