CC/19 - Stumbling Blocks

Jon Wheeler

Old T-shirts

My recent decision to hand-print all the brand’s garments from home has been one of the most difficult challenges faced on this journey so far. To immerse myself more in the production process and go the hand-made route was something I wanted to do for a while, so I decided to take the plunge and learn how to screen print. To read about this in more detail, click here. In this piece, however, I wanted to write about some of the stumbling blocks I’ve encountered, as well as my attempts to overcome them. I’ve recently been working through some shifts in my thinking and behaviour, so I decided to share some reflections in the hope that it might inspire anyone facing similar issues. Whilst this piece is written in the context of screen printing, I believe the basic principles can be applied to any area in life.

Screen printing is an extremely fickle beast. There’s an enormous amount of variables that can affect the outcome of a final print, and as a beginner, it’s impossible to take them all into account. When starting out, no matter how much reading you do, something will always crop up unexpectedly and ruin your flow. What they say is true - "the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know." Learning to screen print is, at its core, a huge exercise in troubleshooting. The most important thing, though, is to actually get stuck in and continue until you encounter a problem. As they arise, reflect, diagnose, and adjust your course accordingly. Then repeat. Learning by doing rewards you with invaluable experience that you simply can't get from reading or watching videos. Of course it’s very important to grasp the bare basics before diving in, but as long as you can acknowledge that unexpected issues will always arise, it will be less emotionally depleting when they present themselves. Don't put ideas off because you're afraid of imperfection. Learn to accept that the process is riddled with failure and that is how you really learn.

Stacked in my bedroom are dozens and dozens of old t-shirts plastered in various prints. The vast majority of these prints failed miserably. They're either smudged, crooked, inconsistent, or an ungodly combination of all three. There’s even a handful of brand new shirts ruined during actual production by a bit of stray ink on my fingers. It’s difficult to describe how frustrating it is to completely write off a new shirt due to error. Sometimes, half-way through a proper print run, I’ll pull a smudged print, and since you’re working against time (water-based ink dries fast on the screen), you need to just toss it aside and keep printing. It’s a fucking grueling process that really tests your patience. I guarantee you’ll swear and punch things - anyone who’s ever screen printed can testify. In fact, anyone invested in learning any skill can say the same thing - there are times when the frustration can completely consume you.

The key is in reminding yourself to observe as carefully as possible what went wrong, then take notes. Based on what you know, theorise about possible explanations. If you can't think of a solution yourself, hop online and Google away. The worst thing you can possibly do (and I am often guilty of this too) is to cross your fingers and hope it won’t happen again. Leaving things entirely to luck is, by far, the least efficient strategy to adopt. It's the quickest road to giving up in despair. Diagnosing to the best of your ability is the only option if you are to successfully persevere. Perseverance, as I used to mistakenly believe, isn’t crossing your fingers and blindly hoping for the best. Perseverance is having faith in your ability to find solutions to problems. It’s extremely difficult finding the motivation to learn when you’ve just fucked something up. It takes massive amounts of willpower to let go of the anger and disappointment and drag your ass off the couch to find a solution, but it’s the only path forward. Having self-discipline during this make-or-break phase is what will set you apart from everyone else who gives up in despair. I'm beginning to realise that this critical juncture is what filters those who succeed from those who give up. It's a phase I'm still very much struggling through but I know that if I'm to progress, there's no other choice but to push my way through the bottleneck.

Frame these setbacks as lessons. Adopt the mindset that you didn’t fail, rather, you learned another way not to do something. The reason this adage is repeated over and over is because it's true. You just need to seriously take it on board. There’s no point in simply paying lip service to these cliches - you actually need to follow through with action. Really try and embrace your setbacks. Let the anger and frustration come, acknowledge it, and allow it to wash over you. Once it’s passed, actively reflect, diagnose, adjust, repeat.

While it is difficult to adopt this pattern of behaviour, it does get easier the more you do it. The feeling of fixing a problem through your own research and effort is incomparable. Knowing that you pushed yourself through rigorous discipline to overcome a setback is life's purest form of motivation. It’s addictive. When you fuck up, remember this feeling. Remember the high of achieving something you couldn’t do previously. The more you do it, the more you crave it. This is what progress feels like. Know that the most successful people live and die by this concept. Their brains are hardwired to engage in this pattern of behaviour every single day. Reflect, diagnose, adjust, repeat.

It’s been very challenging changing my attitudes towards setbacks and reprogramming how I think about failure. It’s still a very raw work-in-progress, but I’m starting to realise the extremely beneficial potential of this pattern of thinking. Setbacks will always be a fact of life, just like the high of overcoming obstacles will always outweigh the struggle to get there. The satisfaction of learning and succeeding is life’s greatest motivator. Remember this, and you’ll grow.

JW


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