Fear and the Freedom to Make Mistakes

By Karen Styles
Owner & Chief Imaginer, KarenMakes
A featured vendor at What A Woman Wants Summer 2018

Am I the only one who worries too much? In particular, I have a fear of making mistakes that holds me back too often, in too many areas. I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with my fear.

Fear can paralyze. All the what ifs pile up into an unscalable wall and I feel like I can’t move forward. What if I make a mistake? What if I make hundreds of mistakes? What if I embarrass myself in front of everyone I’ve ever met? What if I do it all wrong? When these questions start to swirl around in my head, I get overwhelmed.

In the middle of 2017, I got fed up with all the fear and worry. It took up too much space in my mind, and I decided I didn’t want to let fear run the show. Part of this inspiration came from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” When fear creeps up, it does help a bit to say, “Oh fear, it’s you again! Hello old friend.” I had to learn to be okay with this fear of making mistakes.

I’ve got a simple lettered art sign that says “Make Mistakes & Learn.” It had been tucked away in a box after a move. But I dug it out, framed it and remembered why I had been drawn to those words in the first place. “Make Mistakes & Learn” became my mantra. And after allowing myself to make mistakes, I realized there was a specific type of mistake I wanted to make.

I decided that I wanted every mistake I made to be a mistake of action rather than of inaction. “Well, now I know something I didn’t know” is way better than the regret of “I wish I had tried that.” And you know what? Allowing myself to make mistakes gave me a huge sense of freedom.

Guess what? Mistakes are not so terrible, because I can make mistakes and then learn. That shift, that positive spin on mistake-making helped me understand that each mistake is actually moving me forward.

Another thing about mistakes. The are fixable. Why didn’t I realize it before? It’s the simplest thing. If I make a mistake, I can change something and fix it. Take a second and think about a mistake you are worried about making. If you actually make that mistake, will it be catastrophic? I’m willing to bet that in most cases, the answer is no.

So how does this relate to real life? Well, in 2016, I launched KarenMakes – a creative side-business and Etsy shop. Part of stepping out in spite of fear means putting my art out there. (Hey, I just noticed that “art” rhymes with “heart.” Putting my art out there = putting my heart out there. Yep, that’s how personal and vulnerable it feels sometimes).

I’ve always loved to paint, sew, knit, do photography, and just generally dabble in all sorts of creative projects. But most of these things were done at home, alone, for myself or sometimes as gifts. Making and creating have always brought me joy and a sense of groundedness. Don’t get me wrong, hobbies in solitude are wonderful things. But I wanted to share my work and see if the creativity that I was tapping into resonated with others. I discovered that I could have my artwork and photos printed onto journals, leggings, pillows and a whole lot more. So I’ve been selling online and in local markets. It’s so exciting to see my work take on other forms, and even more exciting to see the reactions of people who find their own meaning in what I do.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken action – despite the fear that accompanied me along the way. It turns out that most of the mistakes I was worrying about either didn’t happen or didn’t matter. And this is where the freedom to make mistakes and comes in. I realized, if this product doesn’t sell, I’ll make something else. If this market doesn’t work, I’ll try another one. Even if this whole business doesn’t work, I will learn and I will do something else. None of these (possible) mistakes have to limit me.

Fear of mistakes kept me stuck. But realizing mistakes were okay meant I could move forward. And moving forward continues to be the most important thing for me. Just keep taking action. Taking action has opened up new opportunities new relationships that I would never have found if I hadn’t taken the risk of putting my art (and myself) out there. More than that, I’ve had the chance to truly connect with so many amazing individuals.

As I reflect on the past year and look forward to a new one, I know there will be some mistakes ahead of me. But I’m curious and maybe even a little excited about how I will adapt and continue to learn. Because every mistake is actually an opportunity.

Will you experience the freedom of making mistakes this year?

Karen Styles


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