Audio recording below if you would prefer to listen rather than read.
If you know me well, you probably know I have changed jobs, as often as, some people change their wardrobe. I sat down and counted recently, and I have had 35 + jobs in my working life, which started when I was about 14 or 15, babysitting and working at soccer camps and summer camps.
I have a million stories, from exploding boxes of poop to having to fire my own boss. A particular interesting day was when I heard my woodworking mentor whistling loudly and ran outside to find him pointing a rifle at a rattlesnake. He turned to me and asked if I could keep an eye on the rattlesnake, while he went to go get his snake stick. A snake stick is just a metal pole with a loop at the end of it, the loop goes around the snakes neck, which allows you to catch a snake while maintaining a snake sticks distance away from said snake. While he went to get the stick, I had the choice whether or not to keep the rifle pointed at the rattlesnake or just watch it and make sure it didn't move. I'm not a good shot, so I opted for the latter. When people tell me they are bored at their jobs I can't relate, except that time I tried a 9-5 and worked in a sea of cubicles and even then I wasn’t bored, I was just having daily panic attacks. I have worked in retail, summer camps, preschool, higher education, the outdoor industry, environmental advocacy, engineering, woodworking, and there was a cold holiday season spent in a parking lot making wreaths to sell at Christmas.
People always think its so cool that I have done so many jobs, and I agree in a lot of ways. I have been able to learn so many different skills on the job. I have traveled to a lot of wild and remote places, lived all over the country, and worked with all kinds of different people. I have learned that I can learn anything, which is the a pretty handy skill to have, I promise you have it too. And in a lot of ways having 35 different jobs is not cool, the first draw back is that with each new beginning I start at the bottom of the pay scale again. There are other drawbacks too, I don't get to know my coworkers as well, I leave lots of things feeling unfinished, and I feel really mediocre at a lot of different things, never mastering one skill.
One of the hardest things I deal with is the constant what ifs, many of my former coworkers are still in the jobs I left behind, so I see where I could be if I had stayed. What if I hadn't left that job, would my life be better, different, more full-filling. This was one of the driving factors for me to get off social media. I was keeping up with too many of my former lives. I had to cut them all loose and know that constant what-iffery was only making me crazy and not helping me be in the here and now.
Letting go of those former lives has helped me see more clearly the life I want to build for myself. Returning to woodworking has been one of the hardest ways of “starting over” for me. For one, the break from woodworking was not my choice, a hard work environment, and some health issues made it impossible for me to be in the shop. With both of those issues resolved, I had the choice to return, but I had a lot of confusion about what I really wanted. Forcefully, I had some quiet time in 2020 to really think about what I wanted without all the noise. A global pandemic and imminent fear of death or loved ones dying really put things in perspective for me, and what came through loud and clear is that I love making things and teaching people how to make things. So I decided I would figure out how to teach woodworking and start making my own work again. The difficulty in this starting over comes with the pressure of truly knowing what I want to do, and if I don’t do that then I am the only one truly letting myself down.
I am able to find a million different ways to procrastinate away from making my own work, the thing I tell myself I want to do the most. It is so easy for me to do work when it is for someone else. I would so much rather be the person getting the snake stick than waiting for the rattle snake to move. Making my own work, feels like waiting for the rattle snake, for me it is starring fear straight in the face. Putting myself out there in a way that feels so incredibly vulnerable, scary and often time paralyzing. The easier default is to do work for others because the risk is lower, there is always someone else around to take the fall or to blame if things go wrong or don't turn out. Doing work for others feels like going to get the snake stick. When there is a task for someone else, I know what the task is and I can accomplish it. Go get the snake stick and pick up the snake. Problem solved. Until the snake is so heavy, the stick starts bending in your direction, bringing the very angry rattlesnake ever closer to you, less than a snake sticks distance away. I promise I will tell the full story some day, along with the time we stopped on the side of the road to get a dead peacock to save in the freezer for future use, and the time we saved a goat from having its horns stuck in a fence. What I will say now is that I learned so much more than just woodworking during that apprenticeship, all good life lessons. Anyway, like I was saying problem solved, more or less when you are doing work for others.
When you chose to make your own work, you also have to create the problem and then think highly enough of yourself to solve it. It feels really difficult to make the jump to actually making the things that pop into my head, which happens all the time. My head is full of ideas I want to make, but I always put them on the back burner because it feels too indulgent to listen to that voice. As I power through the paralyzing fear of putting myself out there and making work, I am learning that the point isn’t really about the object I am making, or the problem I need to solve, it is about the process of solving the problem and making the object. And I think that might be why I have been so drawn to starting over in so many different careers because I am actually drawn to the process of learning, making, and creating.
Sometimes I feel like I have had a harder time than my peers because I have started over so many times. But the older I get, the more I realize that starting over is … life. Picking yourself up after loss, after an injury, after a break up, after a health scare, after parenthood, after retirement, after a failure at work. Our identities in the world are fluid and we are only who we are in the present moment.
If you are interested in hearing more about my journey, I was interviewed by my friend and colleague Kacey Montgomery for her podcast Closing the Gap. It was super fun to sit down and share my journey with her.
Here is a sneak peak of some of the things I have been working on! I made a few commissioned pieces for Zena Forest Products. Ben and his team at Zena have spent the last 3 years working on the floors for the PDX airport remodel. He asked me to make a few small pieces of art for his team as a thank you with the off cuts from the airport job. He gave me free reign, the only constraint was the size of the pieces, which were quite small! This is what I came up with. The pyrography images were inspired by the iconic Japanese artist Mori Yuzan.
This playlist has been boosting my confidence while I worked on my first ever blog post! I hope it brings you some confidence too!