Why would I write about failure, you might ask? (Isn’t she trying to start a “successful” business?) Well, mainly because it’s a part of life. We try, try, try, and sometimes, we just fail. That’s the bottom-line truth; so I thought I would share my recent experience at failing… and moving on.
For the past three weeks – in one particular thing I have been working on – this is the road I have travelled. FAIL ROAD… or so I thought. I was recently hired to do the job of painting a dresser for a customer, who thankfully is also a gracious friend. The dresser was her husband’s from his childhood and it had sat in her teenage son’s room in its original maple finish, while all the other pieces in the room were black. She had thought about just replacing it; but it was a great Ethan Allen piece that I could paint up for her much more reasonably than purchasing a new dresser, so home with me it came….and stayed…and stayed… What should have been a simple two-day project became a consuming nightmare that lasted over three weeks. I’m not kidding. (And yes, I am mortified to admit it.) However, there were many lessons learned, so I thought I would share them with you in the hope that you might not only learn from my mistakes; but also that you would be encouraged to not let yours define who you are.
I started off lightly sanding down the piece to prepare it to take the paint. This step went fine. Then (for reasons unknown even to me, other than the big box store was more convenient) I tried a brand of paint I had never used, though one would think – as did I – that there wouldn’t be much difference from one latex to another. Oh my friends let me tell you, there is. I figured it would take 2-3 coats to get good full coverage with such a deep color. The plan was to paint it with a flat latex and then a finish top coat to give it durability, so when previously mentioned teenage boy threw his truck keys, change, etc, on top, it wouldn’t scratch the paint. This was a process I had done numerous times with success. Here is where things began to go wrong… FIRST, the paint was MATTE, not flat. There is a huge difference in the finish of these two, even though the store employee assured me there wasn’t. Then, after getting the coats on, I used another newly recommended (by said store employee) product called spar varnish as my supposedly durable top coat. In one coat, I knew it was a disaster. On the large flat areas of the dresser, the varnish streaked, and globbed where there was any, even slight, overlap. It was a mess. I had to let it dry thoroughly before sanding it back off, so it didn’t just smear and glop in the sand paper.
(See the streaky, and shiny spots? Ugh.)
Speaking of sanding… here was the SECOND nightmare awaiting me. Even though it had dried for 48 hours or so, the varnish and then the paint, clogged in sticky globs into the sand paper and I ended up using I don’t know how many sheets because of it. Not to mention, aforementioned newly tried brand paint practically turned to plastic on the dresser. Using an electric sander and 50, 80, 120 & 320 grit sand paper, over the course of THREE HOURS, would not remove most of the paint from the surface. (Lesson THREE? I probably could have stopped and used a liquid stripper to take it back down to the wood; but because I have never had a piece do something like this, it didn’t even occur to me.) After getting the varnish off, I did try a hand-waxed finish over the paint; but the results were almost as bad so had to sand it down too, before even getting to the nearly “unsandable” paint.
(Every chunk on the sand paper made a mark into the finish I was trying to remove.)
Realizing I was NOT going to work with these new products another second, I went to get my tried and true Benjamin Moore paint at a retailer here in Athens, as I had used it countless times with complete success. So, quart # three of product was purchased, with the assurances from the manager that it would cover over this dreadful mess beautifully and erase any and all memory of it. Um….NO. (I need to mention here that “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, was playing on the radio while he mixed my paint. I took it as a
BAD sign.) Four coats later (sanding between each one – though this time, with easy hand-sanding), the finish still would not even out. Not to mention, though I had taken the first paint to the B.M. store to match, the composites of the paint materials were so vastly different between the two brands, the new paint wasn’t at all the same color as the old; but a lighter, more bluish black – not what would match the furniture already in the room. Of course I didn’t notice this until we brought the previously painted mirror into the room beside the dresser; not that it mattered. The thing was going to have to be redone again.
Sooooo….. Back to the Benjamin Moore store – AGAIN. This time, the store manager suggested we use a tinted primer under the paint, as primer apparently is, “the great eraser.” Then why didn’t he suggest that at the beginning of the week and four coats ago??? I said okay – it couldn’t get any worse – and purchase the tinted primer, and a new satin top coat the right color black (quarts 4 & 5). Home I went, with high hopes that THE GREAT ERASER would do its job and give me a clean slate to begin again. Um….NO. It was better – definitely better; but the large flat areas still would still not even out or be lineless. I need to mention here that, over the course of all the coating of this dresser, I had tried a foam roller, short nap roller, foam brush and high end bristle brush– all with less than desirable results. But, diligently I pressed on. After all, this was for my friend. I don’t want to EVER give ANY customer less than beautiful results, much less someone I am going to be friends with and see all the time!
