Usually when I wake up I get dressed and grab my phone just before going downstairs. I slip it into my pocket unread but then start to check in as I make coffee, lay a fire, open the curtains. But not this morning. This morning I left my phone upstairs.
I did all those other things in a remarkable quiet frame of mind.
Now I usually hate when people get all philosophical about technology use. Especially when it is the technology and their use of it that allowed their success. And I am keenly aware that I lean on technology and my phone for community, interaction, validation, marketing, engagement, posturing and flag waving. It brings a lot of good into my day and it allows me to earn a living doing what I love working for myself. And for that I am grateful.
But this morning, as I sat near the open woodstove door, the fire just starting to crackle on the hearth and dawn creeping slowly down the windowpanes, I was reminded that while social media and connection can invigorate and excite, challenge and inspire, it cannot lead me to that quiet place in my head where I feel calm and centered and ENOUGH. How could it? It lives and breaths more, more, more.
This morning was an exercise in less, and the balance that can bring to everything that follows.
Okay, so. I was teaching a spoon carving lesson and I found myself saying the same thing a lot, that I was doing the opposite of what most people do. In fact, I found myself saying this so many times that I took notice, and it gave me pause.
I carve my spoons differently from the way most professional and established carvers do. I start differently, I do different things along the way, at almost every step I'm doing it in a manner both unorthodox, and to my mind more efficient.
Now I didn't do it this way to thumb my nose at people who had gone before me. I did it because I was figuring stuff out for myself. When I started carving there was relatively little information online about actually how to carve spoons, so I pieced my information together from scraps tossed out here and there in blog posts and instagram captions, and developed my own method in response to making mistake after mistake after mistake.
What I ended up with was a process that allowed me to do things in ways that no one else was doing them. I haven't kept any of these ideas a secret, instead choosing to share them all as freely as I could. But what I've been thinking about lately is the importance of all of us, going our own way, learning things we wouldn't know otherwise.
A discovery is when you start of in a direction that everyone else scoffs at. By definition it is a risk: there is often nothing fruitful in that direction. But if you, if WE, all keep experimenting and sharing and trying new things, we will be in a better place as a community than if we trod the same footpath deeper.
Obviously this is a tricky catch 22, right? In teaching our methods, we fail to promote the very thing we found so beneficial, namely the experimental spirit. So perhaps a better way to think of it is that each of us stands on the shoulders of all the others, each lifting the group higher and higher, seeing new lands and new possibilities. I have become more conscious of celebrating and actively promoting the innovations my students bring to the table, and try to distinguish between fundamental truths and the truth as I practice it.
So if you find yourself going your own way, if you are worried that you might be doing it wrong, remember that every person who discovered something worth discovering was doing it "wrong", was flying in the face of how other people did things, and that ultimately, through their exploration, our world changes.
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.
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.