The Potato Peeling Lesson

We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.” – William Hazlitt

This applies to every single thing we do. Riding a bike, playing the piano, sports, running, horseback riding, making love (do I have your attention?) and pretty much anything else we do. It even applies to making the bed (see yesterday’s post) and peeling potatoes.

I remember the first time I attempted to peel potatoes. I was around ten years old, I cut myself with the peeler, the peels went flying all over and around the sink, and it took me an hour to remove most of the skin off four potatoes (and some skin off a couple of my fingers). I decided right then that peeling potatoes was not something I was good at. But out of necessity I’ve had a heck of a lot of practice and am now quite good and I find the task relatively easy. I’ve gained control over that peeler and it is now my friend.

Why does any of this matter? Because some people — like me, for example – overthink and over-research things when they should really just dive right in and start practicing. Some folks don’t want to bother practicing at something if they can’t do it perfectly the first time. A little research can be a good thing, right?

I study something to death before I try it. I’m a researcher, which is a good thing to be, I tell myself. Until I realize I’ve been researching something for months, gathering materials and tools, studying up on every aspect of this thing I want to do so badly I can taste it, like quilting and soapmaking, and have nothing to show for it. As I look back on my potato peeling lesson I realize there was only one way to master potato peeling: practice. Research back then was out of the question since there was no Internet and no youtube in those days.

I could’ve had a king size quilt completed in the time I’ve spent learning the processes. It can be a waste of time, all this research. And here’s the real problem: It’s a form of procrastination. It’s an avoidance of doing, of practicing, learning on the job, which for most of us is the only way to learn a new art, sport, hobby, or musical instrument.

Overthinking things screams the dreaded F word – fear, and for some, the P Word, perfectionism. It’s not something to be proud of, perfectionism, because if we are afraid we might not do it perfectly it can paralyze us and we do nothing instead. There’s a saying in the quilting world, “Better done than perfect.” Because part of the charm of a handmade quilt is its lovely imperfections that typically only the quilter knows about.

I know lots of people, some even close to me, who will not agree with this line of thinking, because we should all strive to do our best always, otherwise why bother? There is a deeply rewarding feeling in standing back to admire a piece of art that you created from nothing. I like that about quilting. I like that about painting and drawing and photography too. I like that about writing. And authors know a work is never complete because it can always be improved upon. Every artist struggles with when to know the work is done. She must put down her paint brush or walk away from the sewing machine or computer, and say, it is finished. But first she must begin!

Art is never perfect. If you’re an artist and this concept is new to you, I encourage you to rethink it. But please do not overthink it or you may never get started.

Now I’m off to begin my quilting project knowing it will not be perfect but it will bring me joy, satisfaction, appreciation, and gratitude, because I will learn from the process and it will get easier one day — once I cease to think about the process.