We've all experienced it as spoon carvers: you're carving some really lovely bit of wood with flashy grain and then, as you are close to the shape you want, the grain does something amazing.
Maybe it's a heart. Maybe it's an owl. Or maybe it's the miraculous image of Jesus Christ himself, manifest in the grain. Usually it's just pretty.
When this happens, we often make a mistake, and stop carving.
The reason this is a mistake is that grain is temporary. That amazing pattern? It will be faded in a year. But the shape we were chasing, the shape whose ultimate expression we sacrificed to the dazzle of the grain, that is what will remain. In fact, as patina builds and darkens the wood, bringing the bone structure of the facets to the fore, the shape matters more and more.
This is, in no small way, true of life, too. We can be dazzled by the grain of things, in the moment. We can lose sight of what we want to become in the flashy success on the surface of things. But as we age, it is our shape that matters. It is the bone structure of our character that will shine clearer, even as the grain of our accomplishments fades.
So it is crucial that as we are shaping who we want to become that we don't let surface success dictate the form we are chasing. Because that surface is ephemeral. Sometimes it coincides with the right shape of things, but often, very often, there is more work to do.
If you took away the grain on the surface of your identity, the job, the popularity, checking off all the boxes we are taught matter (partner, kids, house, career), what would be the shape of you? Do you like the shape of you? Are you making the choices that matter? That is different for each of us, what makes for a good life. And it also changes over time. But it is always worth asking, if we are being true to what truly matters to us. If we are doing what we are doing because it is what we want, or if it's just what looks good.
I worry about this all the time. Am I living a life that is meaningful to ME? Am I being the husband, father and son that I want to be? Am I contributing to the world? Am I providing for an uncertain future? Am I going to be happy with my form when I'm about to die?
Or have I been chasing flash over form?
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.