A work of one’s own

Published by Lori Pickert on September 14, 2010 at 03:44 PM

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. — Anne Morrow Lindberg

A few weeks ago we had some good conversation in an open thread about stress and perfectionism in relation to journaling/documenting.

“takes me away from being engaged and produces an insane amount of guilt and perfectionism”

“the pressure these days to make everything we make a perfect thing of beauty and creativity”

“it might just be simple like starting something new is hard”

What I write about here and what I advocate for children is helping them find their own meaningful work — helping them to identify their interests and dig deeply into something that engages them totally.

As I say over and over, this is challenging work. Challenging for you. It means doing something new that might feel awkward and make you feel unsure. It means examining — deeply — your beliefs about children and learning. It means trying new things, experimenting, making mistakes, trying again — and sharing the process with your child so she can accept all those necessary stages of learning.

It is important for you to find your own meaningful work as well.

And even if “learning mentor” isn’t your destined meaningful work, I believe it can put you on the pathway to finding it. Or help you develop your strengths if you have already found it.

When you decide to really become a researcher, studying how your child learns and how you can support him to become an independent, self-directed learner, you are embarking on your own personal learning journey.

How do we begin to walk the path that we want for our children?

Perfectionism is your enemy when you are learning something new.

It can insidiously whisper in your ear that you have no natural talent for this, so why continue? But it’s the people who continue to chip away at it who will succeed in the end.

You need to apply the exact same expectations to yourself that you would apply to your child. If you don’t expect perfection from her, why would you expect it from yourself?

If you want her to dive into life with gusto, accept mistakes and bounce back with new ideas, rise up to challenges, and not be afraid to set high goals ... don’t you want those same things for yourself?

You are doing something new and challenging, exploring new ideas, trying new approaches.

Support yourself the way you would support your child:

• Be encouraging and positive.

• Provide a great working space and attractive materials.

• Urge ownership of the work. This isn’t something done to impress someone else, get a good grade, or get posted on the internet. This belongs to you and your opinion is what matters.

• Be supportive and follow through.

• Build reminders into your schedule and your workspace to help you fulfill your goals.

• Know that mistakes are a necessary and unavoidable part of learning. It’s how we react to the mistakes that matters.

Remember that when you judge yourself harshly, you are teaching your children without saying a word. And when you dig into something challenging and work hard at it until you’re flushed and happy with the results, you’ve taught them something else.

Everything you do doesn’t have to be worthy of sharing on the internet. Take time every day, even if it’s only a few minutes, to do something for yourself. Read, listen to music, walk, garden, whatever refills your well. You don’t have to be alone or child-free — make it a priority to do the thing that you enjoy most, whether you’re alone or not! Get in the habit of thinking of yourself as worthy of time and attention.

Privacy can be the richest luxury of all. You can have your own thoughts and ideas, you can pursue your own dreams, and you don’t have to tell anyone else about it or photograph it and put it on flickr.

Instead of defining yourself by your successes, define yourself by your traits — your humor, your passion for learning, your refusal to quit, your willingness to experiment, your creativity, your joy. When all is said and done, you may want to share what you’ve learned, mistakes and all. But you don’t have to. Sharing yourself is a choice.

We expose so much of ourselves online, but we know that's not the real us that we're showing. It’s a carefully curated slice of our lives, the part we want to show. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where we think things aren’t worth doing if they aren’t worth doing well ... well enough for being photographed and shared with the world.

But there are so many things worth doing that are worth doing badly ... worth mastering slowly and even painfully ... worth our time and attention and focus. We need to remember that we own our lives and we can close the door on the world and enjoy our simple pleasures and our complex dreams alone, just for ourselves. And let the world look at someone else for awhile.

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

— Shakespeare, Measure for Measure



Comment by Wendy on September 15, 2010 at 03:11 PM

Oh, I love this! I've recently been thinking about gaining skills (whether it's painting, or html coding or playing the piano) and how at the beginning of the learning process, we're always so bad at it, and how that's perfectly fine and to be expected. And maybe if you're expecting it, you won't be as frustrated.

