Practice Won’t Always Make Perfect

Earlier this year, I discovered an interest in woodworking. Well, not proper woodworking, with a lathe in a woodshop, but the very basics of transforming wood into something new. I tracked down a few pallets and went through the process of disassembling them, sanding them, staining them, and putting them back together as something brand new, something useful. Taking something that was once old, dirty, and left as garbage and making it serve a new purpose felt incredibly rewarding.

I stumbled into success (with my dad’s help) the first time, creating a beautiful set of shelves for my mug collection to rest on. I started with a very basic idea of what I

Round 1: The stumble to success

wanted, but we were flying mostly blind. After a few weeks of frustration, splinters, and learning, we drilled in the final screw, stood up our creation, and saw that it… worked.

They were beautiful, sturdy shelves, the perfect home for my favorite mugs. I was so proud of this project. I felt infallible, as if I was some seasoned, experienced woodworker.

My best friend told me how nice the shelves were, making a comment that she needed to find some shelving unit of her own to hold her mugs. I stored that way, excited months in advance, thinking about Christmas.

A few months ago, I asked my dad to grab some old pallets from his office Truthfully, these pallets were a little more weathered and seasoned than the pallets I used the first time. “No problem,” I thought, “they’ve got great potential. They’re rustic!”

This time around, the shelves were a gift for my dearest friend, a thoughtful and detailed gift-giver herself. I was determined to make these shelves perfect.

I did this set almost entirely on my own. I sawed through old nails, sanded down every single splintered edge, made several batches of my favorite DIY wood stain, stained every board, and then reassembled the pieces that had been lovingly repaired into their new form.

Full disclosure, the assembling required my dad’s help. Otherwise, this labor of love, months in the making, had been entirely my own. I was so excited to surprise my friend with something useful and beautiful. I assumed that since I had already completed this project once, I was an expert. What I didn’t consider, however, was that there were elements out of my control. The wood was entirely different, the DIY stain didn’t contain the same ingredient ratios, and there was no way I could control these aspects.

Round 2: Frankenstein’s monster

Well, as we assembled the pieces, I realized with a sinking panic that several boards were too dark. The stain had turned them almost purple, instead of a warm, rustic grey. Conversely, other boards were practically blanched white. When the last screw was drilled in and the shelves were stood up, I felt a heavy disappointment. These looked absolutely nothing like the first set. These were a Frankenstein’s monster of pallet shelves.

For me, this experience turned an old cliché upside down. Practice did not make perfect. If anything, practice deteriorated perfection. I thought I knew all there was to know about making these shelves, but I couldn’t account for the independent variables. There’s simply no way to anticipate every possible mishap. You can be an expert, you can think you know the process inside and out, but sometimes there will simply be variables you cannot control. And even if that means your end result is no longer perfect, you’re still learning, and that’s what ultimately leads to success.

But not perfection, because perfection is a fallacy.


P.S. I gave my best friend my original shelves, and she was so pleasantly surprised by the gift. Here’s to hoping I can salvage Frankenstein’s monster!

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