Life Lessons from the Potter’s Wheel

This is my new favourite mug.

Kelly's mugPerhaps it’s the curved shape or the beautiful cobalt blue; something about it just captures me.  If you look at it up close, you can see that some of the glaze isn’t distributed evenly, there’s a crack where the handle meets the mug and it doesn’t even sit level.  And yet I LOVE this mug with all its imperfections… though not just for how it looks.  I also love this mug because of the lessons it’s taught me.

You see, I made this mug with my own hands.  For the past eight weeks I’ve been toiling at the wheel in a Beginner’s Pottery class.  I signed up with this CRAZY idea that ‘throwing’ pottery (as the term goes) would be relaxing.  Maybe even sexy.  (Anyone who saw the 1990 movie Ghost with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze knows what I’m talking about).  Well, that vision of the pottery experience did NOT match my reality on either count.  But what I did get out of pottery class – besides my beautiful cobalt blue mug – were some valuable life lessons that I hadn’t anticipated.

Seven Life Lessons Learned at the Potter’s Wheel

  1. It’s harder than it looks.  Some folks definitely have more natural skill at pottery than others, but the rest of us have to work – sometimes very hard – at achieving any kind of results.  And in life too, some people seem to sail on through, making it all look effortless.  But even hockey legend Wayne Gretzky says this* of the skills that earned him 61 NHL records:  “It’s all practice…Nine out of ten people think it’s instinct, and it isn’t.”  You have to work for your success.
  2. Get centered before you start anything.  In pottery, you have to completely centre the clay on the wheel before you start shaping it into anything, or it will wobble around and give you nothing but grief.  Believe me, I know.  It’s the same way in life:  if you’re not solidly grounded in your own clear set of personal values, it’s a lot more challenging to reach your dreams and craft a life you’re proud of.  It’s important to always stay focused on what truly matters to you.
  3. Be patient.  With pottery, a steady hand and consistent speed on the wheel seem to be the best ways to create a beautiful piece.  Too many fits and starts with the power pedal and you’ll end up with either a mess on your hands or worse, a deadly projectile flying across the room.  Life’s like that too: sometimes, ‘slow and
    steady’ really is the best way to win the race.
  4. The potter's wheelSometimes it gets messy.  Some folks are able to work at the potter’s wheel muddying nothing but their fingertips.  And then there’s me:  clay consistently up to my elbows, all over my clothes, and sometimes splattered on my face and in my hair.  Life will also throw messy situations at you now and again.  But remember: sometimes those messy situations can turn out to be the most fun, depending on how you handle it.  Which leads me to my next point:
  5. Attitude is everything.  At the potter’s wheel, when you make an unexpected groove or wrinkle in your piece, you can either describe it as a ‘disaster’…OR, as evidence of your ‘whimsical creativity’ or ‘artistic flair’.  Of course, sometimes you really can destroy your piece, but when that happened in our class, my instructor simply had us shape the ‘disaster’ into a ‘rainbow’ and set it aside to dry out and rest until the next week, when we could start all over again with it.  It’s the same way with life: it’s all how you look at things.  When disaster strikes, what IS the bright side?  Is there a lesson you can learn from the experience?  And you can always, always start over again.
  6. It’s OK to ask for help.  Let’s just say that my instructor (bless his heart) rescued many of my pieces from certain annihilation.  Let’s face it: we’re not all good at everything, and yet each of us has a unique gift that we can offer to the world.  We all know that it feels good to help someone who needs what we can offer, so let’s remember that it’s ok to ask for help from someone else too.
  7. Sometimes, you just have to put yourself out there and give it a whirl.   You can read about all the strategies and techniques in the world for how to throw the perfect bowl on a potter’s wheel, but until you drop that formless lump of clay down and start spinning, you’ll never make anything happen.  In life too,
    even when you don’t feel as prepared as you’d like to be, sometimes you just have to give it a shot anyway.  You might end up with a ‘disaster’, but you can always start over again.  On the other hand, you might end up – as I did with my beautiful cobalt blue mug –with a perfectly imperfect personal masterpiece.

So get out there and give it a whirl – whatever it is!

*Gretzky quote courtesy of my Toastmasters colleague; Thank you, Craig McNiven!

3 thoughts on “Life Lessons from the Potter’s Wheel

    • Thank you Kate 🙂 I think life is full of good lessons for us, everywhere we look. We just have to take the time to see them. Glad you liked this one!

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