‘F’ is for Failure

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Today, we explore a topic that, eventually and like a ton of bricks, will hit everyone at some point. I’m talking failure–the fear of failure, actual failure, and learning to suck it up, and accept it, and keep trucking past it (or at least try to).

Recently, classes started again, and this marks the first semester ever, out of all 7 of them, that I’m taking courses with a defined and set-in-stone major. It’s a novel feeling, to be sure, and a little scary, considering it took two transfers, more than a handful of changes in major, and a whole lot of soul-searching to get here. As I started classes this semester however, I was, well, sucking. The effort I was putting in was nothing to be proud of, and the work that resulted was definitely nothing to write home about. Somehow, though, I managed to feel perpetually stressed.

Something needed to change. I stopped and asked myself why I wasn’t putting forth the quality or caliber of work I could be proud of, and there the answer was: fear.

It’s a big one. So big, in fact, that the Stockholm’s Berghs School of Communication recently asked a group of famous designers, including Stefan Sagmeister and Milton Glaser, to discuss their experience and offer advice on the fear of failure.

They all had unique advice, but the message was the same: You’ll always have the fear of failure, but you have to let it drive rather than suffocate you.

There comes a point when the fear of failure becomes, if not self-sabotaging, then at least self-fulfilling. And that was the issue–by all accounts, these courses are the ones I’m most scared of failing in. Failing in an environmental studies class, while certainly not on my top ten list of most fun things I’d like to accomplish, wouldn’t be the end of the world. In the courses I’m taking now, however, I feel like I have much more to lose. A failure isn’t just a mark on a transcript; it feels like a step towards admitting that I’m not good enough, that this thing that I’ve decided on as my calling isn’t what I’m cut out for, that all the work I’ve put into figuring this out was for nothing, and that maybe I’m going to have to got to start over, again, for the fourth time.

It hurts. It is a physically painful thing to admit to yourself that you may not be good at something you want so badly to be good at.

But, it’s also a strong thing. Admitting to yourself that you may not be good enough can be the single driving force towards working toward closing the gap between where your talents are, and where you want them to be.

Because here’s the thing: With few exceptions, if you are truly passionate about something and want to do it, you’ll find a way to make it happen, simply because it’s what you want to do. And that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned this past year: things that make you feel something are worth pursuing. And if it doesn’t stir something within you, it’s probably not worth wasting time on.

There’s a stigma against admitting and accepting failure. But it isn’t an embarrassing thing to admit that you’re not good enough, because it isn’t a permanent condition. You may not be good enough at the moment, but there is always room to work harder, work more, and, ultimately, improve. And fear is a beautiful thing. It’s the basis of improvement and growth. The real worrying should come in when you find you don’t care about improving, and when mediocre or subpar becomes, well, satisfactory. When you find yourself willing to settle for the satisfactory instead of above average.

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Ira Glass gave a wonderful interview a while back that’s worth revisiting as often as possible. In it he says that in a creative field, there’s always a gap when you start out. You know what good work looks like, but for some reason your abilities aren’t at the level you want them to be. You know how you want your work to look and what you want it to communicate, but it’s just not quite there yet. The only way to close this gap, he says, is to do work. Do a lot of work, as much as you can, and eventually, your mind will start to connect with the medium, and you’ll close the gap. (Watch below for the full clip.)

And that’s the tricky part–learning to see failure as a good thing rather than bad. Nothing that’s succeeded did so without its fair share of failures, but unfortunately most of those failures never share the spotlight with that one anomaly that was the success.

It’s also helpful to remember that the people we all look up to and admire for their quality of work, at some point or another, produced really, really, shitty work. No one, or at least a rare few, produced top notch work from the beginning. Just because we remember them for their best pieces doesn’t mean they never had a worst. But, and here’s the difference, they ended up producing great work because they worked past their failures.

And that’s the most difficult part: starting.  First, there are all of the what-if’s: What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to? What if it just isn’t good? What if I spend all of this time on it, and in the end, it’s for nothing? And the big one: What if I have to finally admit that maybe I’m just never going to be good enough? It’s easy to let those paralyze you and keep you from moving forward, making the starting line seem that much more daunting.

But it’s those failures that keep you going and moving forward. Struggle propels, but success has a funny way of keeping you stagnant. If you don’t need to improve, then why would you?

