Today is my piercerversary, and it marks 12 years in this industry, which I am still not used to saying. It doesn’t feel like 12 years, it barely feels like 2. In my mind, I am still a green apprentice, new to the world of piercings, looking at everyone around me with wide-eyed wonder and the sensation that I’ll never make it on that level. I remember so vividly what it was like to begin learning about quality piercing and quality piercers. I remember the first time I went to get pierced at an APP member studio, I was in awe of the statim autoclaves, the sheer amount of jewelry in the cases, and the confident and calm way in which the piercer worked. I went home feeling so excited about this career path I was embarking on, but also a bit hopeless. I could never be at that level. There was no way.
I have felt that way so many times in my career. The first time I saw someone piercing freehand, I felt that way. As someone with a tool-heavy apprenticeship and someone who even to this day favors a tool for many things- it was shocking. I saw a thread about freehand navel piercings and I watched some videos and felt my stomach drop. Freehand?!? I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the technique, I’d never seen my mentor freehand anything. A few months later I was working in my second studio and my new mentor was trying to walk me through a freehand flat and I was so terrified I backed out. I couldn’t do it, I ended up so overwhelmed at the thought I cried.
And transfers….transfers! I was always taught to use tapers for every single piercing I did to insert jewelry. I will never forget watching Luis pierce with nothing, just a needle and jewelry, and the nerves I felt as just a bystander. It was so stressful. I watched people explain how to transfer like this, how to apply pressure and use the right bracing, and for years we never had tapers and we made it work. And I…I just knew I never even wanted to try it. Tapers were a must, the concept of ever transferring without was was not even one I would allow in my mind. I just knew there was no reality where I could pull these things off.
I look back at these moments, these times when I felt like I was standing at the base of a mountain I couldn’t physically summit, doubting my place in this industry, my abilities as a piercer, and my choice on this career path. It feels a bit surreal to remember being at that place, especially when I’m here now. 12 years in- I freehand a great many things, including flats and navels. I do tool-free transfers for many piercings. My younger self would have watched the way I pierce today in awe, and in jealousy, feeling simultaneously impressed and inadequate.
But what made me want to write this piece was something I overheard; watching, of all things, a volleyball game. A coach casually commented on the skill levels of the players, namely their receiving, or hitting the ball back and keeping it in motion. They were complimenting the growth of one player in particular. “Now, his weakest skill for the team is his receiving. And you can’t improve receiving overnight, it takes months and years of practice and muscle memory and training your eye and your hands to work in sync. It has to become second nature, like breathing. But for where he was just a few months ago, it's incredible to see his receives now.”
I don’t know why this particular interaction hit me like a tidal wave, but it did. This reminder that some skills we learn only through time and repetition and practice. I think as piercers we often are looking for a quick fix. A new technique that we try and immediately it makes sense. A new tool we can use that instantly makes us better. We often lose sight of the fact that so much of what we do improves only slowly, over time, with repetition. And I understand why we feel this way- because our cost of learning is much higher than the volleyball player. It’s not bruised arms and sore muscles. It’s incorrect piercings on clients, it's lost transfers, it’s causing another human pain and discomfort and that sucks. It is the worst feeling, to do something and have it turn out less than perfect on someone else’s body. We long for something that allows us to eliminate this need for practice and repetition. Something that can revolutionize our abilities overnight.
It’s why I felt so overwhelmed learning about freehand piercing or direct transfers. I couldn’t see that the path to doing those things was weeks and months and years of practice. I couldn’t wrap my head around the monumental investment of time and energy, the sheer volume of piercings I would need to do to get to the place where I was executing those things well. And so as a baby piercer I felt inadequate, I felt lesser than. I was looking at piercers who had been piercing almost as long as I’d had piercings and comparing myself to them. I was expecting to somehow replace over a decade of physical, hands-on experience with just reading forums online and watching videos and observing my mentor. And it just doesn’t work like that. There is no secret technique, no cheat code.
A huge part of getting to that level as a piercer is found by simply piercing. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. Over and over and over. It happens somewhere after the 2,000th nostril you’ve pierced. It happens around the 5,000th threadless end you’ve installed. It happens when we just sit down and put in the work and start doing it. And when I think back on 12 years in this career and how much I have learned from working with other piercers, shadowing them, taking classes, or reading forums. It all pales in comparison to what I’ve learned in my own piercing room. Working on clients every day, asking myself what feels comfortable in my body and my hands, what is working and what isn’t, and making those small adjustments to my techniques to make them smoother.
Once upon a time, Eduardo told me “I’ll consider you a real piercer when you’ve made it to 10 years in the industry.” At the time I thought that comment meant once I lasted 10 years, because of how many people end up leaving this career early on. But I now also realize that it truly took 10 years of working as a piercer to really get to the level I wanted to be at, to be consistent and confident in all of the things, to have the knowledge that just comes with repetition and time. They say it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master something. And I have to say, I agree with it.
So, I write this post for all of the younger piercers. The baby piercers. Those who are out here looking at their mentor and piercers on the internet and piercers they admire, asking themselves how they will ever get to that level. As a reminder that there is no cheat code. There is no secret to skip the line. It will simply take time. It will take years, and thousands of piercings and so much repetition. It will take until the act of a transfer, an insert, becomes like breathing, second nature, ingrained in the muscle memory of your body. There is no point in comparing yourself to those who have years and years of experience on you in this industry. Rather, compare yourself to where they may have been at one year. Three years. Five years. But you can’t expect yourself to work at the level of someone with just that much sheer experience under their belt.
So buckle down. Get in the piercing room. Do the piercings. Make the mistakes. Learn from them- grow from them.
If you are already working in this industry, you are already doing the damn thing. So I’ll see you in 12 years, with steady hands and a confident smile.