I've been doing a lot of thinking about teaching lately, in part because I'm about to start up this next round of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge (VAC). Unlike the first VAC, which was free and involved prompts designed to help people build their business and brand, this VAC costs money and is designed to help people learn to carve spoons. When I put out into the world that I would be offering two different tracks for this next round, one to again do the business side of things and one to learn spooncarving itself, NO ONE chose the business and a bunch have signed up for the spooncarving. Lesson one: most people don't want to start a business.
But that's not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is to ruminate a bit on how my teaching has changed over the two years I've been offering spooncarving lessons. Because it has definitely changed. Like a standup comedian trying and failing and trying and failing and getting a little traction and honing and trying and failing again, I've shaped how I go about teaching in response to what did and didn't work from the dozens of people I've taught before.
It's a bit of a moving target, because each student shows up with a different history, skill set, tool sense, goal for their time, and dynamic with me. I do my best to adjust our flow as we go along to make sure they get out of it what they want. But I also make sure people go home with safe habits and a sense of empowerment to do the things that are needed for lasting success carving, particularly sharpening their tools.
In order to adjust flow, I need lots of arrows in my quiver (forgive the mixed metaphors here, just roll with me). I need more than one way to explain things. I need more than one choose your own adventure. What makes sense to one person leaves another person blank. Sometimes it's that they are just not wired to get it that way. Sometimes I need to come up with a better way to describe the thing I'm trying to communicate.
More than anything, I need to keep my eye on the clock and push, tactfully, to keep us on schedule. This is not a trivial thing. I have quite often run over time because I failed to do a good job with this. So much so, in fact, that I increased the length (and cost) of one of my lessons and I will likely do so again in the near future. It's a lot to pack in to a single day.
I recently decided to try inverting a portion of how I teach, to see if it would help the flow and making sure that people left with the right skills and experiences. I had been walking people through the process starting with a log and ending with a finished spoon. But I tried instead starting with a pre-made spoon blank, carving and finishing the spoon (yah!) and then finishing by walking through the process of axing out a blank. The thing I like about this is that they go home with a spoon blank ready to carve, and we can go right from sharpening into carving. The axe work (which should honestly be learned in a whole course in its own right) is kept to a minimum, and more emphasis is placed on the knife work, which is what most people want to engage with, particularly if they haven't done much carving.
Now I obviously am happy to teach people whatever they want, and I've done whole lessons on axe work, and these are fun variants of the basic lesson. But this one flip, the switch from thinking of the lesson as following the same path as though I were sitting down to carve a spoon, and instead being able to think about it in a more fluid way, has been helpful.
So as I start up the next VAC in two days (still time to sign up, it start January 10th, send me a DM through Instagram!) I'm keeping this lesson in mind. The cohort is all at different places in their spooncarving journey. They all want different things from the experience. It's a lot of time that we have, which is a luxury. I will be making videos (all of which I plan to make publicly available on IGTV, what you won't get is the dialogue on the DM list) on all sorts of topics, and sharing every little thing I know.
And you know what? Next month, when I do it all over again, I'll make new videos. Because I will be a better teacher. And the information will be slightly different, refined, reworked, tweaked. And I don't believe in making a definitive video on any topic. There is only the best you can do at any given moment. And if you structure the process right, your best gets better over time.
So today marked an interesting, welcome but also somewhat uncomfortable transition that happens every year, when I go from working flat out at the trees to all of a sudden time opening up, and being able to shift to other projects.
It's welcome because I have been working every day since October 25th with only Thanksgiving day off. It's uncomfortable because after working that long and that hard, I feel funny doing other things, like I'm constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and to realize that I forgot something.
And it's interesting because in that transition lies a lot of opportunity.
I can use the shift to make big changes, clear up messes and spaces I've been letting fester while I dealt with the pressing present moment. My office, for one, is almost impassable.
But the chance to see systems clearly and change them is also evident for non-physical systems: how do I handle my bookkeeping (poorly); would I be better served by a more educated approach to my website development (undoubtedly); what's my broader strategy for the year ahead?
