Practice, Pottery, and Comfort Zones

I’ve been on a mission to purge my house and office of anything I don’t need, use, or love. It’s been liberating (out you go!), horrifying (where did all this stuff come from?!), and gratifying (my long-lost favorite gloves :-)).

Also unearthed was a stack of bowls I made in a pottery class 20+ years ago.

The bowls couldn’t have been more ordinary. But the class ended up being about much more than learning to make pottery.

At the time, my MO was to avoid situations where I might not excel.

If something didn’t come naturally, it wasn’t for me.

That changed the day I flipped through my local Parks and Recreation catalog of classes and saw this:

Pottery: Throwing on the Wheel (9 sessions)

Discover the joy of creating functional clay vessels such as mugs, bowls and vases. Beginners are introduced to basic wheel techniques such as wedging, centering and throwing.

Spatial skills aren’t my strength. But I love ceramics, and was so entranced with the idea of joyfully creating pottery that I registered for the class, even though I knew I might not be good.

Hmmm … might not be good? How about WORST in the class!! And no, I’m not just being hard on myself.

By the 3rd week, everyone else was producing bowls and vases that ranged from lopsided to solidly good.

My special talent was an ability to stick my thumbs through every item I attempted to make.

But I was still hanging on to my romantic idea of making pottery. So despite my embarrassment and frustration, I kept at it. At a minimum, perhaps I’d become more open to trying things outside my comfort zone. 

And hopefully I’d get better. Ha!!!

Despite showing up for class every Wednesday and taking advantage of the weekly open studio hours, another three weeks passed with virtually no improvement. I was stressed, frustrated, and hated feeling so inept.

It was time to stop torturing myself.

I gave myself credit for sticking it out for six weeks, breathed a sigh of relief, and scurried back into my comfort zone.

Turns out the universe had other plans for me. 🙂

The next evening I got a phone call from the instructor saying she’d be holding extra open studio hours. When I told her I was dropping the class, she burst into tears and said, “I’m a horrible teacher, this is my fault. Please give me another chance.”

Seriously!!

No matter my assurances that it wasn’t about her, she pleaded with me not to quit. I finally agreed to try one more class, but only if she’d try a different teaching style. She agreed and I dragged myself to class the following week.

We did figure out a new approach, and over the next three weeks I made eight thumb-hole-free bowls. Yay!!

While the bowls have been collecting dust for over two decades (and are now in the donate pile), the lessons I learned in those nine painful weeks have been well used and rarely out of sight.

  • Your ability to create the life you want is 100% correlated to your willingness to regularly expand your comfort zone. 

    I’d never have imagined that my foray into “Throwing on the Wheel” would activate my willingness to step into the space of not knowing whether or not I’d excel. But that’s exactly what it did. 
  • You can’t stretch your comfort zone without expanding your capacity for discomfort.

    That’s what those nine weeks were really about for me. While everyone else was practicing basic wheel techniques, I was building a discomfort muscle. The beauty of practice!!
  • When you ask for what you want/need, you increase your odds of success and reduce your suffering.

    And yes, asking is often uncomfortable. One more opportunity to practice discomfort. 🙂

    Only because my teacher burst into tears on the phone, did I ask for help. And because I got what I needed, I stuck around for the full nine weeks … and the “if you don’t think you’ll excel, don’t even bother” wall began to crumble.
  • Stretching out of your comfort zone is an act of courage.

    We’re all braver than we think we are. And that includes you!

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” ~ Mary Tyler Moore

Posted in

Sherry Essig