I think bad experiences usually teach us more than good experiences, especially when the cause of the bad experience is our own fault. That’s right, screwing up is a good thing – but only if you can figure out when, why, and how you screwed up and avoid doing it the same way again.
This past weekend I volunteered at a black tie fundraising gala and auction for one of the local theater houses. About three days before the gala, something clicked into place in my brain and I realized that I did not, in fact, own anything that could even loosely be described as black tie apparel. Being me, I immediately decided that I would make use of some lovely black and silver brocade fabric I’ve had lying around for awhile and make myself a dress. When it became obvious that the fabric I had was not going to be enough, I simply shrugged and made a run to the fabric store to buy a larger cut of something different.
Up to this point, everything still could have come out just fine. Unfortunately, in my haste, I chose to use a pattern that I had handy and make a few adjustments to it rather than going through my stash for something that was appropriate as-is. The adjustments I made ended up leaving the dress too tight in the hips, which was not only uncomfortable but fairly unattractive as well. That’s how I ended up dashing into JC Penney at one o’clock on the afternoon of the gala and asking a very startled clerk, “Where’s your formalwear?!”
Luckily, I found an appropriate dress in the correct size for a reasonable price and it even ended up being quite comfortable to wear throughout the evening. I was in and out of the store in fifteen minutes. I’d have saved myself a good deal of time and stress, however, if I’d had the sense to go to JC Penney and buy that same dress three days earlier.
Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, I dislike the word “expert” because I think we attach a false expectation of infallibility to people who are deemed experts. Just because a person knows a lot about a subject does not mean that they will always be right. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”
You could say my mistake was the patterning error that I made and that would be accurate, but incomplete. I definitely won’t make that exact mistake again. I will, however, make some other kind of measuring miscalculation or stitching blunder. It happens all the time. That’s why costumers and clothing designers use mock-ups.
My true mistake, the one that I need to learn from, is that it is never a good idea to make something from scratch under a tight deadline when it can be bought instead. I have joked with several of my friends that if I have three weeks to build a costume, it’ll be done in as many hours, but if I need it tomorrow, I will inevitably fail. Call it Murphy’s Law, call it bad luck, but the fact is, the less time you have to finish something, the more likely it seems that something will go wrong.
As much as it felt like last weekend was an immense waste of time, energy, and fabric, it wasn’t. Not only because I will eventually alter the dress to correct the mistakes I made and be able to wear it, but also because it taught me a lesson that I have needed to learn for some time. As the auctioneer at the gala put it, “We don’t make our money off of the highest bidder. That’s who we collect it from, but we make our money from the second, third, and fourth place bidders. They are the ones who push the highest bidder to offer the highest amount.” Likewise, mistakes push us to reach higher, to get better, to learn more. The good experiences make us feel great, but it’s the bad experiences that make us great.