I remember my first pottery class at Pitzer College in the early 1980’s. Our instructor, Brian Ransom, was a young guy who was missing a few fingers. We sat at our wheels as he talked us through throwing a cylinder. It was a challenge; my pot was small and misshapen, and had taken me an hour to make. And it was precious. Brian then instructed us to cut our pots in half vertically. What? Don’t you know how long it took me to make that? What if I can’t ever make one like that again? I cut it in half. The lesson was two-fold: 1. Cutting it in half enabled me to see how thin and even the walls of the pot were (not at all), and 2. Don’t get too attached.

It’s only clay. To become proficient at pottery you have to practice for thousands of hours. You will make so many pots. Your garden will become filled with your failures. Your kitchen cupboards will overflow with your mismatched little darlings. Your friends and relatives will become sated. One time my sister called to thank me for the bowl I had sent her and stated that she would put it “with all the others”.

So, along the way, you start cutting those pots in half on your own. You reach a level where you no longer want to keep the pots that you aren’t satisfied with. You realize that you will gain more from cutting those pots in half and seeing where you went wrong then trying to trim and glaze them in a way that will hide their imperfections. As you improve, you begin to have a certain resilience about your pottery. You begin pushing your pots to the limit, knowing they may fail. You realize that you CAN recreate them, and that there is always room for improvement.

This resilience has carried over into my daily life. I no longer expect perfection and laugh readily at my mistakes. Though I used to have a certain hesitance about trying my hardest to put myself out there (what if I fail or am rejected), I now wholeheartedly give things my best effort. Because without that effort I can’t fail, and if I don’t fail, I can’t improve.

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