Photo of watercolor paint palette and brushes
My Experimental Year

The Failed Experiment

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After breezing through the first two experiments of the year with a near-perfect execution rate, I had a failed experiment in month three. Womp-womp.

Instead of sweeping it under the rug, I’m shining a glaringly bright spotlight on it. Allow me to walk you through what happened because there are some valuable lessons tucked inside the failed experiment. 

Learn about My Experimental Year project here.

The Original Plan

My original experiment was to do watercolor painting every single day for the month of March. I enjoy painting and figured that more would be better! 

I was slightly hesitant to choose this experiment because of the time commitment required. It takes me a minute to set up my supplies and then I’d probably want to paint for a minimum of 30 minutes. This can feel like a lot on a busy weekday.

But I had already played video games with my husband daily for January’s experiment, so this time commitment didn’t seem much different. 

The Fail

By day 5, I realized that this simply wasn’t going to work. 

My usual painting routine is to clear off my desk on Friday afternoon after I’m done working and set up my watercolors. Throughout the weekend, I work on a painting and then put everything away on Sunday evening.

Trying to paint every day very quickly turned from being a symbol of weekend relaxation to a chore—not what I was going for! 

Since my desk is the best place for me to paint, it also kept me at my desk after I’d already worked at my desk all day. It did not feel good. I wanted to experience other parts of the house. 🙃

I pondered how I might adjust the experiment to make it work, like sketching every weekday and then painting on the weekends. 

But in the immortal words of Cogworth in Beauty and the Beast, “If it’s not baroque don’t fix it.” 

I already had a painting routine that was working for me! I was trying to overoptimize and mess with something already good. 

It also didn’t feel like the right time of year for this particular experiment. 

Spring weather started in March and we have so much that we want to do to transform the mangy backyard at our new house into a dreamy escape. All I want to do is be outside on those first warm, sunny days of the year! 

The other experiment I had been thinking about was to spend time each day creating my dream backyard. I realized that I should have gone with my gut and chosen that activity. 

The Adjustment

So on March 5th, I realized that I had a few options:

  1. Push through with painting every day even though it felt like a chore. 
  2. Quit this experiment and wait until April to start a new one. 
  3. Choose a new experiment to conduct for the rest of March. 

I picked door #3! I’ll do a full breakdown of that experiment in another post. 

For now, I want to summarize what I learned:

  1. Not every activity that you enjoy would be made better by doing it daily. I enjoy painting on the weekends, and given that my weekdays are rather full, more isn’t necessarily better. 
  2. I need to trust my gut. I wavered back and forth about which experiment to choose: painting or transforming the backyard. If I had listened to my instincts, I think I would have chosen the latter. 
  3. It’s my experiment and I can do what I want! 🙂 I already knew this, but I’m glad I had a chance to put it into practice. I’m proud of myself for stepping back and deciding to adjust my original plan. 
  4. You learn more from examining failure than ignoring it. As someone who prefers not to dig into what went wrong, this feels like a big, important lesson. Journaling about the details of exactly why this experiment didn’t work brought about many revelations that I would not have realized otherwise.

Honestly, I’m glad this failed experiment happened. When something we’re working on doesn’t go perfectly, I think we all have an instant reaction to give up—like when you start a diet, eat a brownie therefore ruining the diet, and decide to try again next year.

My Experimental Year is not going perfectly. But there are powerful lessons within imperfection and exciting results can still be produced. 

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