I recently had a rather odd encounter with a woman at the local knit shop that I frequent, and it taught me perhaps one of the most valuable lessons of my professional life. I was loitering after an instructional class, enjoying the chance to just sit and knit and chat with the other regulars who happened to be in the shop at the time. On the other side of the table was a woman I’d never met, knitting away patiently at a garter-stitch scarf.
Sidenote: For those unfamiliar with knitting, the craft at its most basic level consists of just two stitches (or ways of wrapping the yarn around the needles): knit and purl. And if you want to break it down even further, a purl stitch is really just a backward knit stitch. Each stitch is incredibly simple to perform, and it takes the average person about 30 seconds to understand the concept of each one. Obviously, practice is needed to learn how to maintain regular tension, how to combine those two stitches in interesting ways. etc., but the basic concept could really not be simpler.
Back to the story: This woman was knitting away at a garter stitch scarf (which is a scarf composed entirely of knit stitches – quick and easy, but incredibly tiresome to do after a while), and after a few moments of silence around the table she began to complain about how boring it was. She lamented how tired she had become of doing the same thing over and over again, and wished that the scarf had a more interesting pattern. Puzzled, another customer suggested she try adding a few variations in the pattern, to which the woman responded “Oh, I wish I could! But I don’t know how to purl.”
At this point we all offered to show her, thinking it a problem easily solved, but we were surprised to see that she wasn’t interested. “Oh, no, no,” she responded, “It’s too complicated. Maybe someday I’ll be able to learn, but I’m just not ready yet.”
We assured her that it was actually very simple and asked how long she’d been knitting.
“Two years,” she replied.
Two years! Two years this woman had been knitting (in the most literal sense of the word) and refusing to learn how to perform the second stitch! We each tried to convince her to let us demonstrate to her how simple it was, knowing that in a matter of seconds an entire world of knitting possibilities would be opened for her, but she steadfastly refused, sorrowfully bemoaning the fact that she couldn’t learn and wishing that someday she might be able to do so. All our efforts were in vain. The only way this lady was going to learn how to purl was if we held her down and forced her.
As sad (and somewhat humorous) as this encounter was, I realized afterward that it had also taught me a very valuable lesson: don’t be the lady who couldn’t purl. I had been puzzled by her attitude and amused by her situation, yet failed to recognize that I frequently do exactly the same thing. This realization was more than a little embarrassing.
You see, I often find myself spending weeks or even months wishing I could master a certain technique or create a certain look without ever actually trying it to see if it’s as hard as I assume it will be. In fact, 9 times out of 10 when I finally try my hand at it I find that it’s quite simple, and then bemoan the wasted months that could have been spent with this technique in my creative arsenal.
Now, when I find myself procrastinating a task because I fear it will be too hard, I remind myself not to be the lady that couldn’t purl. Sure, the task may prove too hard for me to learn on my own but I’ll never know unless I try, and as long as I sit there wishing and waiting, I am being just as silly as she was.
I urge you, too, lovely readers, not to be afraid to laugh at yourself when you realize that you’re being a bit ridiculous. Just smile, remind yourself not to be the lady who couldn’t purl, and go tackle that problem!