07/30/2020

Repairing with gold: making work more personal from afar

By: Clinton Bowman

Repairing with gold: making work more personal from afar

I did my undergraduate degree in art. While I love making art, my favorite thing about the program was learning art history abroad. One of the sections I remember most vividly was the Japanese ceramic technique of kintsugi, which dates to at least the 16th century and binds broken ceramics back together using liquid gold. The result is a rejuvenated ceramic that celebrates flaws and imperfections.    

Things feel quite broken right now. We’re working from home. The days and months are blurring together. The social, political, and healthcare situations in this country are spinning out of control. And it’s not clear when any of that’s going to end. But just because things are totally broken doesn’t mean they can’t be mended back together, even stronger than before.

Over the past several months, my client relationships have gotten exponentially deeper. There is a certain amount of humility and grace that comes with trying to get everything done during a pandemic. For me, I’ve regaled clients and co-workers with a cacophony of noises including puppy barks, Amazon delivery door knocks, phone calls, and even dump trucks bustling outside my window. In turn, I’ve had clients equally trying to fend off the world around them in order to work with me. And while we always apologize for these moments and ask for forgiveness, I can’t help but see the bond being built as we all move through this collective mayhem together.

Years ago, when I worked in Washington D.C., everything was very buttoned-up. Work was some mix of pressed shirts and pants, fixed hair, shined shoes, strong handshakes, and social decorum. It was all very formal. But if anything is true now, it’s that formality of that caliber is gone. What is emerging now at work is the respective acknowledgment of each other’s personal circumstance.

As much as we all try, at the end of the day, we’re just people and some things are simply beyond our control. The freeing part is that by acknowledging this with clients, we can celebrate it. We can rejoice in the absurdity and inject more humanity into our working relationships. We can build something better and stronger than before.

I won’t miss the pandemic when it’s finally over—not by a longshot. I do, however, hope this trend of openness sticks around because I find this new professional reality to be pure gold.