In the past, my failures have led me to find creative ways to ultimately succeed, or at the very least, very creative ways to fail. Either way, it led to exploring, branching out in new directions, and, ultimately, away from taking the easy way out by standing still and learning nothing.

As someone who once easily won the title of “most risk-averse” in my high school psychology class, it’s not going to be easy. But it seems that the pay-off for failing (learning, improving, and the most appealing one–becoming proud of my work) is a lot more appealing than the pay-off for coasting by (see: the opposite of the above).

Accepting that I’m going to fail, multiple times, and probably more than I can even foresee, is scary, terrifying, and intimidating. But here’s the thing that’s easy to forget, and the key to putting it into perspective: I can’t get worse than I am now. There is literally only room for improvement. And, mercifully, failure is one of those things that does get a little bit easier the more you experience it. The first time it hurts, sure, , but eventually it begins to feel less like a personal attack, more like something guiding you in another and, honestly, probably better direction.

I had a few New Year’s resolutions, but I’m putting them on hold temporarily in favor of this one: Make mistakes. Sometimes we’re going to suck, and it’s okay. Just let it propel you forward instead of holding you back.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a video from none other than Milton Glaser for thought:

Baby Talk

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Having kids has never really been part of the picture. Well, my picture at least. Although at the age of twenty one reaching the point of no return called menopause is still far off, from what I’ve gathered from my peers’ reactions, you’re supposed to have at least some kind of inclination toward them at this point. At the very least, I’ve gathered you aren’t supposed to turn and run at the mere mention of procreating.

Bearing a child is, allegedly, the most natural thing one can do, assuming one is a woman and possesses a functioning womb. However, when you get down to it, and I mean really, really sit down have a good long think about it, it just seems, I don’t know, eerie, at best. Pink and blue bibs and cutesy cartoon zoo animal blankets aside, there is an entire person slowly feeding off of your nourishment to grow and form inside of you. To anyone familiar with the alien movie genre, you’ve heard this plot before. However, whereas in the movies the unsuspecting expectant mother has the benefit of being let off the hook for whatever evil plans the thing inside of her has in store for the outside world, in real life, the parent is the first source of blame. One day this person will have thoughts, feelings, and actions. At best, this person will have a positive effect on the world, but there’s also a chance that their intentions will fall more on the alien side of the spectrum, and not the fun teletubby kind. After all, someone had to birth the dictators of the world. Although I haven’t had many conversations with my womb and so can’t say for certain which way it leans, I feel it’s best not to take the risk.

I suppose my apprehension towards children stems from the fact that as a current adult, I was once a child. Therefore, I know firsthand just how cruel and ill-behaved they can be. There’s the odd behavior, such as drooling, publicly urinating on themselves, and having a sense of timing that leads to repeating inappropriate things at really inopportune times. This behavior for some reason is totally cool for kids, but once you bring these behaviors with you into adulthood, you get some funny looks. Presented with the evidence, kids just seem like really badly behaved adults, or at the very least the cast of Jersey Shore.

For evidence of their cruelty, look no further than substitute teachers. As a student who attended preschool through 12th grade, I encountered my fair share of substitutes. Looking back, though, I remember none of them for their merits, and all of them for the weird quirks or other abnormalities that, to the keen child’s eye, became a well of material for mocking.

There was The Witch, or the woman who wore long skirts and burlap shirts who in a past decade had probably moonlighted as a hippie, but now found herself in charge of twenty to twenty-five little people, ready to judge her based on her unorthodox clothing choices alone. She never made us do unnecessary homework, and as I recall even let us skip a few of the mandated assignments and thus attached herself securely on ‘our’ side. And yet despite having no reason to hate or disrespect her, we did.

There was also Mrs.-Gagnon-rhymes-with-’canyon’ who wore eccentric sweaters, not the most eccentric of which included a sweater adorned with dancing rabbits made of genuine rabbit fur. If we were good, she said, we would be allowed to pet one of the rabbits on her arm. Tempting bait, but no one bit. Unless you count the bitingly vicious imitations of her we did at recess later that day.

