Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lessons Learned from…Eyeliner sharpeners and grumpy cosmeticians

I recently bought a new eyeliner sharpener at the drug store. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but since I’ve been getting by on a slimy five-year-old sharpener that sends waxy eyeliner all over the bathroom sink every morning, I was pretty excited. It didn’t work. It only half sharpened the eyeliner so that I had a quarter-inch-thick line of charcoal under my eyelid instead of a daintily painted crisp black line.

I decided to return it.

Apparently I could not return it. It had been used, insisted the underworked and overdressed cosmetician. Yes, I conceded, it most certainly had been used, but it had definitely not been useful. I insisted that it did not sharpen the pencil properly; she insisted it did. She suggested I produce an eyeliner pencil and she would demonstrate the proper sharpening method to me; I suggested she use her own pencil for the demonstration since I did not have one. She did. Look, she said, the pencil is sharper: it works. Look, I said, the pencil is not as sharp I need it to be: it doesn’t work properly. Yes, she maintained, but it works.

Lesson #1: There’s a difference between working and working well
I was born and raised with the 80% rule, although lately I have to admit that it’s becoming more like the 70% rule, or even the 60% rule. I’ve long upheld that if something fulfills its primary function, it need not do more, but lately I’ve been reassessing this mantra. I know that a coat’s main purpose it to keep you warm, but if you can find one which also looks great and makes you feel amazing, isn’t that important too? In fact, although the search for the final 20% or 30% can be painstaking and arguably superfluous, it’s often that final attention and aesthetic that adds a certain je ne sais quoi. And let’s face it: the je ne sais quoi is definitely more appealing than the oui, je sais. It’s what keeps us thinking, exploring and blogging. So maybe I’ve been giving up on the final 20% too early.

Lesson #2: Be true to yourself, but be kind to others
I don’t blame the cosmetician for staking out her ground. In fact, as someone who worked in retail and experienced all sorts of idiots trying to return all manner of damaged goods, I respect her for it. It’s her nastiness I didn’t appreciate. But there are ways to hold your own with class. I detest it when people suggest how I should think or behave and try to influence by thoughts and behavior. I dig in my heels and refuse, usually in quite an immature and spiteful way. It’s a paradox: I get upset when people try to exercise control over me, yet I let them control me when I get upset by their demands. It makes no sense. So from now on I’ll stand my own ground in every sense: both how I act and how I react.

All in all, I think I got my money’s worth for the $3.50 I spent on the sharpener.

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