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The Works

My first high school failure

By July 5, 2022September 21st, 2022No Comments

Me doing CBT “saw therapy” in my local hardware store

Are you just acting?

In my first year at high school, not only did we do the usual English, Math, Physics, and so on, we also did woodworking. Our assignment seemed simple enough. We had to make a pencil case with a sliding lid. In other words, attach a base and four sides together into a rectangular box, then fashion a plywood lid that would slide open and shut along grooves.

(Who wants to carry their pencils in a wooden box? That’s a good question, and I wish I’d asked it at the time, because the answer is “no one.”)

Things went wrong for me immediately. I suspect you’ve heard of the saying “measure twice, cut once.” That hadn’t crossed my radar as a thirteen year old … and to be fair, it would not have been enough to save me even if it had. So twenty minutes after starting this eight-week project (and who needs eight weeks to make a pencil case? Another fine, unanswerable question), I had one piece of wood significantly shorter than the other five. 

I could have told the teacher. Or I could have asked one of my friends for help.. Or I could have just cut the other pieces down and made a case for shorter-than-usual pencils.

I see that now.

Instead, I turned the remaining seven and a half weeks into an impromptu drama class. Every time the teacher glanced my way, I made sure I was holding a hammer, or flexing a saw, or measuring something with the tape measure, all the time while looking intensely engaged and thoughtful. I spent a lot of time, Karate Kid style, tightening and untightening clamps: screw on, screw off. In short,.  I acted the pants off of being a woodworker.

I can’t remember how it ended: that memory is suppressed. But I suspect it was with me

  1. Not having a pencil case and
  2. Failing the class.

Take what you will from this.

I’m asking myself (as I struggle to write my next book), how am I acting rather than being and doing? That’s an uncomfortably useful question. Tweet this

But you might want to ask yourself: Where do you need to ‘fess up to what’s not working? 

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.