It didn’t get better with age, either. In high school, there was the poor college student who came to serve out an internship in our Spanish class that, upon coming out on the other side of it, probably ended up feeling more like serving a prison sentence. We berated him mercilessly for his funny pronunciation and general nervous- and sweatiness. High schoolers are like ruthless predators–they can sense fear a mile away, and they’ll use it like cheese in a mousetrap until they’ve got you right where they want you, which is to say trapped and squirming uncomfortably as they look on with glee. This was just my experience, but by all accounts from past teachers, I was one of the good ones. I take that to mean that I was just more clever about hiding my elaborate imitations of them, but still. Would you want to become a substitute teacher after reading that?

Of course, there’s still a chance that eventually I’ll change my mind, and find myself the proud owner of shiny, brand new children. And if I do, I’ll spend time educating them on seeing the positive in people, and do my best to ensure their overall net effect on the world is a good one. But just to be safe, if the teacher calls in sick, I’m sure as hell not sending them to school. And in the meantime, I’m sticking with plants.

Love, or Lack Thereof

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Today we take a break from irregularly scheduled fashion posts to explore a subject near many a twenty-something-year-old’s heart: love, or lack thereof.

And more specifically dating, as in, what the hell is going on with it?

The most recent incident involved a guy from class, with whom I shared one text message conversation. Let’s call him Class Act. To clarify, the conversation began with Class Act reassuring me he was ready for a serious relationship, which is one of those tricky things where if you feel the need to say it, it probably isn’t true. The rest was spent sharing pictures of his dog (actual dog, not a euphemism) in various states of napping accompanied by captions like “Isn’t she sooooo cute?” Copious emojis were involved. I replied “Yes” out of politeness but really meant no, that grainy picture of your cockradoodle lab-erspaniel mix in poor lighting is less Terrier, more terror inducing at best.

Then followed a month and a half of persistent calls, texts, and Facebook requests on his end, and a matched persistence in ignoring these on mine. He even resorted to the 90s and passed a few notes in class, and those I did respond to with a very serious and slightly concerned, “Wait, are we in middle school?” He wanted to know why I wasn’t interested anymore. The answer? I wasn’t interested to begin with, and I was confused as to how the complete lack of engagement on my end could have been mistaken for interest.

They say it takes half the time to get over someone that you spent dating. So what’s the grievance period allotted for one text conversation? How many forms of social media does it take to reject someone’s advances before they get the hint? The reasonable answer seems like one. One rejection should be enough to get the hint and move on.

I’ve often wished that all first dates ended not in a kiss, but in a mandatory feedback session. Both parties would assess the other’s strengths and weaknesses, possibly through a timelined mood graph of the evening and definitely through a pros and cons list. Something along the lines of, “Pro: You like dogs! Con: That your dog seems to be the only social contact you’ve had in the past year is a deal breaker for me.” There must be an app for this, right?

There’s also been a recent uptrend in feeling the need to constantly keep a conversation going in between in-person hangouts, be it through text or Facebook. Here’s the thing: I will readily admit that I am not that interesting of a person. I can offer you the occasional witty comeback, or quippy commentary, but I am not a well of sarcastic remarks and interesting stories. Some days are less interesting than others, and some days, nothing of note happens at all. Much like a 24/7 Wal-Mart, I have nothing good to offer you at 3 a.m. Putting the pressure to keep a conversation going 24/7 sacrifices quality for quantity, and while technology can be great for communication, it can also be just as destructive as one Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball.

Dating seems to be in that awkward teenage phase right in the midst of both puberty and a growth spurt. Things have changed, and I think we’re all a little confused.  I’m not asking for much–just that we throw sanity back into the mix. Until then, I may have to reconsider Tinder, whose anonymity and rejection-proof format are looking pretty appealing right now. But this is what I’m really interested in: How are you surviving dating in a post-technologic world? Any advice to share? Let’s hashtag it, #sanedatingadvice. Horror stories are welcome, too.

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One of my favorite nuggets of fashion wisdom came from a magazine (Allure, maybe?) years ago, when a model-of-the-moment was asked for her best piece of advice for looking confident. Her answer? “Never look in a mirror.” It may have been intended as a tongue-in-cheek statement, but what if it were taken literally?

If there’s one thing Paris taught me, it’s that looking effortless goes hand-in-hand with feeling effortless. And after a month of being mirror-handicapped, I think there might be something to be gained from losing the mirror.  I’ve always considered it an integral part of the daily dressing routine–hell, I even named my blog after it. But what I’ve often found is that relying on a mirror is a slippery slope that leads to nitpicking every detail of an outfit, and it isn’t too long before you wind up with the sartorial equivalent of an overly botoxed face.