And I love your point about how even if you don't expect perfectionism from your kids, if you expect if of yourself, you're still teaching it to them. Good to remember.

Also, I just copied "Perfectionism is your enemy when you are learning something new" into my list of quotes. I promise to link when I eventually share it. :) (Would you mind emailing me your last name so I can be sure to attribute it properly?)

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 15, 2010 at 03:25 PM

thank you, wendy. :)

i have admitted here on the blog that i was a perfectionist in the past, and it took a lot of work to get myself out of that tendency. but it was necessary, because i was interested in so many things and i didn't want to limit myself to only those things for which i had an immediate, natural talent!

now i'm used to that early stage of learning and all the confusion and mistakes that go along with it .. and i enjoy it!

thank you for all your kind words .. and my full name is Lori Pickert! :^)

have a great day!

Comment by patricia on September 15, 2010 at 03:44 PM

You are simply awesome.

Now I'm off to have some private thoughts...

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 15, 2010 at 04:37 PM

thank you, patricia. :^) enjoy!

Comment by Kristen S. on September 15, 2010 at 08:55 PM

It is amazing how much of this advice I could (and will!) apply to the seemingly monumental task of finishing a PhD this year. The lesson of banishing imperfection is a lifelong one, for sure. Remember what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird: "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people." Thank you for the reminder!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 15, 2010 at 09:10 PM

ah, love that annie lamott quote, kristen! and thank you!

Comment by Cordela on September 15, 2010 at 10:57 PM


Comment by L. on September 16, 2010 at 01:00 AM

As a preschool teacher who is becoming greatly influenced by Reggio, I find your blog, and this post in particular, to be invaluable. When you make mistakes in day-to-day life, it's so hard not to judge yourself harshly. Keeping in mind your words, "Perfection is your enemy when you're learning something new," is a great source of comfort, and puts things in perspective.

So thanks!

Comment by Zane on September 16, 2010 at 02:08 AM

Thank you for this wonderful post.

This in particular: "Privacy can be the richest luxury of all. You can have your own thoughts and ideas, you can pursue your own dreams, and you don’t have to tell anyone else about it. . ."

This is a big part of why I decided to say farewell to my blog a few weeks ago. It feels so good to have our privacy back (even though of course most of our life was private all along. . .). I feel so refreshed and rejuvenated. I'm also reading other blogs with greater enjoyment now!

Thank you, again, for articulating the wisdom of being alone.

Comment by Jacinda on September 16, 2010 at 09:45 AM

Wow, what a great post Lori. I think this really gets to the heart of what living a creative life is. Creative in the way that we can build our own lives into the form that reflects our true, authentic selves. Thanks.

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 16, 2010 at 12:33 PM

L, thank you! and congratulations on your wonderful job. :^)

i used to tell my teaching staff that if they weren't making mistakes, they were playing it too safe. it's important to feel for the edge — that line you are trying not to step over when it comes to letting children manage their own learning. if you don't feel for it, you'll try to stay safely far away .. and that means you aren't working with the children right at their challenge point. if you don't risk stepping over it, you can't get a feel for where it is .. and eventually you'll master that delicate balance.

e-mail me sometime and share your classroom story with me!

zane, thank you, and congratulations on freeing yourself from your blog! :^)

thank you, jacinda. mm, i think you're right -- creativity requires a quiet, safe, apart space. and authenticity and individuality is what we're aiming for, right? :^)

Comment by estea on September 16, 2010 at 03:36 PM

can i call this perfection? 'cause that's what it is. thank you.

Comment by Dawn Suzette on September 16, 2010 at 07:03 PM

"Take time every day, even if it’s only a few minutes, to do something for yourself. Read, listen to music, walk, garden, whatever refills your well. You don’t have to be alone or child-free — make it a priority to do the thing that you enjoy most, whether you’re alone or not! Get in the habit of thinking of yourself as worthy of time and attention."

