Is the fear of failure holding you back?

“I could never do that.” – Overheard at many a quilt show

I know a lot of quilters that are perfectionists. I’m sure you know a few too; they’re the ones that point out 10 mistakes the minute they show you one of their new quilts. I’m just as guilty at doing this as the rest of you.

Here’s the problem with focusing only on your mistakes: you fail to see your own progress.

Ten Signs You Might Have a Fear of Failure – Psychology Today

1.   Failing makes you worry about what other people think about you.

2.   Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire.

3.   Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you.

4.   Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are.

5.   Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinion you value.

6.   You tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations.

7.   Once you fail at something you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed.

8.   You often get last minute headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation.

9.   You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation that in hindsight were not as urgent as they seemed at the time.

10.   You tend to procrastinate and ‘run out of time’ to complete you preparation adequately

Fear of failure becomes a problem when you don’t want to set foot in your sewing room because you might mess up _____.  Or you don’t want to try free motion quilting for the first time because it won’t look as polished as Leah Day’s samples.  Or adding a border on Orca Bay terrifies you because you’ve put countless hours into just getting the main quilt together and you don’t want to screw it all up (I’m talking to you Katie Ringo).

I’ve always recommended a journal or a blog to document your quilting progress.  Sometimes when I’m frustrated I read back through my blog to see what was frustrating me three years ago.

The beginning of my free motion quilting adventure – August 2010

November 2010 – after a few months of free motion quilting practice

As a fairly new quilter (I’ve been at this about 3 and a half years now) it makes me sad to hear quilters that have been doing this for years say they’re afraid of trying free motion quilting or some other skill. How “brave” I must be to jump headfirst and try new things.  Let me break it to you – I’m not brave.  Trying new things gives me serious anxiety and it puts me out of my comfort zone something awful.   I do have a fear of failure for about 50% of the things I attempt. I screw up projects all the time and I get frustrated when they don’t go smoothly.  When it gets really bad I don’t sew for a week straight.   Reading blogs sometimes can sabotage you when you’re having a bad week because it seems like everyone else in the blogosphere is doing just fine and dandy.

The honest truth:   I have bad weeks just like everyone else, bloggers just tend to leave those weeks out.

I liken it to something that annoys my husband whenever we go to a restaurant, I typically try something I’ve never tried before. I’m always trying new stuff to see if it’s better than my favorite dish. I’d guess 85% of the time this comes back to bite me as the dish is rarely as good as my favorite or it’s a complete and utter failure. It’s the 15% that I live for, the moments I take that first bite and it’s the best thing I’ve ever had at that restaurant. Usually it’s worth all the failures.

I appreciate my successes more because of the failures that I’ve had.

So ask yourself, what is your fear of failure holding you back from achieving?


  1. Barbara Vickery says:

    Sometimes the mistakes are what makes a quilt a quilt. When women made quilts 50+ years ago, it wasn’t about perfectionism but about providing warmth for their families when it was cold during the Fall and Winter months. Many of those quilts are family heirlooms today not because they are pefect or pretty but because of the “story” that is attached to the quilt – where the fabric came from, who made it and for what occasion. Many times the STORY is what makes a quilt perfect and beautiful. Ask your Aunt Connie about the quilt she got from Aunt Sue. When Connie first saw the quilt she thought it was the most ugly thing she had ever seen but then Sue reminded her of childhood days spent combing the tangles out of Connie’s long hair before school every morning. It brought Connie to tears and now Connie LOVES that ugly quilt.

  2. I really appreciate you talking about fear Katie. All of the things you mentioned, I too have struggled with. People generally don’t talk about topics that make them uncomfortable and it takes a special person to bring it up and remind us readers that everyone struggles with fear. Currently I am really trying to work up the courage to go to my first guild meeting. I am a very shy person, even commenting on blogs was hard at first. It’s tomorrow night and I wish I had a quilty friend to drag with me.

    • Wish I could go with you! I’m sure you’ll have a good time and will make some great new quilty friends. I’ve met some wonderful people through quilt guilds. I also went to my first meeting by myself and it was uncomfortable but I really enjoyed seeing all the quilts and feeling like I was “among my people”. I hope you have a good time! Kudos for stepping out of your comfort zone and going for it.

  3. Thank you. I am not a quilter but just starting to sew again and to embroider. Well I should be, but fear of failure has me on the other side of productivity.