Feb 17, 2007

Your Life Should Never be an Accident

The other day I had an appointment with a client who is having trouble deciding what type of flooring to put into her kitchen. Currently, it has dated tile and she wants to replace it with wood. However, her kitchen opens to a media room, which has wood floors and the other side of the kitchen opens to a large, wide hallway, which also has a different wood floor. This is an older home and the two woods are different in color, type, and placement direction.

She really had her heart set on getting a wood floor that would “match the wood” in the media room. Therein lies the problem. This home, which is over a 100 years old, and been through many reconstructions, has mismatched wood just about everywhere. Her kitchen cabinets are a honey-colored wood and she has stained wood trim around her windows in yet another color. And none of these woods even really resembled each other – yet, she loved the media room’s wood so much, she wanted to copy it and get new wood to match it. Exactly.

That just isn’t going to happen. She then said she wouldn’t mind if she could at least get close to matching the woods. Again, I told her not a good idea. Why? Because she will never, ever completely match the two woods. It will always look slightly “off” or even worse, it will look like a mistake. Also, having three different wooden floors come together in a kitchen with yet a different wood for the cabinets and another wood for the wood trim – just is not going to work well.

So what to do? Go completely opposite. Don’t even attempt a wood in this case. I suggested a slate, stone, or even brick floor because of the style and age of the home. She was thrilled with the idea and I explained that unless you can produce exactly as well as the existing element, the result will always come up short and it will look like a mistake.

It is the same with paint colors. If a hallway or wall was painted a color years ago, and you don’t know the type of paint or brand, yes, you may come very close to the color, but it will always be
"off.” I always suggest a contrast color to enhance the existing color.

The same with furniture, fabrics, and even accessories. Whenever you are trying to find a “perfect match” and unless you do, don’t accept coming close to what you are trying to match. It will always look inferior. A mistake. Not intended. Make a statement and do something to contrast or compliment the existing dilemma. That looks purposeful and superior in its own right.

And it is the same with life. Have you ever met someone who has an ability, talent, gift, or personality that you wish you could emulate? They say “imitating is the highest form of flattery.” Is it? Really? Well, not always. Sometimes, having someone do just the opposite of what you do, think, or how you conduct yourself is a very high form of flattery to you as well.

For example, when my friend, Sharon, who is a paper artist (visit her site,
www.secretleaves.com ) gives me a gift, (or to anyone for that matter) her packaging is just spectacular. Usually handmade paper, vintage string or ribbon, carefully folded, unique stamps, words, or trinkets adorn the package – it is something to behold! Well, when I first started to give her gifts, I too, would want to really “frou-frou” it all up and give her something spectacularly wrapped as well. In short, I wanted to be like her. I was imitating her. Or was I? I don’t need to tell you that my carefully wrapped package always fell short (and sometimes way short ) of her talents. She couldn’t care less – she appreciates everything I give her no matter how it is wrapped. But I wanted my package to be as pretty and special as hers. No-can-do. So what do I do instead now? I don’t even try. I do the opposite. I go buy a gift bag, shove some tissue paper in it, tie a tag on it and hand it to her. I always tell her: “I am not even going to try…” and she laughs with me.

This is probably the highest form of flattery for her. It is my way of saying: you are so damn good at what you do, I am doing my own thing, which is nothing like yours. So, now, when I buy a gift bag, I do hunt for a special one. And my tag? I look for one that is unique (well, as unique as one may find in Target). And now, gift bags are my “special” wrapping. She has her wrapping style. And I have mine. My gift bag wrapping looks purposeful. It was intended. It doesn’t look like a “mistake” nor does it come up short. Much like the flooring in my client’s kitchen. She needs to find something opposite of the other wooden floors. So her kitchen floor will look purposeful and superior in its own right.

And just like my “superior” gift bag. It may not be handmade paper, vintage ribbon, or handmade tags on a vintage box – but it is one damn good gift bag – as far as bags go that is.

So, next time you find yourself always coming up a little short on something you are trying to imitate – maybe that is a cue to just go your own route, pave your own path, and whatever or whomever you are trying to emulate – don’t. Just go and do it your way – and do it with purpose.

Because without purpose in your life, everything would just be an accident.
And your life should never be an accident.

From my house to your house,



Anonymous said...

