I agreed to go to a glassblowing class with a friend a few years ago in Santa Barbara, and it turned into a big mess. I had never thought of trying glassblowing before, but my friend was so excited to try it, that I agreed to sign up with her. When I got there, chaos ensued.
I grew up feeling this weird pressure to be perfect. I think there are probably a lot of reasons I felt like this, one significant one being that this is often something our culture causes girls to feel. We make them feel like they need to be perfect to be worthy. They need to have the perfect thing to say before they feel like they should speak out loud. They need to look perfect to feel good about who they are. They need to have perfect achievements to feel that their work is valuable. Our culture tells everyone that mistakes are embarrassing, and super-sensitive kids like me took that notion to heart.
This is such a trap because we all know perfection is impossible. But it can get into our heads and holds us back from so many things.
I knew I had a serious problem when my friend and I got to the glassblowing class and I nearly had a panic attack because I was so afraid of not being perfect. My heart was racing and I seriously wanted to get out of that room with all the glass-blowing equipment. I was so sure I couldn’t be perfect at this new activity that I wanted to run and do something else that I wouldn’t embarrass myself at.
I could see that it was ridiculous (it was just me, and my friend, and the super-friendly guy teaching us— there was no one who was going to be judging me— except myself). And that was the problem. I have spent my whole life feeling that if I couldn’t be awesome at something, I didn’t even want to try. Which is a good way to stay in a rut and never do anything interesting.
My friend, on the other hand, was having the time of her life at this glassblowing class. She was so excited to try something new, so jazzed to see what she could make, so psyched about all the possible colors. She even laughed when she messed up. She was having so much fun, and I was seriously trying to fend off a panic attack. What was wrong with this picture??
I took a hard look at myself after that day. I was embarrassed by my own behavior, by my own limiting thoughts that took the joy out of that class for me. I knew I wanted to do things differently than I was.
In so many other areas of my life I was able to focus on the joy, to find the good and to lean into it. But I had found a place where I was so stressed about perfection that it held me back completely.
At the end of that glassblowing class, I had a cool mint green glass bowl to show for my efforts. Yes, the dude teaching us helped me a lot (who can be perfect at glassblowing the first time they do it?! There is a super-hot oven, all kinds of instruments you’ve never seen in any other context, and the blowing required in glassblowing takes what seems like a superhuman amount of lung strength.). But with his help, I’d made something really cool, and in hindsight, it had even been fun. (And funny— my near panic attack from a glassblowing class designed for tourists had to be a first.). Also- that bowl (in the photo above) looks cooler because it’s not perfect. Its imperfections are truly what make it look interesting and different. If it were a perfect bowl, no one would ever wonder or ask about it. Because I, a first-time glassblower, made it, it is funky, and unusual, and dare I say, awesome.
My quest for perfection very nearly kept me from doing something cool. And it nearly ruined the whole experience. How could I do it differently next time? And how could I hold myself to a lighter standard that didn’t require any kind of perfection (particularly at something I’d never done before).
This is lifetime work, not something that can be overcome in a day. But it’s a worthwhile question, I think— how is a feeling that we need to be perfect holding us back? How can we enjoy things for the experience of them without holding ourselves to a standard that is unrealistic? How can we find joy- even in things we don’t know how to do- and not demand we be perfect at it right away?
In my case, every time I see that glass bowl on my table it makes me think about all these questions. It makes me chuckle at myself. Because, thanks to me and the unrealistic standard I had for myself, that glassblowing class really blew.