This coming year is an exciting one for me on a professional level. My book is coming out in May, the magazine will hopefully start to feel more like a fluid, understood process, I'm lining up teaching gigs both in person and online (for more on that, read the previous post). I'm booked two months out at a daily quota 3x that of what I was booking per day this time last year, and I'm looking forward to working with some new wholesale partners.
It's also a year in which I will be deliberately pushing myself to engage on more platforms than I have thus far been willing to do. Instagram remains the pillar app for my work, but I have the podcast, and the Spooncarving Collective on Mighty Networks (if you don't know what this is there is a blog post about it too), and I'm gently exploring what Facebook, Linkedin an Twitter have to offer. I'm taking seriously the fact that we are living in a moment where attention on these platforms is as easy to get as it's ever going to be: it will only get harder. So I'm pushing myself to make the long term investments in these platforms that will hopefully pay off in years to come.
Transitioning also means spending more time with my family. I'm going to have lunch with my grandmother tomorrow (who is out of the nursing home finally) and muck out her study. We're planning an extended family visit to the Boston Science Museum at the end of the month. And I've gotten on top of my portion of the presents for this Christmas.
But the transition comes with the end of a simple, straightforward pattern (go to the farm and do as much as possible until it gets dark, every single day) and the start of a more nuanced, murky expectation that asks me to balance professional and personal values and goals. This can be sweeter than just pushing and pushing, but also more confusing.
Either way, like so many things in life, I don't get a choice. Here it is, and the best I can do is to try to navigate it with as much grace as I can muster. Wish me luck!
First of all, I would like to thank everyone who took part in the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to figure out how to communicate these topics and ideas, and it has been gratifying to see the community springing from the groups.
I've decided to take what I've learned from running this program and use it to create two new, paid courses that I'll be opening enrollment to now (yep, you read that right). So of the 90 people who signed up for the first round of the VAC, probably only 30 took part in a way that was obvious to me. There was greater enthusiasm at the beginning that dwindled throughout the weeks, leading me to think that a one month course would be a more appropriate time frame than the six weeks that this round was, and that by charging money I can get people to stick to their guns a bit more and also winnow it down to the people who really want it. I also saw that there were really two tracks: those who wanted to learn how to push their business to the next level and those simply wanted to push their carving to the next level (and these are not mutually exclusive).
The DM list function within Instagram is limited to 30 people, so that's my limit. Part of the problem with having three groups of 30 this time around was that I found it tedious to have to repeat each message three times, so I didn't communicate as much as I might have. My goal is to interact enough that everyone's needs are being met.
So. Each track is limited to 30 people. It will be one month long, with weekly prompts and check ins from me several times a week.
Each course costs $50. The way to sign up is to let me know through Instagram DM or email and I'll send you an invoice to pay. To take part you must be on Instagram (sorry, that's just how it goes).
This first round will start Saturday January 12th.
The Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge will be the course on spooncarving. We will work on all aspects of spooncarving, broken into weekly topics to focus on, but also working specifically to address your unique concerns.
The Virtual Journeyman Challenge will be the course on business development. It will be a condensed version of this initial run of the VAC, so you can read previous blog posts to get an idea of the topics.
And just to be clear: everything I will be sharing is stuff I've already given away for free . It's out there if you consume enough of my content. What you get for the fifty bucks is direct and unlimited access to me, a community of others going through the same experience, and the structure of the course. If you would find this helpful, I hope you will be in touch to sign up.
And for anyone who took part in this first round of the VAC, please let me know what worked and didn't work for you! I value any feedback you'd care to share. Thank you for your trust and enthusiasm.
Well, you made it to the last week of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge (or quite possibly you are not taking part but just reading along). You've committed to carving every day. You've stepped up your social media game and made some tough choices about handles and bio photos. You've started the process of building a website or worked to improve the one you have. You've done all the silly bureaucratic things you need to do to be legal and official. You've taken steps to help build a community and a culture that you want to be a part of.
Now to put it all together.
Putting it all together means coming up with a comprehensive business strategy. Not a plan (I haven't found those helpful the few times I've tried to make them), but a gameplan that you keep in your head and that you shift around as needed.
