When things seem tough, be nicer to yourself

driving lessons


For the past few months, my girlfriend has been taking driving lessons (that’s her, above). This was a big step for her, as I know she’s a perfectionist at heart. She admittedly takes mistakes rather hard, but only because she wants to do well. If she had a button to put all the driving skills she needed into her head, she would push it. She also doesn’t want to let me down, which is sweet.

She also sometimes wishes that:

  • the roads were straighter
  • there were no cyclists
  • it didn’t get dark

We all wish things could be easy. That would make things … easier. But that’s not how things are. Driving is only easy for me because I’ve been doing it for 40 years. I’ve mostly forgotten about all the bumps in the road (see what I did there?) I have to remind her that she doesn’t actually want the driving to be easy. If it was always easy then she would never build up her resiliance to work through it.

While practising her driving, she would say things like, “That was terrible”, or, “That was really bad”. Would you say things like that to a friend? Maybe it was terrible or really bad, but beating yourself up isn’t helpful, or nice**. I suggested she should say things like “Ok. That wasn’t the best, but I know I can do better next time.”

Developing any new skill goes through several phases …

  1. This is really difficult, and I’m not liking it.
  2. It’s still kinda difficult, but I’m getting used to it.
  3. I think I can do this.
  4. I can do this, and I enjoy doing it.

I went though—and still go through—the same thing with the lettering and illustration. Some of it still doesn’t feel natural, and there are many times where I wasn’t happy with something. That doesn’t mean it was “bad”, just something I know I could improve upon next time. That’s why it’s important to document your work.

We are our own worst critics. Trying to attain perfection is an inefficient use of our time. Progress will only occur through a series of many small steps.

Surround yourself with people who support what you do, and wall off the nay-sayers. As an unofficial driving “instructor”, I have to be careful with my criticism. Too much, and I’m being picky. Too little, and I’m not being helpful.

I also find a “smile file” really helpful. Whenever you receive a positive note about your work, save it. On those days when you’re feeling low (and they will happen) pull out the file.

Will any piece you work on be perfect? Unlikely.

Will the piece you’re working on now be your last? Probably not.

When things seem tough, treat yourself like you would treat a friend. Be nice to yourself.


*On the topic of self-compassion, I would recommend any book by Briené Brown, but The Gifts of Imperfection in particular.