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Piercing, and the Rule of Thirds

I saw a quote from an Olympic coach today about the rule of thirds. He said “When you are chasing a dream or doing anything hard you are meant to feel good a third of the time, ok a third of the time, and crappy a third of the time. If the ratio is roughly in that range, you are doing fine. If the ratio is off, if you feel too good or too bad then you have to look are you fatiguing? Are you not pushing yourself hard enough?” This quote came from Alexi Pappas; the moment I heard it, it stuck with me. I spent the next few days mulling over just how much this applied to piercing. Piercing is for many people a dream they are chasing and a very hard thing to do, let alone do well. Most piercers I know talk about struggling with imposter syndrome, burnout, physical fatigue, in the same breath they talk about the most amazing experiences they are having with clients, the new techniques they are excited about, and the new jewelry they are getting in. Most of us, I think, could benefit from trying to remember this rule of thirds.

My thirds look a lot like this- One day I feel amazing. I get to work early, my coworkers are all in a good mood, and my first few clients are easygoing, piercings I feel confident doing. My clients sit up and smile, they explain how easy that was! I have a few standout clients during the day, who are coming in for more than a piercing. We are doing gender-affirming work, we are celebrating a milestone in their lives, and we are getting a piercing they’ve dreamed of forever. We laugh together, and we cry together. I get to share in these magical, intimate, vulnerable moments of these people's lives, and for 20 minutes I get to feel a connection with this person deeper and closer than many others ever will. I watch as they get up and look in the mirror, that grin slowly growing across their face, a glow in their eyes as they admire their new piercing. I am reminded of how much piercing has helped me- taught me to love my body, be kind to it, and make me feel brave, powerful, and confident. I am filled with warmth and honor to be able to give that experience to others. I hold back tears, but when they turn and face me and tell me they feel beautiful, they feel whole, they can’t believe a piercing has made them love their body, I can’t hold them back. I feel them escape down my cheeks into my mask as I hug my client and we cry together. I don’t know how to tell my clients not to thank me, that they have given me just as much as these piercings shave given them by trusting me to be a part of this experience. I do some technically challenging piercings and they turn out well! I am stressed, Adeline coursing through my body, my brain a sea of visualized angles and imagined bevel placements. When it all comes together and the finished piercing sits perfectly I want to shout! I feel like a real piercer. I see some clients back with beautifully healed work. I finish the day feeling tired but accomplished, in love with this job, and so so grateful to do what I do. Today didn’t feel much like work, it felt like magic.

The next day is a little more average. Everyone is still in a good mood, but some of my first appointments are troubleshooting with clients who are having issues healing. We make plans and review aftercare to ensure we are on the right track with our piercings. Even though I know this is a normal part of piercings healing, it still weighs heavy on me to see my clients having issues. I do some piercings, and most of them turn out great! There's one missed transfer that I manage to recover, and I do a nostril piercing that I’m only 98% happy with. The client looks in the mirror and loves their new nose piercing, but in my brain I wish I has placed it just .3mm higher on their nose. It’s the perfectionist in me- the piercing looks great and the client loves it, but I am my own worst critic. That .3mm will haunt me for the next hour, and I will push myself to really analyze every mark, every placement I choose. I run a little overtime on my next two appointments while I shake off that transfer and that nostril, and I know that backs up the front-of-house staff a little. Everyone is understanding, and they pick up the slack for me today. After a few hours I catch back up, and I’m only 5 minutes late to my lunch break. The rest of the day brings some challenging but satisfying piercings, and just enough downtime to go through jewelry orders, help inventory, and answer some messages. At the end of the day I leave content. Today felt like a job, a cool one, but still a job.

