The 2015 Vancouver Mini Maker Faire was the first one I didn’t attend, as a visitor or a Maker, since the event started in 2011. I considered cutting our road trip a week short so I’d be home for it, but then decided that would be the wrong decision. No regrets.
But imagine my glee when I got an email on the road from my friend Dave, who’s a prof at UBC and was organizing the second annual Maker Camp for tweens (this year’s was only open to girls aged 11-13), asking if I’d like to lead an afternoon session. He’d asked me to participate at camp last year, too, but I couldn’t due to a scheduling conflict.
So there I was on the road, trying to reply to his email while wrangling very spotty cell service. I’m so glad we were able to work it out!
I learned some things doing Mighty Ugly with a couple dozen tweens, much of it related to my usual refusal to do this workshop with anyone younger than the age of majority.
A Mighty Ugly workshop consists of three acts:
Act I: Introduction and (usually) awkward discussion.
Act II: Making an ugly creature.
Act III: Show & tell, and (usually) spirited discussion.
Adults take a while to warm up to the idea of exploring ugliness and failure and doubt, which is why the introductory conversation is usually short. I find that forcing conversation at the beginning of a Mighty Ugly workshop achieves pretty much nothing. So then we move on to the making. This is where things change. It’s kind of like magic. A few people dive in with gusto while a few others sit in quiet terror, and the rest start to slowly gather supplies. Over time, from what started out as a quiet gathering of uncomfortable people emerges a low hum, and sometimes a great cacophony, of chit-chat and mumbling. Eventually, the terrified people get moving. By the time the making is wrapping up and the first people are ready to introduce their creatures and discuss their experience, most people are willing, if not eager, to talk. Not all people. But most.
What I learned at Maker Camp is that my assumptions about children are true. Or, in scientific parlance more appropriate to having led this workshop in a bio-sciences lab, my hypothesis was supported.
The kids wanted to talk and talk and talk at the beginning of the workshop. They wanted to tell me about things they’d already made at camp, and meals at home that had become total gross disasters, and Lego gone awry. Eventually, I had to put my hands up and tell them about the making. At which point, the place became the happiest mess I’ve seen in a long time. No hesitation. No terror. Just a mess of making.
At the end of the making, a few kids wanted to talk about their creatures, but many didn’t. And there was very little cross-room discussion. No one seemed particularly interested in connecting their experience of making ugly things to their experience of the frustration or shame or sadness of failing at their usual projects at home or at school. No one found the activity to be particularly challenging. And that was that. Totally not what I expect, and routinely experience, from a roomful of adults.
It was such a fun afternoon, and I though I will continue to offer these workshops only for adults, I’ll also continue to make an exception for Maker Camp. I learned a lot about this age group that I’ll use to adjust the workshop for next summer, for sure.
And what a year it’s been. Personally, this book took me all over North America, which allowed me to meet so many people and have so many fascinating conversations and see so many places I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. It got me on the morning radio here in Vancouver, which led directly to me facilitating my first professional-development workshop (something I’ve long wanted to do with Mighty Ugly). And the book led me into the arms of CreativeLive, which allowed me to go deep into the self-help aspects of Mighty Ugly (and to realize I don’t want to focus on the deep self-help aspects of Mighty Ugly anymore, which has allowed me to focus on what i do want to focus on, which is having fun making things).
Writing the book helped me work through a lot of my own lingering issues about making things and writing. Which led me directly into Year of Making. Which led me to no longer consider it completely out of my league to make (mostly totally shitty) art. Which led me directly into my new thing, #MakeMakingFun (which is, obviously, about having fun making stuff – you can watch the evolution of my thinking about this in my weekly newsletter; also, I’m working on a new book idea about it).
And there’s of course the very much not personal stuff that’s happened in the last year. Which includes people all over the world thinking long and hard about their creative experience. And trying new things. And feeling good about stuff that was making them feel bad. I get emails every so often from people who want to show me their ugly creatures. I love these emails so much. People have told me the book has really touched them and helped them. Sweeter words have never been said to an author.
Happy birthday, Make It Mighty Ugly! May you have a second year filled with fun, demon-slaying, and making stuff even if it’s ugly!
