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?
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.