Letting Go of Perfection
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
I couldn’t take it anymore. That unfinished quilt started sometime in my now 5 ½ year old daughter’s infancy had been shuffled around long enough. I don’t know if I was missing the hobbies of my previous childless days, trying to save money with a DIY project, or wanting to give my daughter a homemade gift as a symbol of my love. Whatever the reason, I’m not quite sure how I thought I was going to finish a quilt with my schedule as a professional and new parent.
In fits and spurts over the next few years I would find the motivation to drag everything out and work on the quilt. But each time it got folded up and stored back in the closet. Whenever I looked at it, I just wanted it to magically be finished. Which was always followed by closing the door and trying to forget about it.
When we moved half-way across the country, the quilt was just one step from complete and I resolved to put it in an obvious location where it would be impossible to ignore. I refused to tuck it away and believed that by forcing myself to look at it, I would find the motivation to finish it.
The problem was that the last step is the most tedious one: hand sewing the edge. And that’s where my hang-up came in. Somewhere along the way I’d been told that there is a right way of doing this particular step. I had internalized the belief that a beautiful hand-sewn binding was the proper and right way to finish a project, at least if I wanted to have any pride in it and somehow myself as well. For years I couldn’t give myself the grace of imperfection.
But then one Sunday I finally decided that if I waited until I could meticulously hand bind that quilt, then it would be a gift for my grandchildren. I captured the moment by asking my husband to watch the children while I used the sewing machine to bind the quilt. With his acceptance and a couple of internet tutorials on this new-to-me technique, I finished about three hours later. My pride in finally finishing was met with even more excitement from my children as we placed it on the bed that is now in my toddler son’s bedroom. They immediately proceeded to snuggle, shower me with “We love it, mom!” and happily play peek-a-boo.
Now, as I sit in the rocking chair each morning as my son slowly wakes up, I look at the bed and it’s marvelously clear that the method of how the quilt was completed could not matter less. All the imperfections that I was afraid of don’t matter at all.
We’ve all been told, with varying degrees of evidence, of there being a right way to do things. Maybe it’s about financial management, screen time, ethical purchasing behavior, wardrobe choices, environmental stewardship or any other number of things. Perhaps you also have something figuratively stashed away because you are waiting to “do it right.”
When clients initially come to me, their unfinished quilts often take the form of money not yet invested in a retirement account, a disability or life insurance policy not yet selected, a will or estate plan not yet completed, or a 529 plan not yet established for their growing child. They have been told that the right thing is to learn to be their own financial advisor. I get it, I’m an educator at heart and I once spouted the mantra that everyone could do it themselves. But after meeting with hundreds of busy professionals I learned that it isn’t a matter of ability, it’s a matter of choice. The cost of leaving money uninvested or not putting a risk protection plan in place until you get around to learning more can be high, sometimes even tragically so.
I’ve forgiven myself for the years of leaving that quilt unfinished while I learned to be gracious with myself. I’m hopeful that you will forgive yourself for not knowing all the answers and be one step closer to tackling your unfinished financial projects. Maybe it’s arranging for an hourly financial planning engagement to open a Roth IRA and pick an investment. For servicemembers it could be scheduling a free consultation with an installation financial counselor about your TSP. Perhaps it’s just making the phone call to set up a legal appointment to get your will done. Whatever it is, it could be as simple as letting go of having to do it all yourself and allowing someone to help you.
I could come up with a dozen ways that personal finance and quilting are similar, but this one is certain: be gracious with yourself and move forward.