Lessons in Woodworking – The Weekly Circle #7

Since starting my new job two weeks ago, I’ve learned a lot. For the past 10 years, I’ve been a workaholic, always deferring to my job. I sacrificed time with family and friends and learning new things to try to be the best at my current job. It’s no wonder I burned out.

Luckily, I’ve gotten away from that mentality, which lead me here. But it also means at almost 30 years old, I don’t have a lot of translatable skills. But, as I said last week, I’ve been learning a lot of new things now and one of those things is woodworking.

Now, to be clear, my experiences with woodworking aren’t vast quite yet. I’ve spent two days sanding pieces that will later become chairs, and I’ve watched other people operate some of the heavier machinery.

But the hours spent sanding the chair pieces has been some of the most peaceful of my life. Honestly. I don’t tire of it, despite its monotony, and there’s something very satisfying about running my hands over the edges and creases, ensuring a smooth finish.

It’s also given me a lot of time to think. A simple, easily repeated task allows the mind to wander, and being on a lake in the middle of the Cascade Mountains has unlocked the spare rooms I’ve kept closed for so long.

I read an article by a neurologist a couple months ago that made the claim that creativity is greatly influenced by imperfect shapes. Things generally found in nature. So, if you spend all day looking at perfect lines and shapes, like on a computer, eventually it stops stretching your mind.

The first thing I was told before being assigned the task of sanding the chair pieces was “Don’t worry about them being perfect”. If I sand too lightly, I make no progress. If I sand to vigorously, I wear away too much of the wood and the piece becomes unusable.

Besides, the wood itself is from nature. It is inherently imperfect. It would be futile to strive for perfection. The knots and grain of the wood ensures it will never be achieved. And that’s what I’ve been fighting.

I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. And it caused me to be lazy many times over. Why would I attempt something that I already knew I couldn’t achieve some level of perfection in?

So, in many ways, sanding these pieces of wood has been the most freeing experience of my life. No expectations, no pressure, from myself or otherwise. I’m now chasing imperfection, hoping that it allows me to be more productive. And while it’s still early, I’ve made more progress on a book that I want to write than I did in the 6 months prior. I’ve created routines in my life for healthy habits. And I’m pushing for more than I ever have.


Photo by Will Suddreth on Unsplash

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