What a fun way to spend an evening – both for me and, I hope, for them. They brought up some serious food for thought, which is part of why I love talking about ugliness and creative demons with as many people as I can.
Check out the ugly creatures they made after our chat:
Several weeks ago, I heard from a Make It Mighty Ugly reader named Hannah who’s started a daily photography project. In one of her first blog posts about it, she included a photo of a note she found on her morning run. We had a short exchange about that note, and imagine my surprise and delight to find it tucked into the letter she sent me (sending me a letter is the final exercise in the book). It’s the kind of thing that invites imaginary scenarios. Did it fall out of the sender’s pocket? Did the recipient roll their eyes and discard it? The first bit is in quotation marks – is it a quote from something, or is the writer just not super into proper punctuation? Is this sort of thing a daily ritual for the couple, or a super meaningful one-off love note?
Anyway, in addition to a pair of earrings she made (thank you so much, Hannah!) she included some of her creative fears in her letter, and she gave me her blessing to write about them. As someone who struggles to make sense of internal contradictions, I totally relate:
“I hate to fail, so I quit sometimes right after I begin. I hate ends, I’ve realized. I hate having to buy more shampoo or folding laundry. It’s that final completion! That’s my ugly! However, the pleasure of all tasks done is relaxing. Somehow I do get a rush out of procrastination. If I always have something left to do, I’ll always have something to do.”
Do you ever feel uncomfortable finishing a project, because then you’ll have nothing to do? I’ve always felt so excited about beginning something new, this is something I’ve never really struggled with. But I sure do understand the struggle of enjoying opposite things, like when Hannah dreads completing tasks yet also enjoys the relaxation of having done them all. I love both order and mess, spontaneity and solid planning.
What about you? Do you experience a tension between two extremes you enjoy? Do you dread finishing a project? How do you strike a balance?
We all have creative demons to battle. If you’re a small businessperson of any sort, join me for Embrace the Ugly: How to Break Through What’s Holding You Back in Business we’ll work through that one nasty thing that’s holding you back.
I’m just so excited about this class! Usually, I have only an hour to teach my business-focused Mighty Ugly class, but Embrace the Ugly: How to Break Through What’s Holding You Back in Business is a full day. Online. For free during the live broadcast. You can participate from anywhere in the world! And if you can’t make it for the broadcast on February 10th, or if you can’t spend the whole day on the class, it’s just $29 to gain on-demand access to it.
This is one of my favourite classes to teach, because people get so, so much out of it. The whole point of Embrace the Ugly is to gather your wits and take a long, deep look at the thing(s) inside your brain that hold you back. These aren’t the business problems you already know how to address. These aren’t even the issues that give you butterflies in your stomach when you think about them. No. These are the issues that, if you let them, keep you awake at night because you know in the depths of your mind and body that they make you not good enough to succeed.
Which means that this class will be uncomfortable. It will be hard. By which I mean it will be hard. And at the end of it, you will have a list of things to do to address that deep dark ugly thing. And you will be certain that you are not as alone as you think you are, because you will have heard from many people who also have deep dark ugly things that hold them back in their businesses. You will have shined some light on that darkness, and it will feel good.
Here’s some more from the class description:
In this class you’ll learn about the concept of Mighty Ugly, a framework that celebrates the benefits of failure. Through interactive lessons, Kim will help you identify and embrace the ugly parts of your business – you’ll get help addressing what holds you back so you can shift “the problem”, and resolve it. You’ll learn tools that will help you:
Overcome self-doubt as an entrepreneur
Abolish professional perfectionism
Dismiss your fear of failure
Eliminate irksome business blocks
Kim will teach you exercises that will keep you creative even as you struggle with balancing your books, promoting your work, managing social media, or whatever else holds you back.
Embrace the Ugly: How to Break Through What’s Holding You Back in Business will empower you to confront the most personally challenging aspects of being a working creative. You’ll surface the problems that are unique to you and learn universal skills you can use to embrace and, ultimately, overcome them.
RSVP for the class today, and CreativeLive will remind you about it! The live broadcast will involve lots of opportunities to participate via chat, and more, and I’m excited to be able to have a big conversation that’s not limited by room size or location. And even if you can’t attend live on February 10th, all that conversation will be a part of the on-demand class you can access anytime after purchasing.
Have any questions about how this works? Ask away!