I let the primer dry the required time and then applied a layer of the satin top coat. I won’t keep going on, because I am sure you get the picture here… same, imperfect result. What in the world had happened? I was clueless, discouraged, exhausted and embarrassed that I couldn’t get this seemingly simple process to work (especially since I do much more complicated finishes nearly every day!). It was supposed to be delivered the next day. “Maybe curing over night will help,” my desperate brain reasoned; probably with an added, “PLEASE, GOD,” as I headed off to bed at 2AM. Of course it looked the same the next day and I was a wreck… a puddle… a mess of exhaustion and frustration. My sweet husband said, “It’s okay, honey. I’ll offer to buy the dresser.” “Thank you, I tearfully replied…. I’m sorry.” He called our friend to tell her about her imperfect piece of furniture and offered to buy it. “Is it done? Is it black?” she queried. “Yes to both,” the hubs replied. “Then it’s better than it was. Bring it on!” God bless her. We were going to her daughter’s graduation party that day, and my sweet husband left early to take it with him and deliver it… they were perfectly happy with it, even in its imperfect state. When I arrived, each family member thanked me for my work, said how much they liked how it looked, even the teenage boy. ; ) Boy, did I want to just bawl right then and there.
(I didn’t even take a final picture.)
Have you simply failed at something lately? Are you, like me, prone to beating yourself up over it? Prone to expecting more than you can – at times – deliver? On my last trip to the Benjamin Moore store I had the blessing of meeting a really nice man, a professional painter for over 25 years, who told me he had had a piece or two like this over his career in painting. He described what I had experienced, “Sometimes, no matter what you do, the wood just doesn’t cooperate, or for whatever reason, the paint just won’t do what you know it should.” “You just have to move on,” he advised me. What a blessing those few little words were, when at 2AM, I was staring this uncooperative beast in the drawers. “Whatever!” I told it. “I’m moving on.” (Well, I sounded tough anyway.)
So, I guess this takes me to LESSON 4, though I probably missed about ten in between… Everything is not always going to come out perfectly, no matter how hard you try. And what do you do when that’s the case? MOVE ON. It might be hard, you might want yet one more try; but in the end, sometimes you just have to let go and move on. When you do, you just might find out like I did, that things aren’t as bad as they seem… That not everyone will judge you as harshly as you judge yourself, or your work… That maybe NEW START AVENUE is as easy as taking one turn from FAIL ROAD… and moving on. Should you find yourself in a similar circumstance, I pray you’ll find the same grace I received from our friends, who could look at what was really important to them, (Was it finished? Was it black? Okay then!) and release me from my self-imposed perfectionism that had driven me to pour 25-30 hours of work into their piece. I think that was LESSON 5… In the future, when someone in my life doesn’t deliver like I think they should, remember to extend them the grace that was extended to me. It will only serve to strengthen that relationship and it will surely bless the person who is feeling like a failure.
I can’t say I’m totally over not being able to get it right (in my eyes); but I am getting there. All too often we let failure – or the fear of it – paralyze us from moving forward, from pursuing a dream, from learning something new, from realizing our potential, from allowing our failures to give someone else the chance to show grace. We see failure in an effort as failure in ourselves, telling ourselves we are a failure. Here’s what a few quite successful people had to say about failure: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again…this time more intelligently.”-Henry Ford. “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” -Thomas Edison. “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”-Winston Churchill. “Success is never final. Failure is never final. It is courage that counts.” Also, W.C. Experiencing a failure does NOT mean that you are one. It might actually be the very thing that leads you into greatness. What failure should NEVER be is the way you define yourself… Failure in an event? In an effort? Maybe. But NEVER let yourself believe for one minute that YOU are a failure. Move on. Keep trying. Success will come.
I hope it helps to know you’re not alone if you’ve failed. Together, TODAY, let’s MOVE ON.
Be inspired! Be inspiring.