I really like this post Lori but this part struck a cord. I am learning how important it is to have my children see me doing things that I love. I have also started listening to "my" music while we make dinner. They don't always like it but I think it is important for them to know that I like things they might not and they need to listen to different types of music because they never know when they might here something they like.
At the same time I am also learning that I do need some time alone during the day. I am thinking that getting up at 5:30 am is in my future... needed time to wake up, have a moment with my thoughts and focus for the day.
I have never been a perfectionist so my children have a great model for that... A good balance since their dad is very much a perfectionist! :)

Comment by Neo on September 16, 2010 at 07:24 PM

What a wonderful post! Thanks for all the good advice!

Comment by kort on September 16, 2010 at 09:30 PM

• "Build reminders into your schedule and your workspace to help you fulfill your goals."

*this* is the one i want to know more about.

and i think learning mentor or just plain researcher is my "destined meaningful work." i worked for a while as a research assistant for a scientist: going to the library, reading journals, asking questions, getting the chance to talk to very interesting people. the research aspect of Reggio seems unique. and so powerful.

Comment by jen on September 16, 2010 at 09:53 PM

"If you want her to dive into life with gusto, accept mistakes and bounce back with new ideas, rise up to challenges, and not be afraid to set high goals ... don’t you want those same things for yourself?"

I need to frame that and put it somewhere that I will see everyday! That is so true - I talk to my kids all the time about learning from making mistakes . . . yet I am so often petrified by fear of failure (or even just not as good as I want it to be).

Comment by nancy on September 17, 2010 at 02:31 AM

well said Lori. great thoughts as always.

Comment by Lisa on September 17, 2010 at 04:03 AM


I'm intrigued and heartened by your post. I'm moving more to a project-based learning style in our homeschool. Let me rephrase --- the kids have always done their learning in this way; it's just that I'm finally beginning to shake off the shackles of my own control issues and get out of their way a bit better, lol.

I do have a question for you -- do you require anything of your kids? Do you make suggestions as to output? Do they still have to do math, languages, things that seem to need more regular practice and study? How do you satisfy yourself that they have completed an inquiry? Is it just discussion-based? (Okay, that was more than just "a" question.)

Thanks for taking the time to help me get my head around this.


Comment by Stacey on September 17, 2010 at 05:52 PM

"Everything you do doesn’t have to be worthy of sharing on the internet. Take time every day, even if it’s only a few minutes, to do something for yourself. Read, listen to music, walk, garden, whatever refills your well. You don’t have to be alone or child-free — make it a priority to do the thing that you enjoy most, whether you’re alone or not! Get in the habit of thinking of yourself as worthy of time and attention."

Okay this might just be a babble.
I've been trying to do this a lot. We have been having lots of camera free days, slowing down on the blog posts and focusing more on what we want to do for us. I still think the internet is a great tool for learning and conversation but like everything it has it's ebb and flow.

Yes we look for the "pretty" and "cool" things to share but for me when I am doing that I find that it is usually because I need a reminder that I am doing the things I want to/ need to. When I am feeling more confident about my path I feel less of a need to share with others.

Also I find that when I am engaging in things that interest me it has two benefits. One I am more grounded and generally happier the second is that when I am engaged with things that interest and absorb me I find that it inspires my son to delve into things as well. HE likes nothing more to be working next to me on his own project when we can help each other from time to time....okay deep long sessions of playing with his friends and building train tracks, but in his mind they are all projects.

Just some thoughts.

Comment by maya on September 18, 2010 at 02:24 AM

Oh Lori, thank you! Profusely. These are some powerful thoughts, and timely for so many of us.

Comment by Tracie on September 18, 2010 at 01:04 PM

Wonderful food for thought. I struggle with these issues all of the time. I am an artist and the nature of my work is to work alone and communicate and connect with the byproduct of my work. The art, the blog posts, the photos are the bridge between me and the rest of the world. The process time is mine though--all mine. I do include my children. I want them to see me working and get their hands in the paint and clay. I want them to know me in this way and to understand in a visceral way who I am and what I do.

