It was a beautiful sunny Wednesday in April 2001 when I decided to embark on a woodworking career and become a carpenter.
As I left the house for university that morning, I had no idea I was about to quit. I sat in my usual spot in the massive, old, lecture hall. I settled into the aisle seat, four rows from the back, ready to soak up the information that was coming my way. Fifteen minutes into that sociology lecture — I began to daydream. I stared out the window at the fine weather and wished I was spending the day on a jobsite, just as I had done for my summer jobs. In that moment, I longed to be outside working with my hands instead of being bored to tears in a cavernous lecture hall. I didn’t think too hard about what I did next, it was just a gut feeling. I didn’t even put my textbooks back in my bag. I just picked up my now empty backpack, shuffled sideways out of my seat, walked out the door, and never returned. I gave up a university education complete with sports scholarship to become a woodworker.
Seems fucking crazy to a lot of people.
I often think about the decision I made on that day. I was reminded of it recently while talking to a friend. We were discussing our respective careers. He hates his job and would love to start his own business. His business idea is really good. He’s an intelligent, hard working guy. And I think he’d be successful.
“So quit and do it.” I encouraged.
“No!” he blurted.
“Why not?” I insisted.
“I’ve got to play it safe man. I don’t want to pour everything I’ve got into this for it to fail, or not go anywhere”.
I didn’t get it. Pouring everything you’ve got into something is one of the best things you can do. The potential to be free from your boss and your job, and to create something amazing is worth it.
It is worth it. Isn’t it?
When I left university to start a carpentry apprenticeship I loved it. We framed and roofed houses. We did all the finish and trim work. We did everything from the very start to the very finish of a build. I learned so much, and was given tonnes of responsibility. The summer months were the best. Working outside in the fresh air. Enjoying the warmth, and enjoying the work. It was as far removed from a university education as you could get. But it was one hell of an education. I learned everything that the carpentry trade involved, but I also learned to deal with egotistical contractors, and angry, stressed foremen. I learned to deal with private customers and I learned how to price work, how to schedule, and how to operate efficiently.
I was young, I was learning, and I was earning. A long and happy career of carpentry, and making a good living stretched out ahead of me.
I grew to hate it. Wait, what!?
As seems to happen to me periodically throughout my career I got bored. Boredom turned into lethargy and all of a sudden I wasn’t motivated to work as well as I could. Apathy towards my career turned to hatred. I dreaded going to work.
Why the hell didn’t I stay in university and choose a different career?! Maybe I should have played it safe. Who in their right mind walks out on a university education to be a carpenter?!
The other day I was printing some photos of the kids for my wife. I keep them on a hard drive with all my other personal stuff, including thousands of images of the work I’ve done over the years. I cringed as I double-clicked on the first folder. I was thinking of all the mad shit I’ve made, and all the hair-brained woodworking businesses I’ve had. But as I started to browse through the photos I realised I wasn’t cringing. I was proud of the work I had done. Some of it was shit, but some of it was really good.
The images on my hard-drive charted a career, and revived memories of people I worked with. It reminded me of the laughs we had together. I chuckled to myself remembering the times we would wind up the apprentices. I re-lived the elation I felt when my businesses were flying high and the anguish I felt when I failed and had to move on to the next thing.
And that’s the point. There’s always a next thing. You don’t have to play it safe. You can explore various avenues for your career. You can go all in and roof houses, make kids furniture, make wooden iPhone cases, make marketing material for brands, design commercial joinery fit-outs, make cabinets, build furniture — you can do whatever the fuck you want.
Because what’s the worst that can happen? If any of my woodworking business ideas don’t work, I won’t starve. I’ll just have to accept failure and get a carpentry or joinery job somewhere. That’s really as bad as it can get for me.
So ask yourself — what’s the absolute worst that can happen? It’s probably not as bad as you think.
It’s not just about having a woodworking career you can be proud of, but of having a life you can be happy with. Going all in is the only way I know how.
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