I. Love. Tim. Gunn. He is by far the best part of Project Runway, next to the incredible artistry, of course. When I saw his name as a guest puzzler on my favorite podcast, Ask Me Another, I stopped my CD mid-song and pressed play (Yes, I still listen to CDs. Let’s move on). The episode didn’t disappoint; I loved playing along with the pun games, and the rhyming “Make it work”-themed game, but what was unexpectedly transformative was Tim’s interview itself.
Tim is known as a style icon. His job on Project Runway is to interview designers and help them to see what’s working, what’s not (yet), and what needs to go altogether. Known for his trademark suits, he bought his first pair of sweatpants THIS YEAR. The man eats, sleeps, and breathes fashion—and even had a cameo on How I Met Your Mother as Barney Stinson’s personal tailor.
So it came as a surprise to me when Tim said that, after completing his first day of filming for The Smurfs, Rita Ryack called and told him his clothes were not good enough.
“I was devastated… humiliated,” he told host Ophria Eisenberg.
It was this encounter that ultimately led to Tim’s signature pocket square and pattern-mixing. All because someone told him he wasn’t good enough.
TIM FREAKING GUNN.
I realized something: Even the best of us get corrected. The kings among kings have people whispering criticism to them—constructively, if they’re lucky. And sometimes that criticism hurts. Sometimes it’s needlessly, intentionally cruel. But sometimes it hurts because it’s true, because we’ve cultivated a blind spot that would have continued to grow had somebody not pointed it out.
In the past year, I’ve started seriously editing and querying my novel. This inevitably means I’ve opened the door to criticism, and there have been days that I’ve wondered if I’ve just been kidding myself about writing. Maybe my parents, relatives, friends, and my fifth-grade teacher were pumping me full of flimsy, empty praise. Maybe all they did was set me up for failure.
In a way, they did. But in just the small amount of failure I’ve experienced so far, I’ve also grown so much. I have fully opened myself up to criticism, and every single person who has read even part of my novel has provided me with new insights, questions, and perspectives into my own work. After every huge edit, I know I am getting closer and closer to the polished novel that will one day sit proudly on bookshelves.
I used to hate criticism. In ninth grade, I was so adamant that nobody had the right to tell me what to change about my writing that I intentionally made errors in my first draft. These weren’t pieces of metal buried in the sand, they were huge, aggressive chunks of gemstones sitting right there on the beach. That way, when my peers circled my spelling mistakes, when they made comments like “your verb tense shifts here,” I could smirk and say, “Yep. Sure did. I’ll get right on fixing that,” and know that nothing I’d created had seriously been judged.
Now, I am so grateful that I’ve let that wall down. It’s taken years, lots of introspection, and more than one night spent crying in my car after a writing workshop class, but I’m ready. I’m updating my signature look.
I’m finding my pocket square.