I don’t remember what specifically brought this to mind today, but it was 10 years ago that my research advisor shared some words that would stick with me, influencing me over the years whenever I needed a push or two.
Oh, that image above? Completely unrelated, showing high quality diamond particles at high magnification. And here are some images of lower quality stuff. And a wood toothpick at high mag.
Sorry, I love sharing those images and deeply wish I had taken the time to examine more stuff in an electron microscope when I had the chance. Back to the point.
He told me that there were 3 paths to success.
- Be a genius
- Get lucky and make a discovery
- Work hard
This can apply to pretty much anything.
Take wooden dovetail joinery, for example. You could have a natural knack for woodworking, or you can work hard at it, and practice until you reach an acceptable quality level.
Work hard, and you can do anything, get anywhere.
That brings me to a second piece of advice the same research advisor gave me.
The only way to ensure you don’t fail is to not try at all.
The original advice was actually about how not using a piece of equipment was the only sure way to avoid breaking it, although that’s not entirely accurate, is it? But I’ve since tweaked it to make it more generally applicable.
I sometimes create hurdles for myself. Hurdles, excuses, secondary goals and tasks that eat up my time and take away from the big picture. Things like that.
I can’t do hand dovetails, my chisels suck. I can’t plane a bevel into that wood, there might be tearout. I can’t organize my workspace, because I haven’t finished my cabinets yet. I can’t finish my drawers because the glue-out is gnarly.
If you want to get better at hand dovetails, you’ve got to try, and then try, and then put the practice in. Each joint will get better, slowly but surely.
How do you get better at cooking or baking? Trial and error. You work at it. Or you can be a culinary genius. Or maybe you come up with a new dish and… sorry, I don’t know how the “get lucky and discover something” advice would apply to cooking or baking.
I find myself guided by the you can’t fail if you don’t try advice more and more.
What if I take my infant and toddler somewhere by myself and my infant poops? Will my son stand still and wait patiently next to me while I change his sister’s diaper somewhere? Where will I change her? What if there’s no family restroom, or a changing table in the men’s room?
The only way to avoid such uncertainties is to not try, and I find that to be unacceptable.
I’ve heard from beginner woodworkers over the years who want to get started but complain about not having the budget for every tool under the sun.
You don’t need a table saw, planer, jointer, dust collection system, router table, finishing booth, etc etc to get started in woodworking.
Just do it. Plan a project and then plan your work process.
You do need some tools, but you can do woodworking at almost any budget.
There are exceptions to the “just hit the ground running” philosophy. For instance, you can’t get into wood or metal turning without a lathe and tooling, all of which aren’t likely to fit into small budgets.
But let’s say you buy a lathe and your first project doesn’t quite look as good as you envisioned it. Try again. If you give up and push your lathe into a corner to collect dust, you’re guaranteed to not produce anything, good or bad. If you keep at it, chances are you’ll get better.
There are good reasons to avoid trying something, such as if there’s a safety hazard. Or maybe failure would be extremely costly or time-consuming to fix. In that case, maybe don’t try and risk failure.
I like to think that I have gotten better at knocking down the walls, hurdles, barriers, and whatever else might stand between me and a project, task, or goal.
Sometimes the results aren’t quite optimal, other times it works out well and in hindsight I feel silly about the hesitation or avoidance.
I’m not a genius. I’m not creating trends – I guess this is the analogous to being lucky or discovering something. So I’ve got to work hard to get anywhere.
And you know what? Working hard might still not get me to my goal. Maybe I’ll never be perfect at dovetails. (Sorry, hand-made dovetail joinery just seems like a good example to repeat.) But without trying, there’s a 100% chance that I won’t get better.
I have gotten very good at making excuses, but I’m getting better at knocking them down.
Although, without my self-created barriers, there wouldn’t be ToolGuyd. Spending a morning at Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, and then the internet to shop for a 16 ounce hammer, and many other examples just like that, back when I had the time, helped lay ToolGuyd’s foundation. Would ToolGuyd exist if I were the type to make any purchasing decision quick and effortlessly? Probably not.