Here's what mine has looked like: when I started off carving, my plan was to sell at my Christmas tree farm to people coming to cut their own trees. This was all I focused on for three years. Then I got a phone and hopped on Instagram and thought I'd build up a base of wholesale customers. I worked very hard at this and failed. But in the process of doing that I built enough of a community that I tentatively started to sell to individuals instead. I also attempted and failed to gain traction at local markets.
Then I realized I could use low prices to generate more business which would force me to carve more than I otherwise would, and that this process would be a positive feedback loop pushing my skills forward. So I dropped my prices and it worked. I started selling briskly, built up a waiting list, and got much, much better because I was carving three or four times what I had been before.
Along the way I've learned that my customers usually have all the good ideas. Customers got me to start making spoon blanks (now accounting for 50% of my revenue), and customer requests got me carving coffee scoops, long scoops, teaspoons, camping spoons, flour scoops, miniscoops, flippy spatulas, baking spatulas, kid spoons, pocket spoons and ladles, all forms I now take for granted. These were not my own ideas.
I began offering lessons from my home, then set up a whole season of larger workshops, only to pull in my horns when I realized I liked teaching smaller numbers and one on one more.
I started collaborating with Matt White, first on tool handles, then the blades themselves, then on the @spoonesaurus account and Spoonesaurus Magazine. I started exploring finishing tools and collaborated with Adam Reynolds and Cynthia Main to produce the porcelain burnisher and broomcorn polisher that we now offer to fellow spooncarvers.
Lately I've been exploring sharing what I know through this Challenge and through my new podcast Emmet Audio and have taken the community I've seen being born from this and used that as inspiration to start the Spooncarving Collective over on Mighty Networks.
It's a lot, right? I get exhausted just writing it all down. So how are you going to compete?
You're not. You're gonna do you, and in five years you'll be able to exhaust yourself with a list like this too.
The point is, I started out with one thing. I knew I had a captive audience at the farm, who were already there to buy from me. That was my promising kernel. But when I'd outgrown the thirty spoons a year that this would sell for me, guess what? I floundered around for awhile, trying and failing to get any momentum.
This is normal. Ultimately, you will need to have a track record of success to have anyone trust you enough to buy from you. It's not about the quality of what you are carving, it's about your reputation and the sense people get that you're not so new to this that they aren't sure what they're getting. This is a bit of a catch 22: you need the experience to get the order, but you need the order to get the experience. What are you to do?
What you need are examples. So start selling at markets, if you want. Or start carving spoons to donate to a soup kitchen. It really doesn't matter what, so long as you are documenting the process. I suggested to Chet Flynn that he start giving away spoons to people and take portraits of them and learn their stories to start a whole project called #humansandspoons and through that project he would generate the interest and develop the track record that would lead to sales.
You will need to decide what you want to pursue, inperson sales or online, commissions or selling batches of work, wholesale or retail. My basic advice is to try all of it. Depending on where you live, your temperament, timing, skill level, luck, a host of factors too numerous to go into, some stuff will work and some won't. But I can tell you that trying lots of things and then pursuing the ones you like most/the ones that work out will slowly, slowly, lead you to a place of success.
As you get more successful, I want you to push yourself to diversify what you do and how you do it. Imagine the economy crashes tomorrow (this is definitely coming sooner or later so it's not an idle exercise). How would your current business fare? What could you branch out into that would be slightly more secure or just different? I don't mean more products, don't get this confused. I mean if you are making stuff, also start teaching. I carve spoons for people who are not spooncarvers but who want a nice handmade spoon. That's one sort of audience. I also make spoons and blanks and tools for spooncarvers, a different constituency. I also teach, and now apparently consult, and advise. And spooncarving is just one of three businesses I have, that are spread out across the globe and across industries. The editing is global and intellectual and academic, the tree farm is intensely physical and local. The spooncarving is all of the above. So my mix of businesses is diversified enough to mitigate the risk of it all going sideways. What's going to be your mix?
You don't need three different businesses, you just need enough diversity within the one business to achieve this. And you don't need it right away, but it should be on your mind as a goal.
So as you go into this final week, you need to come up with ten different ways you can start your business proper. A typical list should have you trying local markets, online sales, wholesale, etc. throw a whole bunch of stuff at the wall. None of it will stick. Keep throwing. Don't stop. Even when some stuff sticks throw some more where it didn't and do. not. stop. This is you. In the trenches. Playing the game.
