So the other morning I was teaching my girls about the Beatles, and we put some of their early albums on, and I was totally surprised at how non-Beatle-ish many of the songs seemed. I grew up listening to the Beatles, but I hadn't even heard some of the songs on their first two albums, and it was interesting to me how when they stormed the Americas, their first album had three or four songs that we still remember, and maybe 8 that we don't remember at all.
This stuck with me, the idea that even a band so iconic as the Beatles could produce work that was ultimately forgettable, that they went through a progression not only of changing their sound, but also of GETTING BETTER at their craft. I've been thinking about this a lot recently as I'm at the two year anniversary of getting a smart phone and starting to carve as a profession. And while I am not the Beatles, I think what we can see in them is a universal truth, that the early stages of anyone, even after the initial learning process (and I know, I know, they went through the crucible playing incredibly long sets at that German club), the early stages are inconsistent. That if you stick with something you improve.
This is not the common narrative, however. Our culture idolizes the overnight sensation, the person discovered after years of honing their talent in obscurity, and then they make it big. Often, they make it big and then have a hard time following up that first success with real growth.
I can safely say that is not me. I'm definitely an incremental improvement kind of person. And so it gives me hope, actually, to hear the forgettable Beatles song and to think that what they had going is possible for me, the ability to grow into this thing I do. Carving spoons. Writing. That my best work is yet ahead of me.
It's funny to be inspired by the lackluster start of things, but I think this is a realistic perspective for anyone just starting out, since if you only look at the amazing work that comes after years of dedication, you can feel discouraged from even starting. I know this happens with me. It will be a long, long time before I'm ever the fiddle player I dream of being. Even if it became my main thing it would be six years. At the rate I'm going it will be more like 20. Still, it's good to remember how far I've come so that I don't lose sight of my own journey in the beautiful noise made by others.
And I actually find it encouraging to think that no matter how much I like the spoon I carved yesterday, I definitely haven't carved my White Album yet. I'm still in the night club, plotting my invasion.
Okay, so. I've noticed this thing happening on Instagram the last year or so, ever since they started having the stories feature, where everyone has started putting their personal funny stuff there, where it disappears in a day forever, and then keeps their main account just for the glamorous, serious stuff. I was lamenting to Fiona Glover, a lovely spooncarver in Australia, that it seems like people have started using Instagram differently.
And it got me thinking: what is Instagram for? Not what does it do physically, or how it works, but what purpose does it serve for us, its users? What purpose COULD it serve? I was thinking about this because I recently dove all the way back to the beginning of my feed to do what I often do, a purge of photos I no longer like. I do this on a regular basis for more recent posts, but occasionally I'll go all the way back and remove pictures that don't reflect the current caliber of my work.
What I find when I do this is that while the spoons I thought were so important at the time have completely faded in importance, the value of the personal moments, the small intimate details, has grown immensely. These are the very things that we are now being encouraged to use the stories for, and so instead of creating a record of our life, we are reacting in the moment without capturing anything for the future.
This shouldn't be surprising, because Instagram didn't add this feature because it was better for us, it added this feature to grab users from Snapchat, to dominate that capability.
Similarly, being able to see the likes and number of followers we get or other accounts have is not for our benefit. It's to make using the app more addictive. I sometimes confuse my sense of self worth with the movement of these metrics, which is the stupidest thing in the world and I know it but it still happens!
There is no denying that one of the best things about Instagram for me is interacting with people. Surprisingly, while I started off using the app for inspiration, the relationships I've developed with customers are fast becoming more meaningful and fulfilling than seeing the work of someone I've never had a conversation with.
Instagram is how I run my business, it's how I give back by sharing what I know, it's how I notice and document the beautiful small things in life in a way that otherwise wouldn't happen, and its a source of meaningful relationships.
That said, it is addictive, can be disruptive to my family life, can be hard on my self-esteem, and if used thoughtlessly could leave me with little to show for it.
Sometimes its good to articulate things. And now I need to go make dinner.
I was having a great conversation over Skype the other day with Reuben Goadby (and if you are into wooden spoons and don't know who he is, you need to look him up right now), and I found myself saying that I really appreciate having a backlog of pre-ordered spoons because it pushes me to carve more than I otherwise would.
This statement surprised me, not because it wasn't true (it is) but because I hadn't articulated it to myself in just those terms before. I have certainly appreciated having the work lined up for the money's sake (it is, after all, how I support my family, at least in part), and I have also for a long time stated that my goal is to give myself an economic incentive to carve as much as possible by keeping my work affordable and thus generating more demand.
But this was the first time that I had meant simply that the NEED to carve was central to pushing me to do the thing that I love so much, that centers me and grounds me, that is my meditation and my entertainment. I am pretty good at knowing what is good for me. That exercise makes me feel good. That eating well makes me feel good. That putting away the screens and getting the right amount of sleep and spending time with my family when I am really truly present makes me feel good.
But that does not mean that I always do them.
Like most of us, I sabotage my own well being in ways that are both subconscious and totally known by me. I eat what I shouldn't. I stay up late. I sit in my chair and look at my phone.
So it feels like a big win that I have been able to harness the commitment I make to people that I WILL CARVE THEM A SPOON WITHIN A CERTAIN TIME FRAME to force myself to do more of this thing that is so good for me.
It feels like winning the jackpot. It feels like I'm getting away with something.
It makes me wonder how I can harness other commitments to force myself to develop other habits. Because without the commitment I am keenly aware of how easily life takes that time away from me. A day goes by without carving, then another. I have had this happen to me with numerous things that I love. Playing the fiddle. Spending time in the woods. Calisthenics. Making the bed, for crying out loud. We shape our lives around the things we must to make it all balance out, and when you have a family and life is full, there is always something else asking for the time.
So if you are just starting out carving, here is my advice to you. Sell cheap. Sell ridiculously cheap, for a host of reasons, but the only one I will explain here is that you need to sell your work so fast that you are goaded into continuing. And when you get that first commission, use it to get the next and then the next after that. Use the economics of the short-term gain to get you toward the long-term plan. Use the demand to push you to carve more than you would have otherwise, to pay you (perhaps not as well as some other way of using your time, but still, hold on to that long-term plan) so that you keep going.
You will be the better carver for it. And we will all be better for having watched you do it.
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.