Hey, you missed a step…


There are days when I just have to step away from the bench because nothing is going right and I know that the “not-rightness” will only get worse the harder I try. I had a string of those days over the last two weeks in April and it was demoralizing. I spent weeks working on a chair only to have the seat split into kindling as I was driving the crest rail onto the back spindles. I spent hours turning a beautiful Callery pear bowl only to have it catch and explode into pieces just as I was finishing the bottom. I bent a perfectly good band saw blade. I wanted to throw some things. It was a rough month and I put it all on Instagram as an exercise in catharsis.

 In response to one of those posts I received one comment saying it was remarkable that I would share my “prototypes,” (read: terrific failures). Others added that they were happy to know someone else made mistakes too. Those comments made me smile.

We often say mistakes are more important than successes in terms of how much they teach us, but it has occurred to me that they’re more than that. They’re a natural step in the process though they’re generally left out of the “steps” we read in magazine articles and on blogs. We pretend that they didn’t happen, or that we meant them to happen, but pretending that we’re perfect is not helping anyone.

This might be changing, but for a time the unspoken social media code was that you only posted those pictures that painted a perfect (or at least aspirational) picture of your life. The perfect latté. The perfect haircut. The perfect dovetails. (I remember actually being embarrassed to post my first few sets of dovetails on Instagram). That’s totally ridiculous. This is not to say I don’t like to post a success every once in a while or that I don’t snap a few extra shots to get just the right light, but I don’t stress if my daughter’s bicycle ends up in the background of the shot anymore and I don’t think it’s honest to leave out the things that challenge, frustrate and occasionally confound me.

We all fail. We all need to admit that. We all need to figure out how to do something constructive with those failures.

That’s the good news brothers and sisters, now here’s the philosophy: If we only post the “perfect” pictures aren’t we really leaving out a few steps? And, if we’re leaving out a few steps aren’t we really posting things out of order. And, if we’re posting our perfectly curated life out of order aren’t we essentially telling a disordered story about ourselves?

Boom. Philosophized!

This sort of disordered perfection is a catastrophic lie. It contagious. It is unproductive. It is the original sin of our craft. We can do better. We have to do better. We need to see excellence and strive for it, but we also need to know that there are probably going to be some extra steps along the way.




6 Comments Add yours

  1. The world believes that you go out buy some timber then make a piece of furniture etc. What they dont realise is even when its cut from the same section timber both will move in different ways. You can predict nature so best to walk away make a cup of tea.


  2. Matt says:

    Seeing that bowl made me think of the Japanese art of kintsugi, where they repair broken pottery with gold to celebrate the history of the object, including the break. Perhaps you could adapt the concept to wood with some colored epoxy? Check out some images to see what I’m talking about:

    Just a thought! That bowl can be saved, and maybe even the chair!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. René says:

    It seems to be a common phenomenon when new forms of communications arise: first showing the utopia then dissing it.
    As far as I got the overview, it’s been with television (just talking about the “storytelling” formats) that actors had been settled up in idyllic worlds in its early years; viewers liked that. The way to nowadays “scripted reality” by showing broken characters needed a while.
    Telling the good storys first might be the same in early oral narrations, books and magazines, too.
    In the social media sphere that kind of change might come these days; Your blog post is one proof for that. On the other hand: As with other public media, aspects of marketing are dominant.
    I like your way of including the failures into a bigger something, as part of a path to follow, to grow.
    I’d like to read more about you and others to get on further after something has broken.
    But it wouldn’t be interesting to me when I get the feeling that the “bad story” is part of a bigger (self-)marketing bubble. In that case I’d rather read the utopia and put that dystopian literature back in the shelf with the lockable doors.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Roccaways says:

    Great post, James! When bloggers/instagrammers/podcasters become insincere I tend to just tune them out or unsubscribe. I really felt for your string of bad luck. The chair especially seemed painful.

    Hey, that blue bowl kintsukuroi photo posted by Matt is from the Hey Rosetta! album of the same name.

    Liked by 1 person

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