Just pursuing mastery

This is the second post in a series (of at least two!) exploring ideas around time in the shop. The previous post explored the notion of being “full-time”…this one looks at the notion of “hobbyist”


Let me first start by saying that if you consider yourself a hobbyist and feel that is a productive way to describe what you are doing (in any endeavor), then rock-on. Please read what I have to say carefully…this is not meant to deter you, undermine you, or poke fun at you…it is just me sharing some thoughts about my work.

The word “hobby” is generally defined as something that one does for pleasure in one’s leisure time. That’s an innocuous definition and one that I can live with. But the word has been poisoned for me in two ways.

When people see my shop, see me at a craft show, or otherwise learn that I do woodworking, I often get the question: “Are you a professional, or just a hobbyist?” The question itself presents a false dichotomy: do you do this everyday for money, or are you just goofing around in your shop to avoid other responsibilities (exaggerated for effect). By definition, I am a professional—because I sell my work for money (and occasionally baked goods, or other good trades). 

But even if I never sold anything, I wouldn’t call it “just a hobby.” That’s letting yourself off the hook. I am trying to get better…I am trying to pursue mastery of a craft. I have a long way to go-- sometimes, it only gets the attention a hobbyist would be able to give it. Sometimes, I’m in full-on production mode with tired hands and a sore back. But every day in the shop, I’m pursuing mastery. The stakes may not always be super high, but the work is never inconsequential. It is not about simply passing the time to have fun. I enjoy the work…it is fun…but it is not inconsequential. 

Part of what drew me to this trade, or rather, kept me at it when I was first starting, is that that are objective, measureable standards. In plenty of other pursuits, this is missing…your success in an office could depend on your ability to impress/win approval from a mercurial boss or client. Your skills of persuasion need to be as sharp as your hard skills. While I do have clients to impress with the design and finish choices, the craftsmanship has standards: the case is square, or its not; the joints are tight, or they are not; there is tearout, or not, etc.

Woodworking, or any trade, is a craft. It is a way to make a living for many (a hard way). It is something that many people pursue for leisure. For some, it is even therapeutic. That is for each person to decide for him or herself. If you want to remain a “hobbyist” cool…but let me give you an idea to consider: do not refer to yourself as “just a hobbyist.” Your work in the shop is not inconsequential. It matters…it should be treated that way.