“Can you believe that guy?”
I looked up, startled to realize that the other tattoo artist, the one not working on me, is talking directly to me.
“What did I miss?” I asked sweetly, happy for the distraction for the needle making its way across the inside of my index finger.
“That guy was a pain in the ass. He was super picky…which is okay…because, I’m putting something permanent on a person’s body,” he says with a shrug and tone that is resigned, while the veins popping out on his forehead belie deep annoyance.
I nod, wide-eyed as he continues his rant, moving closer to me to inspect the work being done on my hand by Brian.
His outrage is obvious. I’m not exactly sure what to say in this moment so I do what I’ve learned to do with most angry people…I look him in the eyes and wait.
Sure enough..he continues.
“Three teenage mutant ninja turtles is ridiculous. I told him, ‘Look man, I won’t do the tattoo if you don’t want all 4. Three is stupid. I won’t do 3. You can get this tattoo somewhere else if you don’t like it.'”
“But he got it here anyway?” I question.
“Yes, because I’m the fucking best and he knows it.”
AH HA! There it is. This is a feeling I can relate to.
This guy is an artist. He knows his shit. And some guy who is slightly too old to be a millennial (and therefore way too old for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tattoo across his entire shin and calf) is questioning his judgment.
Tattoo artist is a rockstar.
Tattoo receiver is a doubter.
I have been there. Anyone who hones their craft over years of hard work has been there.
And yet…the job of the artist, the rockstar, the killer businessperson, the expert designer, the master gardener continues to be to slow down, explain your reasoning, state your boundaries, and try to bring other people along for the journey.
For the tattoo artist this means telling the guy what he will and won’t do and why the client’s judgement is bad.
For me, lately this has looked like stating what I will do in a complex situation in a detailed but concise communication, with a request for a decision.
The tattoo artist’s fury is familiar. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t trusted implicitly for my expertise and had to request trust. Its been a long while since my skill didn’t just speak for itself and I felt the need to prove myself. And yeah, that has the potential to make me want to react like my friend with the sleeves of tattoos that snake up his neck over his ears and onto his forehead.
He and I are different and the same.
And in seeing this, I can make room for the fact that sometimes the expert and their expertise face questioning, ignorance, criticism, and…let’s face it…even complete silliness. There is nothing special about the person who has done their 10,000 hours that protects them from facing the judgment or questioning of others.
Sometimes you just have to explain why 3 Ninja Turtles is a ridiculous idea and that you won’t do it.
Sometimes you might even have to just do 3 Ninja Turtles and let the dude walk around like a dope.
Sometimes you might need to keep the 4th Ninja Turtle to yourself and let the guy explain over and over why he only got 3.
Sometimes you just back-pocket the 4th Ninja Turtle because you know he’ll be back.
And sometimes you must insist on the 4th..because it matters and is a statement about the quality of your work and your expertise.
Choose your 4th Ninja Turtle carefully…for my part, Donatello is always a good choice.