The Stories We Tell Ourselves

MugI’m not good at mugs.

I’m not artistic like I think I should be, I don’t draw or paint or make beautifully printed text like “real” artists do.

I can’t carve or slip trail in romantic swirling perfection.

And on and on they go…those stories I tell myself.  And that’s just about being a potter/artist/craftsman.

Don’t even get me started on all the other stories I tell myself at work, at home, when it comes to relationships and so many other things.

This past week was a week of re-writing two of those stories.

Math & Finesse.

Let me explain.

In school, I hid books underneath my math text book and read stories while the teacher put numbers on the board.   There was nothing more dull to me than numbers that didn’t mean anything other than there was a right one at the end and a wrong one.  I couldn’t have cared less which one was right….there was something infinitely more fascinating going on beneath that algebra text and I didn’t want to miss it!  And honestly at that point in my life I didn’t want to be “right”.  Right was boring, right was the establishment, right were the parents and teachers and I saw right through their proclamations.

I saw fear.

Later in high school and then in college there were these wonderful subjects like Physics and Statistics.  All of a sudden numbers told stories.  Stories that I wanted to know more about, finally math had a purpose.  But I hadn’t been paying attention in years before… I struggled to catch up and I did.  But I felt ashamed….and not smart.  And that feeling about math has stayed with me as a silent stigma in my mind.  I’m not good at math.  I’m not as smart as other people at my education and career level.  I say this to myself and it is NOT true.  But oh my how it can paralyze me at the most inopportune moments.  It’s a lie.  I tell it to myself anyway.  Because at one point in my life I compared myself to what other people thought I should be.  What I thought I should be.

Should is a stupid word.

I work in an industry and a role where analysis of data is paramount to what I do.  I’ve always been able to make broad sweeping arguments for what should be done.  I’ve almost always been right. (well ALMOST always 🙂  Experience, intuition, the part of my brain that can do meta-analysis and think in process oriented scope were what saved me, but there was always someone quick with a complicated spreadsheet that I couldn’t put together as fast as they did.  I felt small, I re-told the stories, the lies.  I would hide.  I was afraid to ask for help or show that I was weak in that area, especially since I had risen to ranks where I “should” be able to do all of that and more.  I’m supposed to be a superstar right…ha!  So I skipped a few steps, and I had a moment this past week when what I was working on was so important and so immediate that I shut off the looping tape of I’m not good at math and just did the very simple but tedious part of finding the numbers, slowing myself down, asking the right questions, checking the work 10 times and opening myself up for help when it was needed and wala!  I went further and learned more in one single day than I have in literally years of my career.  You know why?  Because I decided I wanted to tell a different story and I was tired of lying to myself and playing inferior.   Funny thing is as soon as I stopped obsessing about not being “smart enough” there was room in my brain and clarity to figure out what I needed to do.

I’m smart at math…and analytic s and complicated versions of the same truth.  That’s my new story and I’m sticking to it!

The second story I’m recreating has to do with details, craftsmanship and finesse.

When I first started doing pottery my personality wasn’t the same as other potters I knew and shared a studio with.  I was much more impetuous.  I didn’t keep my station clean, I had mud in my hair.  I was a little louder than the others.  If I couldn’t do something right away, I instantly went to the story about me not being an artist.  Not sure where I got that one but I’m sure it was from coloring outside the lines one too many times 🙂  The finesse parts were not my thing….I wanted to throw BIG and FAST and NOW!  So there was a bit of passion being expressed but what a better medium than clay?  It absorbed my energy and eventually once I centered myself, lost myself, the clay did as well and after hours and hours of muscling it out on the wheel I did end up making some shapes that could be recognized as pots.  But I never went back to the hard stuff.  I made bowls and vases and more bowls and vases cause that was easy for me.

Anything where I had to obsess over a seam, or detail or slightest undulation made me shiver with dread.  So I stayed away from it because I couldn’t do it…right?  Plus I said I hated doing it…that way I just got to get away with my big sweeping “I’m a different kind of artist” excuse.  I don’t DO functional I’d say. lol!

But you know what?

I’m flipping GREAT at mugs!

If I slow down, if I take the time, if I allow mistakes and blunders and work with the medium.  If I admit I’m probably not going to get it perfect the first time.  But I CAN do it…….if I shut off the loop in my brain and give my hands and spirit a little grace.

I just finished 8 mugs and 6 of them are freaking awesome!  The best I’ve ever made and I’m actually proud of them.  They took me a LONG time, I had to wait and wait and wait for each part of the process to unfold but in the end my handles were straight (mostly) the seam between the wall of the cylinder and the attached handle was flawless and the molded pieces of clay that I attached were smooth, even and perfectly floating as if they had always been there.

I did it.  I chose to tell a different story about the potter I am becoming.

I don’t have to shrink away from anything that is hard…..I just have to re-write the script.

What story holds you back in your development?

What scripts run through your head in the important times, when it comes to the things you care the most about?

What do you have to loose if you simply say “I disagree and I’m going to prove I’m wrong?”

Here is to a new day, a new story and a new door opening up for you and me and all of us.

Namaste my friends!

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