Since I’m consumed by the book this week, I asked on Twitter if anyone wanted to guest blog about fear and creative demons. Look for some wise, thought-provoking posts from some very smart people over the coming days.

First up is Kate Atherley, whom I met in person at Knit City last fall. She might be the one person on the planet who has a chance of convincing me to knit socks. Kate is an experienced knitter, but a crocheter and cross-stitcher with plenty of suck. (And that one time she tried to sew a dress? Fantastically awful.) A refugee from the technology industry, she’s using her university degree in mathematics much more in her second career as a knitting designer and technical editor. You can find her at www.kateatherley.com, and on Twitter and Ravelry as wisehilda.

Kate Atherley on Fear and Learning: Embrace The Suck!

Wipeout – Lennox Head Surfers – 7 Mile Beach by neeravbhatt, on Flickr (cc-nc-sa licensed)

I teach knitting, to adults. After ten years of doing this, I can say with utter certainty that adults are terrible students.

As adults, we forget how to learn. We forget that you have to be bad at something before you can be good at it.

Kids are learning every minute of every day, and they understand the process: you try something, it doesn’t work out, so you try it again. There’s no fear of failure. There’s no judgement.

Adults are always judging themselves. As a knitting teacher, I see this every week. “But mine doesn’t look like yours.” I would hope not! I’ve been knitting seriously for over 20 years, and teaching knitting for 10. If your work looked like mine on first try, you’d be putting me out of business.

Many adults, upon experiencing that first failure, shut down. “Oh, I can’t do it.” “This is too hard.” “I’ll never be as good as you.” “I’m just not talented at this sort of thing.” “My mother said I’d never be able to do it.” Trust me, I’ve heard it all.

Adults judge their work against an impossible standard: mine. It’s not that I’m some sort of world-beating master at this stuff. It’s just that I’ve been practicing for a while. More than ten minutes, anyway.

Adults believe failure to be bad. And so they don’t put themselves in a position to fail. And this totally shuts down the learning process. How can you get good if you can’t first be bad at something?

If you don’t fail, you won’t know what you are good at. If you don’t fail, you won’t learn anything. If you don’t fail, you won’t get the pleasure of improving.

Embrace the suck, I say. Be proud to fail!


My own experience teaching crochet and hearing these things Kate describes was a major contributor to the birth of Mighty Ugly. I avoid teaching crochet because it stresses me out to combat this inclination we adults have to give up and put ourselves down, but in the context of Mighty Ugly, I love combatting these same inclinations. Odd how that works out, eh?