Tony G. (the dear!) recently asked how I started making shirts. It is a good story, one I often tell my patients for it has a good lesson to it. I thought I would share it not only with Tony but with Spo-fans.

Sometimes when a patient admires the Spo-shirt I’m wearing to work I thank them for the compliment and then I tell them I made it. Often they are incredulous that I did so; they sometimes admire my ‘talent’ to sew.  I tell them this tale:

Many years ago chums and I would holiday every winter in the Florida Keys. A woman there had a shirt shop. She made loud colorful aloha-style shirts. I loved them and every year I would get a new one as a souvenir. This went on for four or five years. Then she announced she was retiring; there would be no more shirts. I became lugubrious. I wasn’t going to get anymore shirts. While I lamented this loss one friend said “Hey, I got an idea! Why don’t you make your own?” My immediate emotional response was “Oh, I can’t do that”. I then listed the many reasons why I can’t: I didn’t have a sewing machine; I didn’t know how to sew; I had no relations who could teach me.  Another friend said “Well, you could learn”.  My response to this was to point out I didn’t have time to do the things I needed and wanted to do let alone find time to learn how to sew – it was not possible.  A third friend, Jerrold, who sews for a living, hummphed and pointed out if junior-high school girls can do this so could I.  It dawned on me then what I just said: “I can’t do that” and “It’s not possible”.  These are big no-nos in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in which one looks at negative reasoning, assumptions, and fears. I call out patients on these all the time. So I decided to try, somewhat to show Jerrold but mostly not to be a hypocrite. Doctor heal thyself.

I borrowed Someone’s sister’s sewing machine and I bought a ‘sewing for idiots’ pattern. I purposely didn’t take lessons but tried on my own. After a lot of trial and error and more than a few frustrated near-abortions I finally made me a shirt. The garment was crude but I had the satisfaction I had succeeded. Now, that was to be it; I wasn’t planning on continuing the challenge. To my surprise I discovered I actually liked sewing.  I figured if I made a second shirt it would be much better. So I did……

That was many years ago. Since then I’ve made over a hundred shirts. I got better at it. I didn’t have the ‘knack’ but practice made improvements. In time I also learned how to take in/out my trousers and do cuffs. I’ve made curtains and quilts. Seasoned Spo-fans know I once sent a shirt around the world for a fund raiser. What was supposed to be six months-long endeavor to six or eight people ended up lasting two years. International strangers saw it and they wanted to be participate. By the time the shirt returned it came attached to many new people I now count as friends. Mitchell at Mitchell is Moving! is an example.

So –  I have a hobby I enjoy and I developed autodidact skills.  I have a network of friends – and it’s all because one day I didn’t succumb to “I can’t do that/it’s impossible” but I said ‘Maybe I can do that; maybe it’s not impossible; I will try”.

It’s amazing what can happen when we challenge or negative assumptions.

At this point in my narrative to the patient I add: “I think if I went back in time to myself ten years ago and said “Hello! I’m from the future! Look at what you’re going to be doing”  I think my younger self would respond “Are you high? I have no desire, no talent, not time go back to The Twilight Zone as that isn’t happening”.

To this day whenever I am faced with something new and unfamiliar I still have an emotional response to become timorous and want to back away. I then remind myself ‘this is how you felt about making a shirt, so why don’t you try it’. Most of the time I do try and most of the time I find it a marvelous experience.

Go thou and do likewise. 🙂