One of the classes I am teaching this summer is "Academic Success", using the textbook "Becoming a Master Student" by Dave Ellis.
According to Ellis, "A master is a person who has attained a level of skill that goes beyond technique. for a master, methods and procedures are automatic responses to the needs of the task. Work is effortless; struggle evaporates. The master carpenter is so familiar with her tools, they are a part of her." (p 43)
Some of us are born with raw talent in some areas. But even then it is usually a matter of POTENTIAL mastery, not the mastery itself. If I have learned anything at all, it is that we have to be able to stand stinking at a task for a while as we practice and refine our method before mastery will come. The novice work is by definition rough and lacking in some ways. But over time, if a person keeps at it, he or she generally develops skill sets than enable mastery.
Last night I spent several hours in the glass studio working on the stained glass project I've been doing. As this is my first ever attempt at working with glass, I am still very VERY much at the novice stage. My seams aren't as tight as I would like them to be. My cuts don't always break clean. In any number of ways my work is rough, bordering on sloppy. I'm trying my very best, but even when spending many painstaking careful hours, what I am producing is pretty marginal at best.
What I am trying to remind myself is that what I am creating in that studio is NOT just a colorful piece of stained glass. I am producing skill sets. I am producing patience. I am producing creativity. I am producing a willingness to be more gentle with myself when I make mistakes. I am producing a sense of connection with other artists. I am producing any number of things that don't show up on my work table. And if I keep at it long enough, who knows? Maybe I can get closer to developing some level of mastery.
But I have to be willing to endure this stage first.
SO many times in the past I have run away from projects because I hated my bumbling efforts. I would flock back to what I was good at, because the sense of accomplishment I'd get there was so rewarding. The problem with hating failure and/or poor results is that I limit myself by being afraid to try anything new.
Blogger Paula Spurr says on her profile: "I am an artist. I am an actor. I am a musician. I am a dancer. I am a lover. I am a writer. I am not very good at any of these things yet, but I continue to do them. Why let mediocrity stop me? The things I'm good at, like rage and laziness, I'd rather stop practicing anyway."
There's a lesson there for me.
Even if I NEVER get very skilled at working with glass, if it brings me joy, connects me with good people and creates things people appreciate - if for no other reason than I made it for them with love, what does it matter if I'm not a master?
I'm trying to let go of my long pattern of perfectionism. I do want to maintain standards of striving for excellence in all that I do. Still, it's time I give up the idea that making mistakes is unacceptable. Missing the mark is just human. I'm going to make lots of mistakes. I make mistakes when I try to cut a new piece of glass and it breaks along the wrong line. I make a mistake when I don't give my best effort at a job I've committed to. I make a mistake when I'm caught up in my own thoughts when I am claiming to be present to listen to you. I make a mistake when I think my life and my problems are more important than some other person's, simply because they are my own.
Whether it's art or work or being human, I want to recognize my mistakes so I can learn from them. In so doing, I can continue to step by step build skill sets to bring me closer to the stage of mastery Ellis speaks of. However, just as important, I think, is allowing myself a bit of grace for not being there yet.