I think of myself as a private person even though I post my life on Flickr and a blog. Funny. I don't think others would know that what they see of my out here in this place is not the whole of me and my life. I think we, as members of this Internet community have reduced our attention spans greatly and we zip from place with such speed, skimming the surface and never delving deeper than paraphrased blurbs and photo essay slide shows that we have forgotten how to appreciate the small and quiet. I try to use my work and my blog (which I consider an extension of my art) to remind myself of these precious and overlooked moments. The act of journaling has become an act of affirmation, something akin to the visual journals I kept in college as an art student. Back then, it helped me to develop a visual vocabulary and a sense of creative self. Now, in my online journal, I am cultivating a personal vocabulary. I find it all very healthy and positive--until I consider the reader, the audience, the comments, the stats.

Writing for an audience is detrimental to the state of well being I attained in the being and then the documenting. I have yet to figure out how to resolve this problem.

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 18, 2010 at 01:23 PM

thank you, e. xo

dawn, that's such a great point -- letting them see you enjoying what *you* like also opens the door to their having their own taste in music & everything else -- individuality, acceptance. you see a lot of parents trying to get their kids to love what they love (whether it's opera or classic rock) but just enjoying your own pleasures sends so many positive messages.

i understand that desire for time alone .. i just wanted to say that if you can't *get* it, you can still take time to do the things you enjoy the most. sometimes if you have a baby or more than one small child, you just can't carve out even a half hour to yourself! (i used to say my "me time" was when i was in the bathroom. ;) if you *can* get some time alone, it's a wonderful thing. :) i get up at 5:30 and walk the dog. it really makes for a wonderful start for the day! (let me know how it goes.)

thank you, neo. :^)

kort, you know, we talk about making the environment support the child's ongoing investigation -- bulletin board, desk, gathered materials, in-progress work on display, etc.

basically we create an environment that gently reminds her of her work and beckons her to do more, with attractive materials and beautifully arranged spaces.

we can do the same for ourselves -- deliberately making our space reflect what we want to be working on. inspiring ourselves not with other people's work, but with our own work. making sure we have clean spaces and attractive materials that beckon.

this is like a meditation -- our environment quietly reminds us daily of who we are and who we want to be. we can focus on the things that are most important to us, and bring more of those things into our daily lives.

jen, oh, i know! :^) it is worth reflecting on -- often. it is so easy to half one set of expectations for our children and another (stricter, less forgiving) for ourselves. and the best way we can really get those lessons across to them is by living them, not saying them.

thank you, nancy! xo

lisa, so you *are* moving more to that style .. the kids are just already there. ;^)

getting out of their way is a major challenge of this style of learning!

i have written out somewhere on the blog how we personally incorporate project-based homeschooling with our learning goals for our children; i'll try to find that and post the link here and e-mail it to you. :^)

stacey, yes re: internet ebb & flow .. except some people, i think, get caught in the undertow. ;^)

one of my favorite metaphors is pooh and the honey pot he used as a boat .. one minute he was on top .. then the pot was on top. the internet can be great when we're using *it* as a tool, when we want to, for our own purposes. but then sometimes it seems to be in charge .. and blogging/photographing is a chore that must be done .. and we're serving the servant.

"When I am feeling more confident about my path I feel less of a need to share with others." love that.

"[W]hen I am engaged with things that interest and absorb me I find that it inspires my son to delve into things as well." yes! that has been my experience as well. there is an atmosphere of happy concentration that just seems to spread. often when we get off track, the jump-start seems to be cleaning and organizing our workspace. sorting through materials and projects gets ideas going, and clean spaces and organized materials entice us to sit down and play/create.

often when things aren't going well, parents concentrate on their kids and how *they* need to get organized, stop goofing off, work on something meaningful -- whereas if they themselves did those things, they might turn things around for everyone! :^)

thank you so much for sharing your great thoughts. your contribution is appreciated, as usual!

