Art and Craftsmanship

I have a good friend who made his own dining room set. It’s a beautiful table with chairs and benches. It’s the kind of thing their family will be able to use for a long time and will always have a lot of sentimental and practical value.

My brother is an auto mechanic. Once when he was visiting I asked for help fixing a burned out headlight bulb. We spent a very interesting hour talking and taking apart the wheel well of my car. Time after time he calmly reached into his tool bag and brought out a tool that seemed perfect for what we needed. He took care to line the beam of the new bulb up with the beam of the old one. It was really impressive.

A friend at work is very handy. He bought a small starter house, and when he moved to a bigger house he rented out the starter house. Once in a while he’ll mention something about replacing a water heater or rewiring part of one of the houses.

I’m jealous of them. Their craftsmanship is in work they do with their hands.

I love watching the piano player at the jazz academy my kids attend. You can hear his love for the music he’s playing. He teaches the students how to move through a song, the things to listen for, and encourages them to try new things. When he plays you can feel the joy that he feels.

My boys started tuning pianos. This began as my younger son’s Eagle Scout project, and has since turned into a part time job for them. Tuning a piano takes time and patience. Each note on the piano has multiple strings that need to be both in tune with the pitch and with each other. Getting one note to sound correctly can take a while. Then you have 87 more notes to go!

It’s a grueling process to tune a whole piano. Getting the notes to sound in tune often takes a gentle hand. By the end of their last job I saw the beginnings of real pride in the work they were doing. I could see the change from “I’m getting paid to do this” to “I’m proud of my work.”

No matter what kind of work we do, we have the chance to develop craftsmanship. There’s art in everything done well.

The Profound Power in Showing Up

All skills, habits, hobbies, and jobs that are worth doing take time and repetition. They don’t come easily or without effort.

The process of acquiring these skills can be monotonous. Write 500 words. Throw 50 changeups. Create a lesson plan. Play your scales. Cook pasta. Repeat tomorrow and the next day and the next. It takes thousands of repetitions before something amazing happens, before the work becomes art. We usually don’t know exactly when the magic will happen and the wait can be tough.

Showing up to practice is so important. We’re all striving to make different kinds of art. The thing we have in common is that the only way to get there is to show up over and over again. We have to try and fail and improve, then try some more. It won’t be easy. Great journeys never seem to be.

Each time we show up is another vote cast for who we want to be.

I think something else happens when we show up consistently. We gradually conquer our fear, our pride, and our weakness. “I can’t” becomes “I can, and here’s how I know.” The record we build for ourselves fundamentally changes who we are. It gives us the strength to overcome in the most important battles we fight, inside our mind.

Start small. Tie your practice to something you already do consistently. Keep track of how you show up. The progress will come in much bigger ways that you anticipate.