I am a modern “Renaissance man”, or better yet, a “Jack of all trades and master of none.” I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing. On long car trips, I sometimes occupy myself (over the din of crying children) by thinking about how I would spend millions of dollars when I win the lottery. And sometimes I think about, what if I could give up all my talents just to be a true master of just one thing, and what talent would that be. Currently, the only thing that I am a true master of is exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide. I’m proud to say that I can even do that in my sleep.
So what made me think of this topic? I subscribe to Matt’s Basement Workshop Spoken Word Podcast and I was listing to the episode that featured Bob Roziaeski and his article entitled “Versatility or Specialization”. It is worth listening too if you are into woodworking. Anyway, I thought about what he was talking about on a larger scale. Instead of thinking about versatile vs. specialized tools, I replaced it with versatile vs. specialized skills, especially as far as I am concerned.
A number of months ago I read an article by Toshio Odate, (please forgive me it I paraphrase from the wrong person) which really made me think about myself. Anyhow, the author spoke about the number of craftsman who try to do too much and never truly master a craft. Lyle Jamieson spoke to me about this too. He recommends perfecting/mastering a particular skill/craft and sticking with it. Lyle said that when he was learning to turning he was all over the place at first, then he decided that he should learn from the masters and avoid learning bad habits and achieve a focus. Me, I am all over the place too. I enjoy making and designing furniture, turning vessels, and teaching woodworking. I believe I am a “good” furniture maker and designer, and I am a “good” turner, but I am not on the level I would like to be. Even though my Mother thinks I am really great (thanks Mom!), I am certainly not a master.
I can look at this one of two ways. As an orthodox Jew, I spend time everyday learning Talmud. Now there are two schools of thought for learning Talmud. First, you pick a particular volume and you spend the time carefully learning every aspect of it. This can take a very long time. Or, you use the Daf Yomi method. With this method, you literally learn one page every day. (that may sound simple, but one page front and back contains a lot of material.) If you follow this method, you will learn all of Talmud in just about seven years. You do not learn all the nitty-gritty details, but after seven years of study, you have a very good overview of all of Talmud. I learn Talmud via the Daf Yomi method. (BTW, I will finish in March 2011 HaShem willing). Daf Yomi is sort of like my woodworking. I am learning about many forms of furniture making, designing, turning, marquetry, large case work, small boxes etc…. so I have a large breadth of experience. Perhaps one day I will find something that really inspires me and then I will stick with it.
I have a lot of respect for the people who have picked their path and stuck with it. I really like the idea of going electric free via hand tools only, sometimes I would like to focus purely on turning, sometimes I think about giving up commission work and only doing more artistic pieces. But I can’t do that (I think). But look at my hero, David Marks, he is a master woodworker and turner. (I don’t have enough faith in myself to think I could honestly reach his level.) Perhaps my muse has left me because of my lack of commitment to any one path. Oh how I wish she would return to me.
As the “The Clash” stated, “Should I stay, or should I go.” Should I give up my wandering ways and purely focus on one aspect of my woodworking, or keep expanding my horizons until I find my path?
I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this subject. Please don’t be shy.