As the editor-in-chief of the do-it-yourself magazine Make, I've met scores of dedicated makers. They come from all walks of life -- rich, poor, young, old, male, female, religious, atheist, liberal, conservative. They're as varied as the things they make: kites with cameras, homebrew biodiesel, treehouses with ziplines, cigar box guitars, remote-control lawnmowers, automatic cat-feeders, high-altitude water rockets, robotic blimps, worm composting systems, stylish plywood furniture, pinhole cameras, experimental surfboards, solar water heaters, portable drive-in movie projectors -- there's no limit to their aspirations. And while no two DIYers are alike, in general they're an upbeat and friendly group that shares a special trait: the courage to screw up.
Being able to accept, even embrace, your mistakes is far from easy. In school, we learn that mistakes translate into bad grades. This unfortunate lesson gets burned into our brains, and we go through life shunning challenges that might end in failure. But DIYers not only accept the inevitability of mistakes, they welcome them, because they know that mistakes are a source of inspiration and the most effective way to learn. The latest research in neuroscience supports this idea.
Through my own DIY efforts, which I chronicle in my new book, Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World (Portfolio), I've gotten better at facing my own fear of mistakes. For the past couple of years, I've spent time with my favorite "Alpha makers" to learn how they do what they do. I've never been very handy myself, but since making the decision to take a more active role in the world around me, I've begun raising chickens (in a coop I built myself), keeping bees (lured out of the attic of my new house and into a full-scale hive), and growing vegetables (where my lawn used to be). I've hacked my espresso maker for the perfect brew, built musical instruments for impromptu home concerts, erected a treehouse for my daughters, and tutored them in the sorts of hands-on skills our schools desperately need to teach, but don't.
Along the way, I've made an astronomical number of blunders. But the broken tools, barked knuckles, wasted materials, and countless trips to the hardware store have been a small price to pay for the fun and fulfillment my family and I have experienced. From my own DIY experiences and from researching the lives of other DIYers, I've discovered five benefits you gain from having the courage to screw up:
- A deeper connection to the things that keep us alive and well. The human-made world is mostly beyond our comprehension. Our daily survival depends on seemingly magical gizmos that provide our food, water, clothing, comfort, transportation, education, well-being, and amusement. But you can make your world a little less confounding by sewing your own clothes, raising chickens, growing vegetables, teaching your children, and doing other activities that put you in touch with the processes of life. In addition, the things you make reflect your personality and have a special meaning. You share a connection with them every time you use them, and you appreciate them in a different way than you do store-bought things. This is why gifts of hand-made preserves, blankets, and furniture are so cherished. You are sharing a part of yourself with the recipient of your gift; they will value the time and effort you put into making something for them with your own hands far more than what it would have took to pick up a gift card at the mall.
The DIY movement is growing every year, with no signs of slowing down. In May, Make held its fifth annual Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, where 95,000 people came to celebrate the unique rewards of DIY. This year, Maker Faire is also coming to Detroit and New York. I hope you can come and participate in the transformative power of DIY.
Mark Frauenfelder is the editor-in-chief of Make magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog. He was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998, and is the author of six books. His latest book is Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World.