maya, thank you so much. :^) xo

Comment by QueenBee on September 19, 2010 at 03:07 AM

This isn't directly related to your post - just wanted to let you know...
I don't know how you feel about blog awards so don't feel like you have to respond, but I nominated you for one since I enjoy reading you so much and hope others will read your blog as well. Here's a link: http://lostpersonshomeschool.blogspot.com/2010/09/who-me.html. Thanks for being an amazing writer!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 19, 2010 at 05:55 PM

tracie, i absolutely believe that a private person can flickr & blog & etc. (i do ;^)

i think your take on this is very interesting. the internet *is* a shallow medium. when we share something, we can either feel very relaxed about it or very tense and pressured. we can be sharing a tiny snapshot of our life or we can be splashing it all over the internet .. only we know. people who are on the receiving end certainly make assumptions based on what they see.

writing for an audience .. interesting thoughts there, too. all artists require an audience, don't they? it's a kind of conversation with the world -- putting your work out there. that's what blogging can be like.

but .. if the balance slides the other way, then the audience is too much in the mind when the work is being created .. and experiences are being shaped by the knowledge that they will be shared.

thank you for your thoughts!

QueenBee, thank you so much. :) i am *always* touched and grateful when i get any kind of recognition at all! ;^)

thank you for the encouragement!

Comment by Lauren on September 20, 2010 at 04:40 AM

This is amazing. I think it has just altered my whole view of this homeschooling journey we are on.

Deepest gratitude for this post.

Comment by Deirdre on September 20, 2010 at 03:30 PM

Love & printing out.
I have that GK Chesterton quote on my desk wall, as well as "Sometimes DONE is better than PERFECT"; am sending my mom your line that we should define ourselves by our traits rather than our accomplishments/successes. She raised 9 children but is now looking around wondering what she has to "show" for her well-lived life.
I've started listening to podcasts while cleaning---and because I'm cleaning no one else is allowed to complain:) Heard one this weekend on Resistance by Seth Godin, which your post reminded me of---perfection seems like another form of resistance, and resistance always seems to be a good sign that you are on to something:)

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 20, 2010 at 04:51 PM

lauren, thank you!

thank you, deirdre. :)

"sometimes done is better than perfect" -- oh, that's one i need to take to heart. :) i tend to work on things forever and have a hard time saying "done"!

your mom !!! that made me tear up a bit.

podcasts while cleaning - what a great way to multitask. :) i know i have a hard time reading and vacuuming at the same time. and when i try to read and do dishes i get the library books all wet. :)

for anyone who's interested, here's a link to seth g writing about resistance -


i think you're absolutely right -- perfectionism is just another thing slowing down our progress .. or completely inhibiting it. we need to move those things out of our way so we can get on with becoming our best, most authentic selves. huzzah!

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 20, 2010 at 04:52 PM

and another good link to seth g writing about resistance -


Comment by Katherine on September 20, 2010 at 09:29 PM

As an unschooler I say Thank You.

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 21, 2010 at 03:55 PM

you're welcome, kat. and thank YOU. :)

Comment by Jedda on October 6, 2010 at 03:13 AM

I loved reading your thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to share them!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 9, 2010 at 01:00 AM

jedda, thank you so much. :)

Comment by Cathy McKay on June 29, 2015 at 10:55 PM

I'm commenting about 5 years after anyone else, but good words don't go out of date.

Firstly, Lori, I love Tuesday mornings (here in Australia) when your tip sheet arrives in my inbox. It is a lovely dose of weekly, joyful professional development. Thanks for that.

Secondly, I am a perfectionist who is home educating 5 kids (10 and under). The perfectionism is impossible to live with in this situation. I am going to cut and paste your post all over my house.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 7, 2015 at 11:51 AM

cathy, thank you so much! that absolutely makes my day. :)

perfectionism is such a tough one — that i share with one of my sons. a huge milestone for me AND my son was when he (as a teen!) said to me, “well, i’m just being a perfectionist about this” and was able to move on. i know that my working on this issue myself transparently and talking openly about it with him over the years has actually had an effect (on both of us!), which feels great. :)

thank you again for your kind words! <3

Post new comment