The Free Motion Quilting Project: The Joy of Being Good at Something

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Joy of Being Good at Something

I woke up this morning with a giant smile on my face. This is saying something because I woke up at four a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep!

It's hard to distill my wonderful mood into a simple single reason, but I think the best way to describe it is it feels damn good to be good at something.

I haven't always felt good at what I do. Growing up, I was given attention for my beadwork, knitting, and crochet crafts, but when I'd explain that I wanted to do this work for a living, I mostly got sympathetic smiles and "There's no money in it, sweetie. You can't make a living with crafts."

This is unfortunate because these activities have been what I've always wanted to do, what I've always spent the most time on. When I'm not eating or sleeping, I want to be making something and putting my hands to good use. 

So I pursued other things, not necessarily because I liked them, but because they seemed like they were a safer bet for a secure future. In middle and high school I was in the band and played the drums.

To say it simply - I totally suck as a musician.

I got through 7 years of band, including 4 seasons of marching band with long night practices and many hours of rehearsals only through sheer force of will. I was just plain bad at it.

Comparisons aren't fair, but the fact is, I was markedly different from the other kids in band class. The other kids could "feel" the music. They didn't have to count obsessively in order to feel a rhythm, and that aspect of playing never came naturally to me. I could stitch a pretty design around the drum in beads, but when it came to feeling the beat and rhythm, I struggled because that wasn't the way my brain worked.

Could I have mastered music the same way I've mastered quilting? No. I've just never loved it the same, and in order to get good at something, you have to WANT to do it all the time. That is they key - practice. All those other kids in the drum line had spent every day for years practicing at home. I came home and knitted and made jewelry. Drumming was never going to be my passion.

When I left high school and went to college, I left music behind for good, but I pursued an equally flawed idea in going to college. I was fairly good at math and science so I started a degree in biology.

Again, I could muscle through it if I really concentrated and forced my way through. My grades were not terrible, but they weren't great either. I just didn't love it enough to really put in the practice time with study and homework.

Did my B's and C's mean I was stupid? No, absolutely not. They were an indication of my focus and attention. When I left class, I didn't go study, I went to sew!

It took a long time, and more than two years toward a college degree before I started to realize this was a weird thing to do. I began to see that, again, I was different from the other kids in school. They studied. I sewed. They organized reading groups. I organized a knitting club. Clearly I wasn't in school for the right reasons, or I just wasn't at the right school.

Eventually I stopped in my tracks and took a critical look at what I was doing. I could continue to beat my head against a wall and pursue a degree with no passion, but sheer force of will driving me to obtain this thing I didn't really want.

I thought I needed that piece of paper for a long time. I thought it would somehow be valuable to me and make me into something I wasn't. Maybe it would have the power to turn me into a dedicated biology student that loved studying and running experiments.

But people don't change that way. I was fortunate enough at 20 years old to realize that a piece of paper wasn't going to turn me into a brilliant scientist with an intense passion for microbiology. That is not me. It was never me. It will never be me.

So I guess this smile on my face today has a lot to do with that.

I know who I am.

I know what I'm good at,

and I will pursue it with intense passion until the day I die.

Let's go quilt,



  1. I love this - I've been reading "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, a book all about having a growth-mindset. I love that you're sharing how you understood that you had the capability to be one thing, but knew you could devote the time and hard work into being really great at another. More people need to understand this about themselves.

  2. Hooray for you Leah! What a great essay (or blog post). And not only have you found something that YOU are passionate about, just think how many lives around the world you have changed because of you listening to your inner voice...thank you for doing that! I have learned 80% of what I know about quilting from reading your blog (and I bought your book 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs). Continued Happy Sewing and waking up with a smile on your face.

  3. Good for you for recognizing early on what your passion is and for pouring your all into it! And you are right- you are really good at it!!! Thank you so much for being such an inspiration!

  4. I really enjoyed this post.
    Your personal story and the impact you are having on those of us in the quilting world, is a great example of how your inspiration,talent and following your passion can change the world!

  5. You are so much right. Grades or papers doesn't do an person. You are lucky to have found what you want and what you are good at and stuck to it. Gongratulations on that and keep up the good work.
    Laila, Denmark

  6. Out of curiosity... why didn't you pursue a degree in fiber arts instead of biology?

  7. I also always wanted that piece of paper. In my case it really would have helped in my career. I truly did enjoy computers and programming databases. Of course there were no computer programs in college in the late 50s and early 60s.

    I also took it for granted that I could not make a living at my other passion. I was an art student in high school and in college, but literally put the paint brush down for 50+ years. But what I really loved was crafts, especially fabric crafts. There really was no way to make a living at fabric crafts back then.

    Or was there? There is no way to really know the answer to that question at this point.

  8. What lovely words to wake up to! Thank you for YOU, Leah!

  9. We all are passionate about something in this world, but to deny it is the saddest thing that can happen (especially if it's not really our choice but heavily influenced by those whom we love(?), respect, etc!! You have blest many with your talent/creativity!!!! Hooray for Leah!!

  10. What a wonderful post!

  11. Great for you Leah! You are living my dream... home with your little one and quilting!!!! Keep up the great, awe inspiring, jaw dropping work!!!!

  12. I love this post. You were so brave to take that decision at such an young age.

    I was always torn between being a techy person and a crafter. I am so glad that after having my second baby I got a chance to embrace my crafty/sewer side when I took a break from my professional career. Quilting is definitely my passion. But I do love my other profession to some extend as well.

    BRAVO Leah!

  13. Your post really resonates with me Leah. I'm 31 now, but I began quilting in my early 20's. The Husband and I started a family earlier than many of my friends, and while they were getting a college degree, partying and living it up, my Husband and I were setting up house and raising a family. I spent my evenings sewing while others went out. I struggled with that for a long time - I am different and at times painfully aware of it. We now have three children and I did attempt going back to school a few years ago for nursing, something I would have loved to do. But it wasn't practical for my life - my priorities are my children and family first...and I'm not passionate about nursing enough to keep me pushing to attain it. I am reaching my goals slower than others because my children are always the priority, but eventually when my kids are all in school my goal is to make a living with my quilting. My Mother and I just had this discussion yesterday - sometimes the planets just align in such away that the universe plops you in the same place no matter what path you choose. For me, all paths lead to quilts.

    Keep it up Leah, you inspire many! :)

  14. I'm glad you found your passion! It's taken me a long time to really find mine. I got an accounting degree in college which does help me with my business.

    However, if I could do it over I would have gotten an art degree instead!


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