The way craftsmanship is portrayed today is completely and utterly backward. First, craftsmanship as a concept is almost exclusively referred to as a calling. The not-so-subtle suggestion is that those who haven't heard the call, have no Craft. And the even less-subtle suggestion is that while we should be finding our purpose in life, everything is laden with meaning. The idea of craftsmanship has been so fetishized, there’s even a parody about making toast.
Which brings me to the second way that the current portrayal of craftsmanship is backward — it’s characterized as a luxury. This means both that the practice of craftsmanship is something we are occasionally allowed to indulge in luxury and that craftsmanship should feel like a luxury. Whether it is buying local from the butchers, dairy farmers, or bakers at the local farmer's market, or buying well made products from tailors and tanners--only a certain segment of the population participates. When we spend more time talking about the craftsmanship behind well-made leather boots than we do about how well made boots perform and enable us getting out into nature enough, we’ve wandered pretty far from anything that can be remotely considered craftsmanship.
While Craftsmanship is definitely fueled by purpose and unfortunately a luxury to some, true craftsmanship is a discipline. It is a way of being in the world, where how you approach life and work is a form of elevated, personal self-expression.
Genuine thinking and self-expression happens through doing and repeating—craftsmanship requires effort. The craftsman’s muscle memory is inscribed with the discipline of being in deliberate practice. This notion of craftsmanship is not a call to the return of overt craftsmanship (of the leather apron variety) to consumer culture. It is a call to finding your Craft – through grit, resilience, tough-mindedness, a deep and personal understanding of your priorities, and a respect for both yourself and the people you choose to surround your life with.
Living with Craft is:
Turning off the TV instead of watching another episode of whatever you are watching because the alarm is going off at 5am so you can get to the gym.
Declining a second glass of wine when you're out to dinner. It might even be declining the first drink and opting for water.
Maintaining boundaries by saying “no” to the thing you don’t want to do or the person you don’t want to see, even if someone is going to be angry at you.
Maintaining financial independence.
Doing work that matters.
Letting other people take care of themselves.
Working with Craft is:
Choosing work you want to labor over.
Maintaining fascination with your work by reflecting on and approach it from various angles.
Maintaining boundaries by saying “no” to things that take away from you continuing to develop skills and experiment in your Craft.
Maintaining a unique perspective.
Making deliberate choices in both life and work that will help you advance in your Craft.
Surrounding yourself with people who nurture and stretch you.
Looked at this way, craftsmanship is actually kind of boring. It is about showing up, day in and day out – whether you get a result from your labors or not.
Craftsmanship is a discipline, because it takes discipline to do the things that are good for us instead of what feels good in the moment. It takes even more discipline to refuse to take responsibility for other people’s emotional well-being. And it takes discipline to take full and complete responsibility for our own well-being.
Craftsmanship is not something you do once in awhile when the world gets crazy. When you get the boss from hell, or a deal doesn't work out, or you've had a long day of meetings – you don't escape your life to go make cheese at the base of a fjord (yes, more than one client has had that fantasy!). It’s what you do day in and day out that matters. It’s taking care of yourself in a way that doesn’t require you to “indulge” in order to restore balance. It’s making the commitment to stay healthy, engaged by what you do, and finding meaning in your work as a regular practice.
When you truly find work you choose to labor over, you are actually in a much stronger place to help others, give back, and mentor. You will be a happier parent, a more grateful spouse, a fully engaged colleague. Those who take care of themselves have the energy to take care of others joyfully because that care-giving doesn’t come at their own expense. And those who take care of themselves also have the energy to work with meaning and purpose toward a worthy goal. Which means they are also the people most likely to make the world a better place for all of us.
I help individuals and teams engage in and connect more deeply to their careers.
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