Okay, so I did an episode on my new podcast, Emmet Audio (find it anywhere you get your podcasts), about just this. About the need to build a community rather than amass a following. In the episode, I said that the community is what really matters in the end.
So for this second to last week of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge, I want you to come up with a community building project that will create value or others. Here are some examples of ones I have done:
The @spoonesaurus feed on Instagram, which, while it did not live up to me and Matt's original vision of a community project, nonetheless created a valuable resource for fellow spooncarvers.
Gathering and shipping spoons to send to a fellow spooncarver who had lost a daughter.
The free Spoonesaurus Gatherings that Matt White and I host twice a year.
Spoonesaurus Magazine, even though it isn't free, has the goal of strengthening and enriching the spooncarving scene.
This challenge itself, which I have seen foster connections between people and a shared sense of purpose and support.
I am excited to announce the most recent of these projects, which is the Spooncarving Collective, a network on the Mighty Networks app. There is a link in my Instagram profile, please check it out. Basically, Mighty Networks allows users to create communities that people can join and then mess around in. My thought was that the Spooncarving Collective could provide a permanent home to these threads of connection and advice sought and given that currently live in my DM lists on Instagram, and which are limited to the max number Instagram allows.
Am I asking you to download yet another app and figure out how to use this new-to-you software? Yes I am.
Because I think it can be a space that we can organize to provide the ultimate resource for other spooncarvers. I think we can together create the community that we all want, that right now lives in a very diffuse way because Instagram puts such a heavy focus on each of us presenting our lives. Don't get me wrong- I think that's important. But what that misses, and what the Spooncarving Collective can provide, is a place for us to all gather and be seen and heard.
So go check it out. I have spent basically no time on it because I'm crazy busy these next few weeks with the Christmas trees, but I've established some topic threads for people to add to, including a suggestions one so you can let me know what else you want to have in the space. I'm really excited to have this space that we can all add to.
Also, if you are doing the challenge, I want you to think about what other community building project you can start. Remember that you don't need permission. Remember that it might as well be you. Remember that it can be small, local (host a spooncarving gathering) or giant and grand (start a non-profit to send a cooking spoon to every refugee family). Build your community by reaching out to people, and by responding to every comment someone makes on your work. Build a community by actually caring what someone thinks. Build a community by being brave enough to share your truth in your posts, and taking the time to actually contribute something meaningful.
So, to recap. You should be carving every day. Because getting good at this thing you want to do is the only way to get where you want to go. You should be posting every single day to social media, and scaling that up as you can. Read my blog post a long time ago about what I think is important in balancing out an Instagram feed. You should be building a website to give you a home base on the internet that is yours and can never be taken away. You should be registered with whatever government entities need to know you exist and have established bank accounts and bookkeeping processes to support this. And now I want you to give back.
Because the more you give, the more you get. But you have to give first. That's how it works.
So there's this moment when you are starting a business when things start to feel very real, and it's not when you get your first customer, or hang the sign over the door. Nope.
It's when you register with the state and town and open a bank account.
I know, sexy, right?
But the thing is, even if you are operating under your own name, you will need to do these things because that's how you fit into the social fabric.
I don't know how things are done in any state but mine, and I certainly don't know how things are done in other countries. Heck, I barely know how to do things here. But at least in Massachusetts you need to register with the state, who issues a taxpayer identification number (search for how to do this online), and you take this number to the town clerk who registers you with the town (or city), and you then take both those things to the bank to open the business accounts. Oh it's scintillating stuff.
You then need to get some bookkeeping software, and here's where my knowledge gets really sketchy, because I only know one system and that barely. But unlike your personal money, you actually need to keep track of your orders and expenses and collect sales tax as appropriate and pay that to the state each month. You might need to pay taxes quarterly. You might need to hire an accountant or a bookkeeper to at least help you get set up.
Don't shy away from this, because if you do, you will never transition your business from more than a way to earn money to buy more tools. You need to embrace these dry, boring, confusing things, and it is best to tackle them now. Do some research on Google. Figure out what you want to use as a system. Figure out what you are required to do. Understand all that because understanding it is the foundation of your business.
