I remember sewing before the internet. For me, and for most of the folks I knew who were sewing, it was primarily about achieving a goal–usually a finished garment. Sewing wasn’t, for us in the pre-blog, pre-Pinstagram age, about ALL THE PROJECTS WE HAVEN’T DONE YET. But doesn’t it seem as though sometimes, now, it IS about just that? All the millions of projects we haven’t done yet? And somehow, that bleeds over into me feeling as though I should know more, more, more and that I need to be better, better, better. As if my skill at the machine will be a reflection of my value as a person, and that somehow the photos I post or the number of tutorials I do will make me feel accomplished and successful.
This is not a rant, honest. Because even in those pre-internet, pre-blog days, I sure as shootin’ would hoard fabric and stash patterns, and more than once was known to get them out of the closet and spread them across the floor and make Big Plans for ALL THE SEWING I was planning to get done. (Just like I do now, as it happens.) And I am very content to both write and read tutorials, and am inspired and energized by what the online community has to offer–some of my closest, most sympatico friends are those whom I know from the Interwebs, and I am proud and grateful to know them. What I’m getting at, I think, is the sense of time pressure that the internet presents, that urgency to have achieved…whatever the goal is…RIGHT NOW. And I think it’s both misleading and not a whole lot of fun.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book a few years ago called Outliers. It’s a book about success, and while I was fascinated by the statistics and his interpretations, what stuck with me is a phrase he repeats throughout the text: he talks about “The 10,000 Rule” as he writes, referring to his belief that to become expert at something, one must practice a particular skill for around 10,000 hours before becoming truly competent to the point of gifted innovation. He uses The Beatles as an example, explaining how while they were an obscure little band from an obscure little English town, they played in Germany to get some exposure, sometimes eight hours a night for five nights a week, to an audience who largely weren’t listening. And according to Gladwell, it was these hours that MADE them The Beatles, and not just another band from Britain during the British Invasion. It was those 10,000 hours where no one cared how good they were or what style they played or what song it was, even. They could make all the mistakes they wanted–and learn from the reaction of the crowd and from their own ideas and fooling around. They just PLAYED, their instruments and, in the truest sense, like children. Remember when it was all just for PLAY?
What a luxury, to have those 10,000 hours to practice and make mistakes and learn and grow and evolve and innovate! And to a certain degree, the internet makes that difficult. In some ways, of course, having the World Wide Web is wildly inspiring and gives us all ideas we might never have had otherwise. It offers us connections and community and interaction, ways to bounce ideas around and share our knowledge. I, for one, am unendingly grateful for the freedom and success the internet has offered me, which I might not have found through any other medium. I am not, by any means, pooping on the internet. What I do feel, quite strongly now and again, is that the SPEED of the internet can work both for us and against us. And for those of us who sew, it does create a sense that we must learn NOW, NOW, NOW. All those inspiring posts, if seen through the wrong lens, can feel less like inspiration and more like condemnation because we weren’t as clever or as original or as passionate or as well-photographed. (I feel very sure I am not the only one who has felt this way.)
Which makes me think of the 10,000 hours. What luxury, to have that time to grow and screw up. That’s right: to screw up. I know, I know that to some of you, the idea of SEWING FOR 10,000 HOURS seems like a death sentence–I am a big fan of getting to the meat without flibberty-gibbeting around first. But don’t you see?? That’s the message we’re losing! What if the 10,000 hours IS the meat?? And we’re missing it. Maybe it’s the journey, and not the destination.
I’m not in sewing because I want to be an expert. That isn’t my goal. That isn’t my Point B, to be an expert, no matter that my LinkedIn profile says “Aspiring Sewing Guru” (it was kind of a joke). I’m in sewing because I love the endless, endless challenge of it. I love that there is an unlimited vastness of variation. It’s the same sensation I get when I walk into a library: I am overwhelmed with excitement and can’t wait to read ALL THE BOOKS. When I taught school, though, I took a class to the library once, and one of my less-naturally-academically-talented students said, quietly, just to me, “Man, it’s like the books are reminding me that I’ll never be able to read them all. Makes me not even want to start.” What a huge moment to stand in someone else’s shoes that was–what a very different picture of the world and of possibility.
I see the 10,000 hours not as a burden, not as a reminder that I’ll never be an expert, but rather as an OPPORTUNITY. What luxury! To have 10,000 hours where I can make absolute garbage and it WON’T MATTER. You know why? Because I won’t BE an expert yet. How great is that? We don’t give ourselves much margin in this internet age. We, the first world, have become so accustomed to being great at things right out of the gate that we don’t cut ourselves much slack, or give ourselves much rope. But all great explorers took along a lot of rope. You never know when you might discover a cliff that needs to be scaled, or a fabulous mountain to climb.
At the end of my life, both my actual life and my sewing journey, I want to leave a legacy. I want to have worked to learn something new and share it with others. I don’t think I will learn that new something if I expect to be an expert TODAY. I need that 10,000 hours of practicing, of making mistakes, of being inspired, of being dissatisfied, of being frustrated, of being overwhelmingly proud, of being upset, of being excited, of learning and discovering and exploring senseless ideas just to see where that path leads–even if it’s to nowhere and I have to start all over. Margin is glorious, because it gives us room to invent new things, and room to make mistakes.
I don’t know how many hours I have under my belt at this point. Not 10,000. No matter where I am or where you are, though, I want my outlook to be about discovery and innovation. Even if that outlook leads me down the wrong path to start with. Even if sometimes that innovation means putting a donkey head on a backpack and standing back and the only word is, “Ew.”