Mistakes Can Be A Good Thing

Latest posts by Emily Beckloff (see all)

Do you have a perfectionist child? A child sets extremely high standards, and is then frustrated and unhappy if she cannot meet them? A little bit of perfectionism needn’t be a bad thing, but a person who can rarely be satisfied with their efforts, will rarely find pleasure in completing a task. Emily’s daughter is a perfectionist, and she tells us today how she deals with her.

Mistakes Can Be a Good Thing

Once again our daughter was in tears of frustration because something she’d drawn had ‘gone wrong’ and ‘looked awful’.

She’s creative, she’s imaginative, she’s curious…and she’s a perfectionist.

She’d embark on something and then the inevitable would happen …she’d draw a line further than she’d intended, someone would jog her chair or she’d misspell a word in her story…and then she’d stand up furiously throw her work in the bin and have a melt down.

Her confidence was taking a real hammering because actually, how often do thing go right straightaway for any of us?

But does it matter?

I really did used to think so because I’m a perfectionist too. The only difference now, is that although I never achieve perfection, I’m very ok with that.

So what changed?

I learnt something that enabled me to ‘fix the problem.’

A while ago now, I tried to do some paintings to fill the blank walls in our house despite being told at school that art was something I’d never be any good at. So I set myself a task of painting VERY simple paintings and, inevitably, even they went wrong!

When you make a mistake with paints and a canvas you can’t just abort. It’s too expensive! I couldn’t just accept my efforts how they were I had to ‘fix’ the mistake and to not do so would have felt like a total failure and giving up. So, I realised pretty early on that I’d have to find a way to turn my mistakes into part of the painting and make them look as if they were actually meant to be that way. So I’d add more lines, turn the original object into something else, make it abstract, turn it into a different kind of texture, change the emphasis, use it as something to be viewed through a translucent layer…anything to stop it looking like a mistake. From that I developed a style that felt very much like me and although I was still at the very beginning of my new hobby, I stopped getting that awful resigned sinking feeling when ‘I went wrong’ and instead I began to think ‘right well, what shall I do with this now then? Oh I know, I’ll try this…’

Soon I found my paintings going down a different pathway altogether and I can honestly say they were all the better for it.

I also write tales for children, and I remember sitting in my favourite cafe right in the corner by the coffee machine where I wouldn’t get disturbed and having a total and utter case of writers block. It seemed to be setting root and I was starting to panic Everything I thought of sounded rubbish and trite and I just couldn’t fix it. Just then an elderly man came in and sat down at the table next to me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I wasn’t doing anything: I was meant to be writing but my head was stuck. He laughed and said ‘oh don’t worry, sticking doesn’t last forever.’ He turned out to be Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, a rather famous author and lawyer.

And he was absolutely right. I decided to sit it out, forget about writing and go home and become playful again. The kids and I played and chatted until slowly my mind unfroze.

So, I set about passing what I’d learnt on to my daughter…

‘Mistakes really can be a good thing’…I told her. She barely heard me through her tears. She asked me what I meant and I explained what had happened with my paintings and how I couldn’t accept it as it was, I had to fix it.

‘That’s what I want to do Mum, can you help me?’

First she asked me what she could do about the mistake she’d made and I’d throw some ideas at her (all of which she rejected!). Then once she clicked on to what I was saying, she began to come up with her own ideas and they solved the problem absolutely perfectly, in her style and with results that were far better than any of my suggestions would have led to.

As time’s gone on she’s become much more adventurous with her creative work and less afraid to branch out and experiment. She recognises that some things work out better than others and also that there’s always another piece to write or another picture to draw. She also tells me why she prefers the new revised piece and how she’s glad she had a mistake to work with.

We discuss writing in the same way – there’s always more than one right and if you create a problem for yourself, you just keep thinking, go and do something completely different and a solution does always eventually appear!

You can read Emily’s guest post about her paintings over at Artemis Mindset Coaching.


Further Reading

My Greatest Mistakes by @teachertoolkit – a blog post about encouraging mistakes in the classroom

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