You might be carving spoons, but keeping books is keeping books. You can't get out of it. So get into it.
Okay team, here we are at week three of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge! And anyone else reading this but not taking part, keep reading because this is for you, too.
So the time has come. You sorta knew you would get to this place eventually, although you probably have told people that you never will, or maybe you just can't believe it's actually necessary. That's right: you need a website.
You need a website because if you are trying to build an identity, reputation or brand for yourself (note that I did not say business), you need a spot for people to go to learn more about you. This, unlike your social media accounts, is fully under YOUR control. As long as you pay those yearly fees, no one can take this away from you or dictate how you present yourself. I would argue that a website (and the blogs and mailing lists and links and information that go with it) is the only part you can for certain count on. Instagram is seven years old. It will probably be here in seven years, but maybe not. Will it be here in 15 years? 20? If you are trying to build the sort of reputation or brand equity that will allow you to do all sorts of things (sell stuff, teach stuff, share stuff) you need to be thinking long term. A website is the corner stone of how you do this.
I never thought I'd have a website. Now I have four of them. One for the tree farm, one for the editing business, one for the magazine, and one just for me. This last one is the most important. It started out an awkward amalgamation of the different things I wanted to share and promote, and this mix has gotten more comfortable and changed quite a bit over the two years I've had the site. The trick is that I make myself sit down every six months or so and overhaul the photos, the text, the very identity of the pages.
Now, I am not particularly savvy when it comes to technology. I was definitely snookered by the "drag and drop" claims made by the leading website builders, and then I had to spend a very frustrating couple of hours trying to figure out the way the software worked before I had any sort of familiarity with it. But I think it is crucial for you to be able to change your own website, at least one that doesn't handle complicated transactions like my editing one, which is built and maintained by a professional. So if I can do it, you can do it.
Like your social media handles, I would argue that you need to have your website just be your full name and .com. The reason for this is simple: life is long and things change, but you will always be you. Your website is not you putting on airs: it's you sharing who you are and what you have to offer, and that will of course change over the years.
So your challenge for this coming week is to make your website. I don't say this lightly. I know that is will cost you a couple of hundred dollars to buy the plan and the domain. I would recommend that you think about what you want your website to have in terms of options (store? mailing list? reservations?) The top builders-- squarespace, wordpress, weebly, shopify, wix-- all have these options, so do some research to figure out which one is the best fit. If you plan to try to sell, I would recommend getting the cheapest paid plan rather than go for the free one. Most of these will also host your domain and help you buy it, so figure that out too.
I know that this is a lot coming on top of continuing to carve and post, so if you need to do this instead of carving for a couple of days, do that. Use the photos you have been posting to flesh out the site, and in particular make sure there is a friendly picture of yourself on the home page.
Check out various makers' websites until you have a sense of the aesthetic, language and types of pages you want to make for yours, and then do a quick outline of what pages you want and what you want them to achieve. If you are like me, you might not want to actually enable the store feature but handle any sales in person, although I'm certainly not advocating for this.
Why bother doing this, if you think you are still a ways away from wanting to sell? Or maybe you don't want to sell at all, and think this is just wasted money. But what I'm saying is that this is a homestead. It starts out as a plot of ground with your stake in the center, and then log by log you build that cabin over time. You clear the trees and fence the pasture. This is your home you are making. And you don't need to know what you will use it for for it to be a good idea to start building it.
I know this is big. I know this is scary. I know this is not what you signed up for when you decided you wanted to take your carving to the next level. But I promise you, this will be the move that you will be glad you took three years from now. And setting it up is a one-time proposition. So put your shoulder to the wheel and push.
PS for those of you who already have a website, congratulations! I want you to update that website. Then I want you to start a blog.
For week two of the virtual apprenticeship challenge (and if you are reading this and aren't one of the 90 participants, don't worry, this is for you, too) I want you to start using social media with discipline.
Now most of you are probably thinking about the discipline of not spending hours poking around in the explore section of Instagram or not checking your facebook updates like a nervous tic. And we'll get to that. But this is about building your craft and laying the groundwork for you to start building a platform for yourself and for your craft, so I'm actually talking about the discipline of USING social media.
