The Lessons You Learn From Paper Airplanes

I love making paper airplanes.  There’s just something wonderfully fun, creative, and relaxing about taking a piece of paper and slowly transforming it into a flying machine.  Since my senior year of high school I’ve used it as a form of stress relief and entertainment, both building already-established designs and inventing my own.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot about paper airplanes, some of which turned out to be pretty meaningful.  So, without further ado, here are some of the things I’ve learned from three years of folding and designing paper airplanes.

1.     Small Mistakes Add Up- Folding a paper airplane is a cumulative process, every step built on the last one and forming the foundation for the next.  Make a single mistake, even a small one, early on, and you end up with something that more resembles a submarine than a flying vehicle.  Life works much the same way.  No moment is completely isolated from others, and everything you do forms the foundation on which everything you will do is built.  Mistakes can’t be undone, and everything you build on top of a mistake amplifies it more and more.  In other words, no matter whether you’re folding a paper airplane or building a relationship, do it right from the start if you want to make something worth making.

2.     Take Your Time- Far too often in making paper airplanes, people (and I am in no way exempt) rush the process, interested only in a final product we can launch across the room.  On one hand, this makes us far more likely to make the small mistakes that render our would-be airplane a rumpled mess.  More importantly, though, I’ve found that when I rush through the process of making a paper airplane, it’s nowhere near as relaxing, enjoyable, and creative as it can be.  Life is no different. Oftentimes, the journeys we embark on in life are just as meaningful, if not more so, than the destinations we arrive at.  From true friendships to meaningful careers to robust lifestyles, many of the things we most value in life require a long and beautiful construction.  Rush through that construction, and you may just find that, in addition to not having created something truly valuable, you missed out on that whole wonderful process of creation.

3.     Sweat The Small Stuff- Remember how I said that small mistakes add up?  Well, those mistakes can be smaller than you even imagine.  Precision is crucial in folding a paper airplane, from the crispness of your folds to the positioning of your corners, and being off by millimeters can be enough to completely derail your progress.  The smallest details of every step have to be painstakingly pored over to ensure that you don’t sabotage your own efforts.  Sweating the small stuff carries over just as powerfully into life, where sometimes the little things we do matter more than we could ever imagine.  Whether it’s taking five minutes to ask a friend how they’re doing and really listen, waking up ten minutes earlier to ensure you make it to your interview on time, or going out of your way to hug someone who needs it, small actions often have impacts far greater than we anticipate.  Paying attention to them is crucial to understanding your impact on others, and living a good life in society.

4.     Sometimes, Ignore Everything I Just Said- Following instructions is a good way to get results, as is a slow and measured creative process.  But every so often you need to experiment wildly.  It’s how I’ve come up with some of my best designs, by simply folding and letting myself go wherever I want, not trying to judge or critique myself.  Sometimes in life you need to do the same.  There’s certainly something to be said for caution, for playing it safe and making logical, thought-out choices.  Every so often, though, if we want to truly make a difference, we simply need throw caution to the winds and take risks without fear.  In the words of Nike (as much as I hate their sweatshops and shoddy ethics, they kill it in advertising), “there is no greater danger than playing it safe.”  A life worth living is one where, sometimes, we chase our dreams with no thought to how far away they might be.  So chase them with passion, because you might just find that you catch them.