If you make things for a living this is for you. If you make things but not for a living, add this to your thoughts if you find yourself daydreaming about telling your boss to shove it.
This is my friendly encouragement to myself and to you: remember you aren’t an amateur anymore. An amateur can take all the time in the world until the perfect “original” idea comes along. They can afford to hide all the things they dont want to show. A professional realizes that we all use the same chords, the same materials, the same methods. Nothing is ever completely original. Part of what you do is your own, but part of it is from everyone before you. Don’t hide from that, build on it, you honor other makers with what you do. You are in select company. Because of what you do, you know many others who also do it. Guess what, the majority of the world doesn’t care about you, your work and where it fits into the scheme of People Who Make Things. You should find that refreshing. I read that sentence twice to remind myself of that. You, however, are original. How you connect to people is how YOU connect to them. Be that.
An amateur’s art defines them. A professional keeps it at a healthy distance knowing there will be good weeks and bad weeks, and they are in in for the long haul. The highs are lower, the lows are higher. A amateur does the work when they are inspired, a professional does it always, incessantly, because that’s how you care for yourself, your family, and your future. A professional shows up, everyday. The balance for the professional is found between making their art and doing what it takes to make the living they want, both are equal in virtue. If you are are/are not using a certain tool, making a certain thing, designing a certain way and its harming your life’s balance you need to figure out why. If you’re being an idiot, stop.
You. Are. A. Professional. Keep going.
The Yes Man. Mocked throughout the cubicles. “Don’t be a yes man.” is used in contexts other than the office to try to instill in people a sense of pushing back, going against the grain, standing up for their own opinions.
Here’s the rub: We live in a world of No. Does anyone really have any trouble saying no? Sure you might not say no to your boss, but you spend the whole rest of the day telling everyone else why the answer is ‘No, that will never work.” It’s many kids first words. Sometimes they say no and don’t even know why. Five minutes before they said yes to strawberries and now its a big fat no, for almost no reason at all. And I think the last part is so important- for almost no reason at all.
A part of psychology is realizing that you are not, necessarily, your thoughts. Sometimes we just think things because our brains are constantly going. This mechanism, when repeated habitually, changes our brains to make them act differently. There’s no rational reason for those thoughts to be there but if they are left there…again, and again… they cause us damage. And the danger is that it ends up becoming who we are without us realizing it. We rationalize the thoughts. We find support. We find other people who think the same and they increase. This negative thinking, decided by a million tiny steps, becomes our character.
Obviously there’s specific questions that need more than just this advice but here it is : Get better at saying yes. Maybe that shitty idea your boss had would actually work if he had a room full of employees who said yes and went about trying to make it work regardless, instead of a room full of no’s. “Maybe we should try this pickup” No. Nothing happens. “Maybe we should apply for this job?” No. Nothing happens. Yes is the only answer that affects change. Something inside you might be saying “Well, it may not be a good change.” That’s a no! Why? Did you try it? How will know for sure? Do you have any experience in doing the thing you are saying no to? Of course it may not work out. It doesn’t even need to be said because you can always try something else. No is poisonous. The whole world says no to you. Friends and family say no, because they don’t want you to do something that will go wrong for you or them. You say no to yourself. Maybe you’re saying no to your own idea ‘That would never work, ‘ “They would never hire me,” etc. WHY?! That’s the worst kind of hypothetical. You can’t tell the future, you’re not the HR person. How can we possibly think those thoughts are credible?
The real work is figuring out how to make things happen. It’s no surprise that’s also where the courage lies. As does progress, and opportunity. Why is standing up for yourself always about saying No? Maybe we should focus more on standing up TO yourself and saying yes.
If you are guitar maker, resonator guitar enthusiast, or are just looking for a good book- Guitar Lesson by Bob Taylor and The Way of the Seal by Mark Divine are two of the most helpful I’ve read this year.
The hard part of running the business is not knowing what questions have to be asked. Anyone can run around and find the answer. The Way of the SEAL asks those questions and has exercises to find the answers. It’s a meaty book.
If you run your own business reading how Bob Taylor started Taylor guitars will be the most insightful, reassuring thing you can read. You. Are. Not . Alone.
I was listening to the radio a while back and they had a scientist on to talk. She studied ants. First I was stunned that there was such a thing, second that she most likely was not the only ant researcher. She spent all her time watching ants and this is what she said.
Ants are incredibly dumb. That’s what she said. She said it appears that they are smart- they find that one M&M that fell under the counter. They build complex houses. For having the tiniest brains it really looks like they know what they are doing. But they really have no idea. She said the reason why ants are successful is because they are thousands of them randomly walking everywhere. Eventually one finds something and lays down the pheromone trail. Then the cavalry arrives and instead of one ant trying to bring home the M&M there’s 1,000.
I was talking to a friend last week about teaching myself to make these resonator guitars and I told him “I just kept stacking up piles of work until I could climb over the closest wall, then started at the next one.” When you don’t know what to do try everything….a lot. That’s been my experience in guitar making and I’m willing to say, now that I’m supported by ant science, that it’s the most effective plan of action we are never taught anything about. We spend 18-25 years of life trying to be ‘right’-find the right answer, use the right words. If you are wrong you get the red marker. If advanced math is to ‘teach you how to think logically’ and is not the end in itself, then the way we are educated as has side effects as well. If you are relentlessly stacking up work you can solve all the problems. If you are waiting for the right answer you’re still just waiting. When you graduate life is not about being right, it’s about winning. My definition of winning means solving problems. If you need money you need work that pays- it doesn’t matter if its the ‘right’ work. If your friend is mad you need to resolve it- it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. You must accept that fact that not everything you think is an earned opinion. Many times its just something you think. The mistake is made when we latch onto the idea and follow it as truth without doing a massive amount of work to provide proof. We want to know now and guess what if I just sit a think a little bit….oh! There it is. I thought something. That’s the solution. That’s ridiculous. “They would never hire me.” “I should be getting paid more.” “I’m going back to school.” ….really? Why? If you havn’t tried things you thought were wrong you havn’t tried everything. And one of those ways might just lead you to the M&M under the counter. The only way you can prove something is a massive pile of work. Relentless Forward Progress. Ants don’t stop moving. They are constantly attempting, constantly redirecting, constantly hauling. A colony of ants can move 50 tons of soil a year. If you need to figure something out for yourself- there is no right way there are only the wrong ways and you must try them all. Like ants.