Since all the participants found me through Instagram, I'm going to talk about that, but really what I'm about to say can be applied to any app, any social media.
Starting tomorrow, I want you to start posting something EVERY DAY. If you already post every day, I want you to post twice a day. Whatever you are doing, double it. Already post three times a day pretty regularly? Make it consistent and then start using Stories and Live features on a regular basis.
The thing is, carving spoons (again, this is the basis for the challenge, but it can apply to WHATEVER you want to be doing with your life) can't make you a living in a vacuum. You need to build a following. This following will be built on the basis of your skill (hence you will continue to carve every day), but it will also be built by just being present.
Posting every day will build your photography skills, something I will go into in my podcast over this next week (if you aren't listening to my podcast, Emmet Audio, start. It's available on every major podcast platform and covers topics that are relevant to this challenge. It's short, it's daily, and it's just me talking). But a good photograph is not enough. You need to have something to say, also. Writing, "this is the spoon I just carved" is not going to get you to where you want to be. The good news is that the caption doesn't need to be just about what the photograph is of. You can talk about ANYTHING. Your grandma. Your philosophy. What is hard. What is surprising. What you love to eat. What bugs you.
You also need to start using hashtags, and be thoughtful about which you use and how to rotate them through so you are showing up in lots of places. Using hashtags is another podcast, I can feel it. Suffice to say, you get to use like 25 hashtags. If you don't have 10k followers, you should be making use of every single one on every single post. Check out people you think are doing a good job and see what hashtags they are using. Copy that. You want a medium sized hashtag, one that gets enough traffic to have your photo be seen but not so many that you immediately get buried. You will need to type them in each time, and this sucks, but it's also how you build a following. Suck it up.
Be mindful to not just post pictures of spoons. Remember that someone is following you because of the spoons, but they bond with you over you as a person. Be real. Be varied. Be interesting and honest. Don't get pigeonholed. Don't let your feed get monotonous. Pay attention to how your feed looks to someone just going to it and checking it out for the first time. Delete the weakest photos from time to time to improve the caliber of your feed.
And now, the hardest part for almost all of you, but I think the most important in the long run: change your handle to just be your name. Trust me. You want to be known for you. You want people to think of your name when they think of you, not some handle that sounds like a million others. I know this because I started out with a handle that reflected my tree farm, and then when I finally switch to my name I felt free, free to be ALL of what I am, free to interact openly with people, and they felt that shift. Things started to change. If you don't do anything else, do this. I will do a podcast to talk more about my thoughts here, but I cannot stress it enough.
Okay, so you are going to continue carving every day. You are also going to start posting every day. Make the photography the best you can, and be thoughtful about what you say. Use hashtags! Lot's of them. And make sure you interact with every single person that reaches out with a comment. You are building the community that you will serve and that will serve you from here on out. Carving is not enough. You must master this also.
For the next six weeks, this blog will be the deep context support to the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge that I'm running. The VAC is a free challenge I'm running to help people gain a little more structure around taking the steps to make their spooncarving (or whatever your thing is) to the next level. It is intended to be very self directed, so these blogs will provide the real instruction while the challenge directions will be issued in a direct message to each of the participants.
Week 1 is about doing your thing every day.
That might seem like an obvious thing. But it's super hard to do. That means doing it when you'd rather go to bed. That means getting up early to do it. That means doing it when you're not inspired, or feeling rushed, or when you need to make some sort of sacrifice for it.
Sometimes it is fun too, don't get me wrong. But plenty of times, the discipline that is needed requires sacrifice. So why do it?
The reason you need to do your thing every day is because that is what it takes to get good at what you do. Carving for seven hours one day a week is nowhere near as helpful as carving an hour every single day of the week. And if your thing is as obscure as spooncarving, you need to be even better to reach the place where you want to be. Because while the competition is small, the pie of demand is also small. Competition is a topic for another day, but my point is this: if you want to start selling your work; if you want to gain a reputation that you can leverage into opportunities; if you just want to reach a place where carving (or whatever) feels like something you have mastery over, then you need to make the commitment to do it every day.
Now maybe you don't want to. That's fine. There is lots of room for everyone in the spooncarving (or any scene). But the 88 of you who asked to take part in this presumably wanted your feet held to the fire a little bit, so this is me doing it. This is some straight talk. You will need to sacrifice for it.
