If At First I Don’t Succeed…

I can crochet.

About a month or so ago, I never would have imagined I could say those words.

Mom tried to teach me once when I was little. She made doilies and lacy cross bookmarks, among other things. I was fascinated watching her swiftly turn the crochet hook and transform string into something beautiful. And so, I asked her to teach me.

She tried to teach me with some cheap yarn in a shade somewhere between brown and red. Basically, ugly yarn that felt like it was giving my hands rug burn as I worked with it. Her right-handed efforts to teach left-handed me left both of us in frustration and tears. She quit teaching. I lost interest in learning. I swore to myself I’d never be able to do it. I then abandoned all hope of crocheting or being crafty.

The stories we tell ourselves matter. I kept telling myself I couldn’t crochet. Why? Because I failed at it once. 

Trying again at something we’ve failed at is scary and uncomfortable. It feels emotionally safer to wash my hands of the matter and say “I can’t.”

Going back to seminary was especially terrifying that first fall quarter. I’d felt like an unholy, embarrassing failure for walking away from seminary roughly eight years earlier, and now I was back trying to write papers and fit in with folks who seemed like they knew exactly what God had planned for their lives. My life has never seemed that simple. It took me a lot longer to realize that neither was anyone else’s.

Telling myself I can’t do it EVER because I couldn’t do it the ONE time I tried might not be the best message. After all, this is the very same self-talk issue that I wrestle with in students that I tutor. And after they start telling themselves this story, I find it so difficult to get them back, invested and trying again. They start to self-sabotage their learning. For me, encouraging students to manifest grit and try again is over 70% of the tutoring challenge. 

Part of the journey is finding the things they can do, which will springboard them to the next accomplishment. And the journey to crochet began with me learning to knit.

A few years ago, one of J’s coworkers came over for dinner and taught us to knit. Yes, you read that correctly. She taught J and I to knit. (One more thing that I love about J: he’s comfortable with his masculinity.)

I was curious about this whole crafting thing and figured while crocheting didn’t work at 8, maybe knitting would at 28. And it did. Initially, I felt like a monkey trying to do algebra. Ungainly and awkward. How was anyone supposed to hold the two long needles plus maintain tension in the yarn? I was convinced that I didn’t have enough fingers for this, or at the least, big enough hands.

021716 knit baby blanket

Knitting Project I Most Recently Finished: Baby Blanket For A Friend

I’m still not brilliant at knitting. I stick to simple rectangular projects. The extent of my skills are knit and purl stitches; I can’t read most patterns, add or drop stitches. I make scarves, dishcloths, and the occasional baby blanket for friends — projects I can do while I’m watching K-dramas or while waiting on appointments. Not fancy. But, I can do it. More importantly, I enjoy it, and knitting helps me battle the anxiety monsters. Side note: J has long since abandoned knitting: he’s made a hilariously awful dishcloth and a super awesome felted pumpkin.

As a friend was talking about a crochet class in January at Palette and Purl, a fabulous yarn shop in Robbinsdale, I thought I’d try crochet again. I’d managed to learn to knit, which seemed like a far-fetched dream before I tried it. So, why not crochet now?

I gave myself permission to try again at something 8 year old me failed to achieve. My circumstances and skills were different now than they were then. I’m more ambidextrous now than I was as a kid; I’ve gotten used to people teaching me how to do things right-handed, so I use my hands fairly interchangeably (except for handwriting). So maybe this time, crocheting could be different.

021716 red crocheted headband

My First Completed Crochet Project: This Red Headband

And one more shout out to Palette and Purl, because crocheting was different this time. I could do it now. My previous failure story didn’t get the last word. Now, crocheting still felt awkward at first.

I was slower than everyone else in the class, which is not my usual operating mode for learning. And that made me a titch embarrassed, but was probably a good experience for learning empathy.

I caught myself thinking I can’t do this. Instead of settling for that story, I countered with You’re just learning and learning means things feel uncomfortable and awkward. Just keep breathing and trying. And slowly, slowly things came together. I started to get what I was doing.

Finally, I could crochet.

Also, I might like crocheting better than knitting. It’s gentler on my wrists and hands, and I can do it faster. Bonus, I feel some strange sort of connection with my mom and PaPa as I work on a project. Yes, my mom’s dad crocheted too.

I also got a new story out of the deal: I can do more things than just what comes easily for me. And the things that are most worthwhile and valuable to me tend to be the things that I had to expend significant effort to accomplish. Failing at something once doesn’t mean that I can never do it; it might just mean that I need to try again later.

So, what about you? What’s that thing you’ve told yourself you could never, ever do just because you couldn’t do it once?

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