Now that I’m back in the presence of a full-length mirror, I’ve found that I’ve gone right back to seeking its approval before heading out the door. I’ve kind of even considered getting rid of it. I’ve tried self-imposing a ban on using it, though like a toxic on-again, off-again relationship, I inevitably find myself right back in front of it again. And you know what? My outfits haven’t been that great, or at least I haven’t felt as great in them as I did when I was dressing without a mirror. I think this might be because the mirror shows all of the possible worst case scenarios. Having scrutinized my outfit from every angle, I know all of the things that could go wrong with my outfit, like if my shirt comes untucked here, it’ll look more Hannah Horvath, less Hanne Gaby Odiele.

Dressing in front of a mirror is, quite literally, dressing to be seen. But if style is all about confidence, and confidence comes from within, shouldn’t feeling good in an outfit be enough to take that blind leap of faith out the door? And really, what does a mirror know about style, anyway? Does it have pattern-clashing credentials? Does it even know how to pronounce Balenciaga?  After all, if the end goal is effortless, I can’t think of what action throws caution to the sartorial winds more than saying “To hell with it!” and heading out the door with none of the usual visual affirmations a mirror provides, but with all of the comforts of knowing you feel good in an outfit fully intact.

I trust my gut to make most of my decisions, anyway, so why shouldn’t some of that same responsibility carry over to dressing?

As per usual, this post contained more questions than answers, and now I have one (or two) for you: do you rely on a mirror to get dressed in the morning? Or, have you made like Samantha in the first (and what arguably should have been last) SATC movie and eschewed them from your routine entirely? Tell me–I’m dying to know your morning routine. How you like your eggs, fried or fertilized? 

To chop, or not to chop?

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File this one under “Late Night Tea-Fueled Photoshop Disasters” and “Images That Will Keep Me Up for the Rest of the Night”.  After coming across the top image on Pinterest the other day, I haven’t been able to get that haircut, in all of its beautiful asymmetry, out of my head. I’ve been in a self-described period of hair limbo for the past few months trying to decide whether or not to keep up with the shaved part. Although at this point, indecision has become its own decision as I’ve forgone interfering and have kind of let it, you know, just do its thing. However, now that it’s been a few months, my side ratty is looking, well, a little ratty.

And so it should seem like a godsend that this photo appeared on my screen–clearly, if you start spending this much time trying to realistically Photoshop a haircut to your head, you should probably just get it actually cut on your head–I’m not sure I’m ready to take the plunge.

Among other questions forming a barrier between me and this new ‘do: what if it looks weird? Will I constantly look like I’m cocking my head to one side, or stuck in a perpetual state of imbalance? Will I follow suit and actually start to lose balance? What about my ombré, which, despite fighting an exhausting battle against bleach damage in the beginning, has actually held up pretty well?  What if I end up looking exactly like my mother, as apparently I am wont to do anytime my hair falls above my shoulders? How will my hair look in a hat? Will it be able to be coerced back into a ponytail? A bun? What will a bad hair look like if I can’t use one of the aforementioned options? Hell, what will a good hair day even look like?

And, perhaps the most pressing question of all–Why does so much thought go into changing hair? In the end, it’s still just hair. Isn’t it supposed to grow back or something? It’s one of our most easily altered features, and–thankfully–also one of our most fixable. So why does making a change feel so drastic?

What about you–are you debating a hair change? Have you ever thought this much about hair? And please, please, please tell me if you’ve ever stooped to the level of actually photoshopping it onto your [digital] self. Maybe we can start a Follicle-holics Anonymous group.

Slowing Down, Catching Up

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ABOVE: Scenes from the summer, as told by my iPhone

After two months, I’m officially stationary, and back in the states (States-tionary?). These past couple of months have been filled with adventure, to say the least.  Starting with a month in Paris, week in Venice for the Biennale, back to Tampa to move out of one apartment and into another in two days, the jet lag in full effect, then up to Maine for some hiking and general nature enjoyment. I even fit in some time to head up to Indiana for a few days and catch some mini deer, see picture above.