So if you are looking at the rest of the day and haven't figured out when you are going to carve, stop and make a plan. If you keep forgetting to make a spoon blank during the day and then can't use the axe early in the morning, go do that so you can set an alarm, get up while everyone else is still sleeping, and pay your dues. Incredible things are hard to do. You will need to sacrifice for it.
I would also suggest that you don't let yourself get too bogged down in any one spoons. Don't sit down on a fresh day and pick up an old spoon. The lessons you learned there are learned: carve something new, learn some new lessons. I like the idea of giving yourself just an hour (or an hour and a half, if you must) to carve, and to push to complete something in that time. That way you push yourself to learn lessons about efficiency, what is good enough, what matters and what doesn't, and where you are weakest. Even if you never intend to carve to sell (in which case this whole project might not be for you) this is a helpful structure. So push yourself to finish each thing in that time, to the best of your ability. It will be frustrating at first. You will need to sacrifice for it.
This discipline, this carving every day, will need to go on for a long time if you want to win at this. And by win, I don't win because someone else has lost. I mean win like you succeeded in doing what you dreamed of. I carved every day for a year before anyone paid any attention. And I was pretty bad at first. But I loved it and I was inspired and I was disciplined. And then, lo and behold, I found out that I had learned some things and could do some things. It will take you a long time before you gain any traction, and it is up to you, to your inner fire, to keep going in the radio silence. This is hard. You will need to sacrifice for it.
I still carve every day (or close to it, through a confluence of events I cannot carve today, ironically). And while it is true that carving is my sanity, my meditation, my balance and my purpose, that is not why I carve every day. I carve every day because that is what is required to achieve what I want to achieve. This is hard. But I am prepared to sacrifice for it.
A vastly underrated skill in my life is the ability to look at a situation as it changes, determine what matters, and shift course accordingly. My wife used to marvel at how I could see our landlord walking down the meadow from his house and go into mess management, stacking things and piling things and making the house as presentable as possible in thirty seconds. The point wasn't to actually CLEAN the house; that is a different skill. The point was to hide the baby diapers drying around the woodstove, clean up the mess of mail on the side counter and line up the boots to make a good first impression when he walked in the door.
I was once in a meeting for a non-profit I worked for in which we were asked to brainstorm what we could do to adjust to increasing pressures and expectations. Everyone else said that they could work longer, harder, multitask, leverage technology, etc. I was the only person who said I would audit my priorities and make sure I got the important things done and not sweat the rest. That didn't go over well, and not surprisingly, I didn't last long there.
This fall has been a bout of surprises, with my carefully calibrated time getting pinched in one way or another by accidents, illnesses and overreaching. This came to a head the other day when I was at the grove scything the meadow that I drive my truck on to get to the different staging areas for when I harvest trees and balsam greens.
I started off mowing everything nicely, really doing a thorough job. After several days of this I was feeling more pressure so I started mowing faster and more sloppily. Then I realized I didn't have time enough to do even that so I started just batting down the goldenrod and woody stuff. Then I hit a big patch of goldenrod as the sun was setting and the kids (who had been playing with the dogs in field) were getting cold. I realized I could stop and come back to it tomorrow, OR (and this is what I did) I could just walk around and cut all the woody stuff and let the grass and goldenrod go uncut.
Messy? Yes. Not the world's finest job? You bet. Get the job done? To the extent that was needed. The point was, I had more important things to spend my time on. By boiling the task down to what actually mattered I was able to keep myself on track and keep up momentum, even as the ground shifted under my feet.
This level of triage is something we apply all the time in our lives. And I would guess that more often than not, when we find ourselves overwhelmed or overworked, it is from a lack of exercising this principle. At any moment, we need to be asking ourselves, "what is the most important use of this time?" Because at the end of the day, our time is all we have.
Bend your standards. Make your effort count. Triage your life.
And oh yeah, you can now sign up for my blog! There's a button on the homepage of my website. Not that I know how to make use of that feature yet. But I know I sure like the convenience of the one blog I follow showing up in my inbox. So I'm gonna figure out how to do that for you, too.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.