Flow and Opportunity Cost

SAM_0041“Oh my, what beautiful cups you have here!” Countless times my peers and I were told some variation of this over the weekend at Harvard. These people walked in to the convention seeing tables filled with 200+ handmade cups with these strange codes on them. It seems like nothing to any of us here, for we spend so much of our free time immersed in the ceramics studio (maybe because we find our “flow” there…), then we told them to take one… and they stopped. Confused. Wondering. Questioning. A free cup?

This brought me back to my lesson one day in AP Economics. In an economical way, nothing in our world is free.  Unlimited wants with limited resources. Everything has a cost. I thought about our project, and these cups really aren’t free. We wanted to hear about the flow in other peoples’ lives. Where they experience this – what they experience there – and what it means to them. It was truly rewarding to share in this cycle of flow, for we found flow interviewing, making the cups, and using technology to add QR codes, and the people we interviewed talked about their own experiences with flow.

Yet that economic mindset remained with me. Which opportunity cost was greater? Which person gave up more?

We gave up a handmade cup. Cups that we spent time throwing, trimming, glazing, personalizing, and adding QR codes to were just given away. Sure ceramics comes easy to us, and a cup seems like nothing at this point, but some of them we added ourselves to. We found our flow when making them. We became attached to a few of them. We hid a few of them on shelves in the back in order to save them for ourselves, but they were found and taken.

They gave us interviews. They talked with complete strangers about something that’s vital to their well-being. They talked to us about emotional and physical conditions that they experience in their flow. Some of the stories were personal. Some of the people were a little hesitant about talking with complete strangers about this, but then again, they got a beautiful ceramic cup out of it.

So when it comes down to it, we had to give away something of our own that we made and loved, and they had to share experiences and emotions with complete strangers.

Though the question still remained, who had the greater opportunity cost?

I can’t speak for everyone, (although I’m sure I am) but for me a cup seems like nothing compared to hearing other experiences with flow. We gave away some great pieces, some that we may never be able to replicate the same way again, but giving up some cups in exchange for personal interviews, experiencing flow in the process? Well, that’s not free, it’s priceless.

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Ready, willing, and able red hands

Image (2)I found myself in a predicament this week at the wheel. For the past year, I have spent much of my spare time in the ceramics studio without even having a class, but most of this time was spent throwing bowls. From making them for Empty Bowls to just making them as gifts, bowls really became the only thing I made. It was what I enjoyed making, or maybe just what I was comfortable with, or maybe its just where I found my “flow”.

They say ceramics is like riding a bike – you never forget. This may be true, but I found that my hands no matter how hard I tried kept instinctively making that classic bowl shape. They all differ in some ways but always end up looking the same. From trying to make a teapot in my Ceramics III class, to the task of making 30 red cups, I became frustrated with myself.

But then I realized – this was perfectly natural. It takes a bit to get back into the swing of anything. Anyone who spends time in that studio has felt a struggle at the wheel in one way or another, and I am always willing to help in any way I can. The same was for people who helped me. My teacher and different classmates helped me get back into it. They guided my hands and did demos for me. I now have a leather hard teapot and 15 red cups on my shelf, all of which I am proud of.

I had to go home a few times with the dreaded red clay stain on my pants. The memories of struggling and being frustrated with the clay remained with me. But now I’ve made 15 cups, and the next 15 can be cranked out with one sitting at the wheel.

I now can make the teapot body and cups with ease, but only because some people helped me.  They and I went home with that same dreaded Brooklyn Red stain on our pants.

Brian