This movement also meant giving up the luxury of a closet and instead relying on what could fit into a sub-50lb suitcase for the better part of the summer. So much of it, in fact, that since being back I’ve been in a state of wardrobe panic. I’ve ended up falling back on the same three outfits or so I’d been wearing, give or take a necklace or ring, and my trusty summer fallback fishtail braid. It has also led to a mass closet exodus, which meant finally weeding out the last bits of Abercrombie and, consequently, my middle school wardrobe, items that were long overdue for a toss anyway.

As I write this, I’m back in Tampa, sitting in the comfort of my [air-conditioned] apartment. It’s my first apartment on my own, which is a big step, but it couldn’t be better suited for what I need right now. Spacious, in a good location, and with just the right ratio of new to culled-from-the-dumpster finds. It’s been less than two weeks but it’s already beginning to feel like home.

I also write this about to start out at a new school for the third year in a row now (third time’s a charm, right?). Bringing it full circle back to my original major, graphic design. You don’t know how much something means to you until it’s gone, I suppose. It’s a lot of big changes, which can be scary, but also exciting. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that the fear of something is almost always greater than the thing itself. And so with that in mind, I’m trying to stay focused on the excitement, take in the new neighborhood, and finally try out some things I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, but due to either a lack of motivation or lack of time haven’t had a chance to. For example:

  • Calligraphy, although it’s more like using calligraphy equipment and making up the style as I go.
  • Trying new things in the kitchen–sprouting, pickling, homemade sriracha (HIGHLY recommended), kimchi, and general baking with the expected failures and successes. Next up, kombucha.
  • Biking, for the first time in a decade.
  • Signing up for a second half marathon, and the subsequent training.
  • Catching up on some reading. Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a new favorite, as is The Drunken Botanist (recommended for anyone looking to impress at the next cocktail party).
  • Exploring the new neighborhood. It’s incredibly refreshing to be back in a place where I can get most places by foot or bike. There have not been scientific studies to back this up, but I’m pretty sure driving in Tampa is more hazardous to your health than consistently eating one of these every day for a year.
  • Finally, and I mean as in this search has been more than a year in the making now, finding a place in Tampa that makes a café au lait just as good as the ones in DC, and now as good as the ones in Paris. Thankfully, and fittingly, this search has come to an end at Piquant.

My New Year’s resolution was to have more adventures, and it’s certainly held true for the first part of the year. Here’s to hoping the rest of the year brings more of the same.
And if your summer hasn’t been filled with enough adventures, there are still a few weeks left. Take a hike. Make booze popsicles. Put a bird on it.

Gettin’ Moody

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Pictures from National Geographic, my sister’s Instagram, Pinterest; collages by me.

Moodboard, that is. I don’t think anyone has more swagger than these guys, circa 1960s Chicago.

2013, though almost halfway over (even writing that and realizing we’re that far into the year is crazy), hit the ground running and didn’t stop until just a few weeks ago. The feel of this past semester leaned more toward feeling like a perpetual finals-week-turned-finals-5-months of sorts, life-reassessing events seemingly being thrown at every turn.

I think it’s important to take time to reflect after a period of crazy activity. After a particularly vigorous yoga practice, the teacher said a line that’s stuck with me for times like these:  “Center yourself; see if you can be still enough after all of that movement to feel your heartbeat.”

During these past few months of constant activity, I was focused more on responding and reacting than on reflecting on how these changes and experiences might affect the bigger picture.  After the activity finally dies down, it’s time to take a step back, figure out how the events fit into or even change our course, and most importantly, what we can learn from them.

It took a vacation back to Maine to finally pause and reflect. Removed from my daily life and thrust into the heart of Maine spring (right after winter and right before mud season and the subsequent and oft-overlapping blackfly season, the ideal time to visit), I took time to stop for a moment and appreciate the simple beauty of the apple blossoms on the tree, kayaking around the pond at our lake, spending time with friends and family.

It led to a lot of inner reflection, which in turn led to feeling more centered, less frenzied. That being said, I think it’s important to take the time every few months to write out a personal manifesto. Sometimes it’s something as simple as the physical act of sitting down and putting pen to paper to realize what’s important in your life, and what other things, maybe aren’t so much. Once you have a clear idea of what your heart(beat) is telling you and you center yourself, everything else will align. And trust me, it’s a lot less stressful on the other side.

And on that note, I’m off to Paris for the month. See you on the other end of Europe!

In the meantime, follow me on Instagram for a good time, @becckitt.

One last thing–a good song to start off summer, wherever your adventures may take you: