What Lies Beneath
“A person always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.” ~ J.P. Morgan*
I was thinking the other day about the students who find me and the first conversation we have with each other, which is usually me asking them what they want to be able to make. The interesting thing about this exchange is that it often involves much deeper insight into the person’s hopes, dreams, desires, and sometimes even damage than just a simple answer as they explain what they want to learn and why. The quote above resonated with me because it seems to be true…the people I’ve taught always have a good reason for wanting to learn something new, but what they tell me at first is not usually the true reason. I discover as we make our journey together that there’s almost always something else going on beneath the surface, something hoping to be encouraged, healed, supported, motivated, or just plain validated.
When we consider what drives most of us, several things can come to mind. We make commitments, so we feel compelled to keep them. We need and want things, so we work toward getting them. I’m not sure we spend a whole lot of time even thinking about why we’re doing what we’re doing. Some of it is programming and habit, like brushing our teeth or making coffee in the morning, and some of it is dreaded necessity we can’t seem to escape. Grocery shopping, cleaning, yard work, driving. (Am I the only one here who abhors having to deal with the never-ending pile of laundry?) Most of us probably don’t stop to think, “Hm, why am I on my way to the grocery store again?” We just do it because we need food or supplies. It’s part of the routine.
Do we treat jobs like part of the same routine? Maybe yes, maybe no. As much time as we spend working, we’re bound to go on autopilot every so often. There are jobs in my past that I worked out of necessity and the only reason I did them was to earn a paycheck so I could live in my own space. Sometimes, though, I’ve had a thoughtful job—one I intentionally applied for and actually wanted because I liked doing what it required. One example is when I worked for a local fabric store in the middle of Missouri when I was fresh out of college. I liked almost everything about that job. I merchandised the front windows, sold sewing machines, unpacked and stocked new patterns and fabrics, taught sewing classes, and made class samples in addition to the usual retail routine of customer service. It was an intentional job, and although it didn’t even pay minimum wage, I knew almost every day why I was doing it. It provided several things I deeply needed at the time, like camaraderie to combat the loneliness of being on my own after college, satisfaction with starting and finishing projects, support from those who encouraged my creativity, and feelings of success when customers came back to see me again and again.
Something happened along the way to occlude my previously clear vision and intention, though, both in the daily mundane things and in the bigger picture of working for a living. Call it adulthood, call it emotional trauma, call it challenging experiences, call it whatever you will, but it continually clouded me in a way I didn’t even notice until several years ago. I was doing all the things, going through all the motions, but there was something underneath it all that I couldn’t quite seem to reach. This thing that eluded me had no specific description or “feeling,” but it sat just far enough below the surface for me to notice it but not be able to bury it. I discovered that the discomfiture rippling under everything I was doing was a source of truth.
I had pushed truth, my own truth, out of the way and was so busy doing things everyone else wanted or expected me to do that I nearly lost myself. I was overly focused on the good reasons for doing things, but I had lost the grasp on my real reasons for doing any of it.
Truth can hurt, sometimes badly. Finally looking inside myself and being honest with myself gave me answers, but not the ones I expected or wanted. I had to accept that I had disappointed myself, I had given my time and ambition and any iota of joy away to others who didn’t deserve it (and still don’t), and I had pushed away my own soul’s desires and needs for so long I didn’t remember what it felt like to be myself. That realization felt like someone cracked open my sternum and punched me right in the heart. It was hard and heavy and I hated it. But it was the truth, so I had to accept it and find a way to give myself the same grace I give everyone else. Some days have been easier than others while trying to reconcile these things.
I still have good reasons for doing things. I decline sweets because I hate working out. I water plants in to keep them alive, not because I enjoy gardening or have a green thumb. I cook because we need to eat, but you won’t ever catch me intentionally subjecting myself to something that takes more than 20 minutes to prepare. Those seem like pretty good reasons, right? Sure, but let’s look at the real reasons for these behaviors or tasks. Not eating sweets: I really want them, but I like my body the way it is and would like to keep it that way. Plant care: it sometimes feels like a waste of effort in this Texas heat, but my spaces need to include living things, so I keep trying. Cooking: I’d rather spend money on crafting supplies than on takeout food.
My question at this point, as both a teacher and a maker, is why do you make things? Why do you want to make things? Why do you need to make things?
Of course, all of us can answer these questions to provide practical reasons, good reasons. But what are the real reasons? We’re all healing from something, so perhaps that’s your reason. We’re all running away from something and toward something else, so maybe one of those is your reason, or both. We all need encouragement and support and camaraderie, so we might be searching for one or all of those things.
No matter what our real reasons are, they are as valid as our good reasons. In fact, they might be more valid than our good reasons because the real reasons are our truth. What lies beneath is the essence of who we are and what we need, and we should be brave and answer to it, even if it’s hard and it hurts at first.
I want you all to know that I am here to support and encourage your truth, your real reasons. I want each of us to acknowledge that truth, squeeze it tightly, and tell it we love and accept it, no matter how prickly it might be. And then hug yourself for me and thank yourself for being true to you, because the world needs you to reveal and share what lies beneath.
*NOTE: I changed “man” to “person” (for a myriad of reasons), and I’m not altogether certain this quote can be accurately attributed to J.P. Morgan. Multiple resources list other names but Morgan’s is the one that shows up most frequently. If I have made an error, I’ll be happy to correct it!