This post is part 2 of an adaptation of How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me), this engaging and instructive essay by Austin Kleon, a Texan artist and writer. Kleon states that “when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” What follows here is me talking to a previous version of myself, one 10 years younger, hopelessly naive and about to embark on a life in architecture.
2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to make things
This reminds me of a story:
Once upon a time, there were two medieval towns not far from one another. In both towns, a woman had committed adultery. When it became known they had sinned, for which the punishment was death by stoning, they were each hauled before the local Rabbi for final judgement. But in both towns, the Rabbi asked an unsettling question of his community: “Are we ourselves so free of sin that we can sit in judgement of our neighbour?” In the first town, the people were shamed into silence. Unable to answer the Rabbi’s question lest they too be condemned, they began to drift away. The woman was spared her punishment. In the second town, there was silence also but after a moment, the Rabbi himself bent to the ground, retrieved a rock from the path and flung it at the adulterous woman. The people asked him, “But are you free of sin, Rabbi?” The Rabbi shook his head, “I am not free of sin, but I cannot let this impede me from doing what our law says is right.” And so the people too all took up rocks and stoned their neighbour to death.
This is a somewhat brutal story that, like any good Jewish proverb, ends with a sticky moral dilemma: knowing I am not perfect, do I refrain from acting because I am not fit to do so, or do I act despite my imperfections?
Growing up, I always fretted about criticising other people, particularly areas of their conduct in which I knew I myself was deficient. As an architect however, making things is not only why my clients pay me, it is also the very way in which I can develop my creative abilities and improve. So, I make buildings as best as I know how and trust that the next building will be even better.
Don’t wait until you know who you are to make things.