At the start of the new year, I was hired to make eight pairs of curtains for a family that I know who had moved into a new house. Wait! First, you need to know two things: one is that I briefly but significantly made very high-end, designer curtains and other textile housewares in the early 1990s. It is significant because I loved that job. I learned so much about sewing and fabric and making. Second, the people who hired me in this story are blameless and all future suffering was for me to avoid.
And that is point of this story.
You see, from almost the moment I cashed their check for the downpayment for the work, I did the wrong thing. Looking back, nine months later, I can clearly see where I went wrong but in the moment, it simply felt like confusion and discomfort.
Let's begin at the beginning.
My first mistake was around money. From the get-go, I was trying to save them money. From their conversation about the curtains and just a general vibe I picked up, it was pretty clear that they didn't want to break the bank. This is a perfectly reasonable point of view but it isn't not really possible when hiring someone to make eight pairs of custom-made curtains, including two that will cover french doors. Oh - and all of them are doubled lined (meaning a flannel lining and a white cotton lining). With the genius of hindsight, my reaction should not have been to try to minimize the amount of fabric needed and cut corners on my own fees but to sit them down and explain that custom-made curtains are expensive. Period. Inexpensive curtains can be purchased at IKEA for a shockingly low cost and will look lovely. Eight pairs of double-lined, custom made curtain will cost thousands of dollars. But I didn't do that. Not only did I underpay myself for my time but it led me to skimp on the design. As a result of skimping, they were unhappy with the two of the eight pairs and I had to re-make them, thus losing even more money. The pool of unhappiness was deep!
The second big mistake I made was to confuse my role - was I a designer or a craftsperson? Indeed, the whole experience came about as a result of my confusing my role. My yoga mentor, Chase Bossart, has a most wonderful way of discussing the Bhagavad Gita in which the main takeaway is that Arjuna's suffering comes about all because he is confused about his role. Once Krishna walks him through the correct way to look at his life, he becomes clear about what to do and he is no longer suffering.
As I sat in my studio, re-making the last pair of curtains for the third (yes, that is three (3) times!), I suddenly thought, "Why, I am just like Arjuna, if Arjuna did windows!" If I had been clear about my role in this project, I would have better explained about the cost. I would have gratefully but clearly said no to offers of help for the installation and I would have presented them with a design - a complete package of how the whole thing would look and that's what they would have bought. Instead, it was some half-way thing that was just confusing all around - was I just the craftsperson making what they wanted? (Except that they didn't know what they wanted until they saw what they didn't want.) Or was I offering them a whole, new look as a designer would?
Nine months later, I have finally completed the job. It was humbling, if not downright humiliating at times. But seeing the connection to Arjuna helped. It wasn't that I was a bumbling idiot or even bad at making curtains (I'm not). This very simple notion - that when we are clear about our role then the work can flow harmoniously - is worth remembering that when things get dark and confused so we can check in with ourselves and see what needs to change. Even if things aren't going smoothly, if we know that we are doing our job as intended, it makes it so much easier. All jobs have bumps in the road so the bumps aren't the problem. It knowing that we are doing the correct job - OUR job - that is the lynchpin.
Chase is leading an online class about the Bhagavad Gita and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you, even if you think you are not interested in that kind of stuff. He has a genius for making these ancient texts relevant to your very own life. And he will make you laugh about it too.
At a certain point in the whole curtain debacle, I thought that I would never, ever do this again. But as I finished up that last, most persistent, pair, I realized that I do actually love this work and I would do it again. In the end, all the curtains I made were gorgeous. The issue was being clear about my role. Should I have another chance to take up such a job, I feel confident that it will go quite differently.