My final day is not great. One of my coworkers is late, I get in and all the statims need to be emptied and refilled, and we are almost out of distilled water, and there are some emails we need to answer, and the phone is already ringing. It’s one of those days and we aren’t even open yet. My first client has forgotten their ID at home and yells at me and the front of house when we tell them we can’t pierce them without ID. We end up having to ask them to leave. My next client comes in and in the back of my mind, I whisper please have your ID. Please don’t yell at us. Thankfully, they are totally fine, but my next three appointments no call no show. I find myself hoping I’ve made enough tips to cover the loss of this time. My next client is a young teen with an earring stuck in her ear from the mall. She’s scared, and in pain, and while I’m glad she’s come to us for help my heart aches knowing I’ll cause her more pain getting the earring out. We free it, and she and her mother thank me, even as her tears twist guilt in my heart. It’s so hard to be so passionate about something like piercing, and see so many clients needlessly injured. It’s harder still to be the person to tell them they have to remove a piercing they love, to have to be the bad guy. I know there isn’t anything more I can do for them today, but it still weighs heavy. My next few clients are all just a little late- there's a bad accident on the highway you know! This lateness snowballs, and now the whole studio is running behind on our appointments for the day. Clients are, understandably, a bit frustrated, and some of them decide to take it out on the staff. No one else yells, but tensions are high. Of course, this is the moment a very deviated septum arrives. My first attempt is not perfect, and we pull it and redo it. The second one is vastly better, and I thank the client for allowing me to fix things. They leave, and I hide in the break room to steal a few minutes before getting back to the very full lobby. My brain is spiraling.

You didn’t get that perfect first try. Your second try wasn’t even perfect- it was just good. You suck. You are a terrible piercer. No- that’s not healthy. What went wrong? How can we learn from this? Analyze it- not now! There are clients in the lobby. You have 3 people waiting. Hopefully, they aren’t mad…Get back out there- but not yet! You are too stressed. Drink water. Take a deep breath. Get back to work. Don’t fuck up again. I can’t believe you messed up that septum- get back out there!

I plaster a smile back on, I straighten my spine and lift my chin, and I weld my body into a posture of easy confidence and happiness. “Thank you for your patience, come on back, I’m Lynn I’ll be working with you today!” I pray they aren’t too upset about the wait, I pray they don’t yell at me, I pray their piercing comes out perfect.

I finish my shift and stay 45 minutes late- the accident on the highway came from bad weather and there's mud and rain all over the studio floors. I help the front of house clean someones spilled coffee in the lobby and- they found what in the bathroom?!? I get home and remember I have emails and messages to still answer, 23 of them to be exact. I tumble to bed late, exhausted, and questioning myself and my career. That septum haunts me as I toss and turn, trying to sleep.

This quote resonated with me so much for two reasons- the first is that it acknowledges that there will be great days, just ok days, and crappy days. It normalized that there would be these bad days. That alone struck me- I’ve spent most of my career chasing a place where those bad days never happened and that’s just not realistic. We are going to have bad days! We are going to have difficult clients, we are going to be out of sync with our coworkers. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to do piercings that don’t come out perfectly. And that’s ok! That’s normal! You are supposed to have bad days. The second element was that of balance. The reminder that yes, you will have bad days, but you have to balance them with the average and the good. And that’s where I was really making my mistakes- I didn’t balance these thirds.

Those blissful amazing days I enjoy while they happen, but once I get home I disconnect. But the really bad days? I bring those home with me, I tuck my mistakes under my pillow and carry them with me into the shower the following morning. That one deviated septum overrides every good piercing I did, every client I connected with, and every tear I shared with someone. My mistakes are a hundred bricks piled up on one side of the scale, and every successful piercing is a single feather on the other. I am not balancing my days- I am focusing only on the bad ones and the negative ones.

If I could obsess over everything that went wrong on that septum, I could spend an equal amount of time thinking about a different piercing that went right- how I achieved that, how I approached that, what felt good about it. If I made myself feel shame and guilt over a missed transfer, I could allow myself to feel pride and joy over a successful one. And through all of it, I could remember that bad days are allowed to happen. They are supposed to happen. They allow me to grow and keep pushing myself and see where I can improve. But they can’t be out of balance with the good days, and the average days are there to tie the rest together.

I plan to take this quote and hang it in my prep area. To remind me every day that this rule of thirds is normal. That I am chasing my dream and I’m doing something hard, and that’s going to show up differently every day. As a little nudge to tell me to be kind to myself, to cherish the good as much as I stress over the bad. And to help me feel less alone when it's one of those days. If I’m feeling crappy about 1/3 of the time, I’m doing just fine.

And so are you.

With Love <3


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