I've been getting a lot of questions lately about how long I've been carving spoons. Something in the zeitgeist, perhaps, but a number of people have wanted to know. I started carving in earnest (discounting a handful done in college and just after) five years ago now, and then made a bigger shift three years ago when I left a seasonal job to devote more time to spooncarving.
There is really no importance to these numbers. There is no magic number of years you need to be carving to be good, and it's not even really meaningful to think about it in those terms. We are each on a journey of developing our skills, and that journey is at its own pace and never ends until we die or stop carving. You could make the argument that there are more resources available now to carvers just starting out, better content breaking down how to go about it, and that this could shorten the time it takes to go from wanting to do it but being frustrated to that delightful middle ground of enough skill to begin exploring ideas. But you could also argue convincingly that the resources don't matter as much as the tenacity to pursue it daily, something that has always been possible.
That for me was the big turning point, when I stopped thinking of it as something I did seasonally or occasionally, and started having the discipline to carve every day. And then carve for a larger and larger portion of each day. If you are focused on running your own race, then the more you practice, the faster you will progress. So my three years of serious carving might be the equivalent of ten for someone who just carves a couple of times a week, because I carve every day for hours.
We all know this. We expect it in anything we pursue as a profession, that a six month internship or a year of devoting ourselves to really learning a job will move us to a completely different place. It is no different with spooncarving. Give me six months and I can have you carving at a professional level. But you will need to be doing it every day.
The harder thing to wrap our heads around is how to balance our expectations when we CAN'T pursue something full time, when it must remain a part time practice. That is the reality most of us find ourselves in with most things. Then it becomes even more important to close your eyes to the trajectory of others and just keep your eyes on the path, one foot in front of the other, and trust that you will get where you want to go.
In either scenario, the most difficult thing is to be patient with ourselves. It takes time to develop a skill. Even when you are proceeding at full steam, there is always a deeper level to go, sometimes a level that no one you can see has gone to. But the level still exists, how can it not? And if you are progressing in fits and starts, the need for patience is greater still.
Patience is even more important when it comes to building a business. Three years ago I reached out to 50 stores that I thought should be carrying my spoons. I had too high an opinion of my work then. Only one was interested, and that fizzled out. Now, two and a half years after being in touch with some of these, I am at a place where it makes sense to reach out again. We will see if it is a better fit this time. Certainly my work is much better and my prices more competitive. If you had told me back then that it would take several years for my ability to match my ambition of having such wholesale accounts, I would have been totally discouraged. Thankfully I didn't have a mentor to tell me that, and I found a way to pivot and adjust my prices to find demand and work my way back to this place. But it was not a sure thing and if I had gotten impatient with the outcome, I would probably have given up.
Everything you want in life will take more time than you think. And it will usually cost you more, in money or effort. That's just truth. The older I get, the more realistic I am about this, and I think it sets me up for more success because I realize that I need multiple irons in the fire, each heating at its own pace. Some will come to fruition in a years, some in five. When one is in full blossom I need to start up another one, because it all takes time. That's just it. Time.
Usually the days pass one by one and we don't really take note, just go on autopilot or react to whatever crisis demands our attention. To wrest back control of our time we need a plan, a long-term strategy of where we want to be and how we're going to get there. And then we just enact, and iterate, day after day after day. Small gains over time look like big gains overnight in the end. But don't let it fool you. That iceberg is mighty big below the surface of the water.
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.