I will openly admit that I experienced an unexpected career-related burnout these past few weeks. Never in my entire fifteen years of sewing have I ever made an error, but it happened. It shocked me, and I know why it happened. In my efforts to do perfect work, I missed the mark (that wasn’t so fatal, but to me it was), and after reflecting on why it happened, I realized that my mind and thoughts played a mean trick on me at the worst time.

I’d made a mistake on something that I actually love doing, that is a strength of mine. It’s something I had done a lot of times and is like a meditation for me. The work I do is creative and like therapy at the same time. But this mistake made me question everything I’m doing. 

I’d lost nights of sleep worrying about the mistake, asking myself why I did something out of character during a meeting. Just like athletes who are pressured to execute flawlessly, I had the same mental hiccup, where I had to execute flawlessly but didn’t. I thought, “OK, gotta do this perfect, do it right, do it right, do it right…” and, I did it not so right. I’d replayed the failure in my head over and over, saying things like, “Why did I,” and “I hadn’t done that previously,” and “what got in my head that affected my performance?” 

The need to be perfect in a profession like sewing can feel daunting. I love the work I do, but I realize that I need to trust my fifteen plus years of sewing experience and myself more. I was hard on myself about the situation, and I even contemplated if I actually love what I do. My strive for perfection distorted my thinking and caused a mishap. But in my business and line of work, you must do the best job. You MUST be able to guarantee craftsmanship. You MUST hit the right marks all the time. That’s what sewing is about: making the person you’re dressing happy.

Articles upon articles and people on social media will tell you: “Don’t strive for perfection.” But those articles and posts are missing a critical detail. If you strive to be perfect in a given moment when you need to perform, you will most likely make a mistake. My inner dialogue led me down a path I never would have gone if I wasn’t thinking about doing a perfect job. I’d done fantastic work before that without thinking about being perfect. 

A mistake can cost you money, your reputation, and a lot of things. Like for athletes, if they make a mistake, the judge deducts points. How we think creates a ripple effect on our actions. 

It’s tough to separate doing good work, doing your best, and doing it perfectly. I’d lost nights of sleep and have found myself exhausted during the day just thinking about what it’s going to take to develop a no-fail system, which I was sure I had. Our minds can interfere in everything we do. It can make us trip and fall just because we were thinking about tripping and falling.

I’ve often felt that I need to strain myself more to be perfect in my pursuits, and when I recognize this in my thinking, I have to reset my mindset. I have to approach everything with, “I’m going to do what this customer wants me to do.” Sometimes, a shift in our thoughts can significantly impact the outcome of our work for the better. Taking time to step away, do mindful breathing and meditating, can allow you to come up with creative solutions and problem solve effectively. 

But we’re all human, and sometimes we say and do things we didn’t intend. It’s important to make peace with yourself, even when you didn’t execute perfectly, even if you made a mistake or a hiccup. Now, I am trying to work on how I communicate with myself and others to make sure that I do my best job.