Yes and amen...we all need to stop and listen for the guidance and direction that is our just for the taking...the easy road is just to copy and be a bit lazy when it come to creativity... at least when we copy~~ credit should be given...I've learned that a few times the hard way...carry on.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am just blushing over here, and so filled with love for my good friend Elizabeth, who says such nice things about me. As you all may have guessed, she is selling herself a little short in terms of her gift-wrapping skills--I have always thought her gifts were lovely. As some of you may know, I used to work for Elizabeth. And on the same note as her story about my gift-wrapping is a story about her merchandising skills. Even though I consider myself to have a fairly well-developed aesthetic sensibility, I never even TRIED to do what Elizabeth does in the store. If new merchandise came in, or something sold and a display had to be re-done, I would always just leave it for Elizabeth to "work her magic." I always told her, "I can do A thing, but I can't do YOUR thing." Anyway, she is a dear friend to me and I don't need to tell you that she is FREAKISHLY talented.

Gypsy Purple said...

Oh wow, how true.....another great post and piece of wisdom from you...I so enjoy your writings and postings and come by every day in the hope of finding something new...enjoyed and listened!!!!


Anonymous said...

Wow! Your post was exactly what I needed today. Letting each person's light shine, letting our own authenticity shine, embracing it....such a big part of my adventure this year. Thank you, Elizabeth!

LP Vintage said...

Always a pleasure to read your wise column and absorb your advice!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful advice, simple yet so true!! I love to read your blog to try to absorb some of your wisdom, which I know only comes with experience though. I am wanting to start my own store so badly {which will be soon, hopefully}. So, anywhere that I can pick up tips on business is a blessing to me. Thank you for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

love your post today...I too live in a big old house and "match" is a four letter (...OK five letter!) word to me. Trying to match things in your decorating is WAY overthinking something that should really just an expression of yourself.

Anonymous said...

love your post today...I too live in a big old house and "match" is a four letter (...OK five letter!) word to me. Trying to match things is WAY overthinking something that should really be an expression of yourself.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for sharing!! I did need to be reminded that we are all different in our talents and shouldn't sell ourselved or others short in trying to be copycats - be originals!! :)

I often feel in the shadow of my more talented family and friends - but it's good to be reminded that it's probably all relative anyway and I'd much rather be fairly good at a lot of things instead of amazing at just one...

Thanks again for your wise words and encouragement!!

ShabbyInTheCity said...

Kinda like me wanting to look just like Brooke Sheilds years ago...well guess what! Yep, just the opposite...
Oh well. Your advice about the hallway flooring was right on. I was thinking it before you got to that part.

eb said...

hi Elizabeth from another Elizabeth - I SO enjoyed reading these posts - as if they were destined for me to find - such thoughtfulness and wisdom - it is so hard sometimes to recognize "your thing" when you are in the middle of it and so tempting to try on another's when it seems more appealing.

You inspired and uplifted me - thank you

xox - eb.

maggiegracecreates said...

Elizabeth - I happened upon your blog through Janes Apron. I have often wondered if I was the only one who loved the look of your shop. I literally stopped everything I was doing and read all of your archives. I so wanted to express that I "get" your thing, your message of encouragement, and I will be back over and over to visit.

I would also like to ask permission to use the book page wall idea in my home show booth.

Your spaces are beautiful. You home is beautiful. Your message is beautiful. Your photography incredible. You are beautiful.

Teresa Atkinson - Athens, GA

Elizabeth Maxson said...

Hello Teresa,

Thank you for such kind words! Yes, I would be very flattered should you choose to use the paper wall idea. Sharing what I do with those who appreciate it, makes me the most happiest. Please feel free to send me a photo of your finished wall - would love to see it!

And many thanks to all of you who take time to write me - it is an honor to hear from you .


savvycityfarmer said...

Awaiting new news from this post!!!

Anonymous said...

I feel everything you are saying. My life has taken my twists and turns and always put out of focus with worry. I forgot my creativity and lost myself with it.
After years I am centered, still discovering and loving every minute of it. I laugh now at the years I spent worrying about what people thought of me, what I did, even when they praised my work. After 60 years, I'm starting to enjoy what I do, me and life. I will continue to grow, learn, laugh and be me.

Your words of wisdom and what you do are an inspiration to those of us that are now the path of learning.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I love this post. We should all have the confidence to both admire freely and strive to be our best selves at the same time--quite a balancing act ;)

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