I remember when I used to work on the 30th floor of a big building in downtown San Francisco on Fremont Street. I loved my job (yes, I was happy in Cubicle Nation), but there were days when I had to get out of the stuffy office and step into the fresh, bay-kissed breeze outside.
A few blocks from my building was a little cafe that sold the perfect arugula/tomato/mozzarella sandwich on fresh bread. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I don’t know what they put in it to make it so special, but it was always delicious. I would sit outside at a table in a small garden patio and close my eyes before biting into it. I could smell the bitter, nutty taste of the arugula, and feel the perfect crust on the soft bread.
Whoever thought of that sandwich was a craftsperson. Whoever made it was too.
They used their craftsmanship when looking for the perfect bunch of tomatoes. When they found them, ripe, fragrant and firm, they looked at them like a suitor on a second date. With anticipation, excitement and knowing that this might just work.
Working with the heart of a craftsperson
We know how it feels to work with craft in mind. We experience our work in a totally different way.
Our first question is not:
Will it sell?
Our first question is:
Will it work?
Is it beautiful?
Is it needed?
Will it help?
Is it the right thing to do?
Our instinct as a craftsperson is to be in relationship with the tools, materials and people we are working with.
In order to build something physical, we have to really see our materials. We have to feel them. We have to notice how they interact with each other.
When we work with people and organizations, we have to see them too. We have to sense the truth of what they are experiencing, and think about what is really necessary to fix the problem. We have to feel the fear, doubt, anger, dread and joy that runs through their heart.
When you are doing your work as a craftsperson, the work matters.
Craft is messy
I think we mix up the definition of good craftsmanship with acting, feeling and looking perfect all the time.
I remember, growing up quite broke in the very wealthy Marin County, California, looking with longing at the beautiful, effortless people around me. They wore stylish clothes, had perfectly feathered hair (it was the 70s), and drove around in clean, elegant and functional cars.
Our 1963 rusty red Toyota station wagon would stall on the slightest of hills. It would make loud noises, and sometimes carry out the threat of stopping in the middle of the street. Driving around in that car could be nerve-wracking and embarrassing. But it did its job, getting me, my mom and siblings to school. It allowed my Mom to drop us off and pick us up at our first jobs in fast food restaurants. If we were really lucky, it would creak up the Sierra mountains in the winter where we would spend a weekend in our friend’s Tahoe cabin.
That imperfect rusty red Toyota station wagon got us through childhood and into interesting, productive and more stable lives.
You can be committed to your craft and still make mistakes.
You can botch a project.
You can produce a bunch of work that you know does not represent the full extent of your capabilities.
You can look odd or awkward when learning the things you need to learn to fully realize the potential inside of you.
Your tests and attempts and tries, imperfect as they may be, start to build an interesting body of work.
You start to notice that things are happening.
You make beautiful things.
Clients start to have amazing results.
You kill a speech, and the room is on fire.
You write something that deeply moves you, and others.
These glimpses at your building mastery of your craft remind you what you have known all along: