Apr 20, 2011

The learning curve is a bitch...or is it?

With everything in life there is a learning curve.  Aside from breathing, there is a period of development for every skill we possess during which we are crap at said skill (although, new research suggests there may even be a learning curve for breathing, particularly through the night around 3 months of age).  Think about how long it takes to learn to walk.  How many years it takes to learn a language, something which few people ever fully master (unless lolspeak counts as a language).  As we age, it seems to take less and less time to learn something new.  Take, for example, the stupid 3 year old who attempts to tie a shoe 500 times in a row and still fails vs. the 2 or 3 attempts it takes me to learn a new crochet stitch.  (I'm superior to 3 year olds!)

The learning curve is ever present in your professional life, too.  I've personally never felt fully comfortable in a new job until several months have passed.  Now that I work for myself, the learning curve has become a bit more tricky.  On one hand, I don't have anyone breathing down my neck, threatening my job security while I learn the ins and outs of how to run the studio.  On the other hand, there's no one there to help me learn how to do it, so I'm stuck making mistakes and learning from them (learning things "the hard way", I think they call it :P )

This past month has been a long one, full of "learning" (i.e. mistakes).It seems like every job I take on has a different set of challenges.  I printed giant posters for the first time ever. Turns out, the ink is quite sticky when applied to paper, and the palette adhesive makes the back of the posters really tacky too!  Learning curve.  I printed a design with a large area of solid color in light colored ink on a dark colored t shirt.  I discovered halfway through that 3 hits of ink looks a bit better than 2 hits, but had to continue doing 2 hits to keep the shirts consistent.  Learning curve.  I printed a design with both large blocks of color, and intricate detail.  If I pressed too hard, the detail was lost.  If i didn't apply adequate pressure, the ink failed to penetrate the fabric and the color of the shirt remained visible under the print.  Learning curve.

Thankfully, I'm not a dumb ass 3 year old and it's not going to take 500 tries to get it right.  I do learn from every mistake, but every job is different so there are always new ways to shag it all up.  No matter what you do, errors will be made.  That's just life!  It just sucks to feel like your clients are guinea pigs, and they're paying you while you learn (I hope they're not reading this, hahah).  In the eyes of a client, either you have a skill or you don't.  Can you or can you NOT do a job properly?  If NOT, then stop offering the service.  On the other hand, skills must be acquired, and I can't really purchase 1,000 shirts just to practice on, can I?

At the end of the day, I still feel like I'm a good printer, I still know more about it than 99% of the people I know, and I still get lots of repeat business so I must be doing something right.  I dont' think you can ever be fully happy with everything you do all the time anyway.  If you're always satisfied with your performance, where is the room for growth?

When you stop using a critical eye to find your mistakes, you can't learn from them.  You'll get stagnant, flies will start buzzing around you, people start throwing garbage on you, suddenly you're the epicenter of a West Nile outbreak.  Ew.  I guess being on the learning curve isn't such a bad thing.  Perhaps the learning curve is endless, and if you find yourself not on it, it means you've given up.