I’ve been selling furniture and small woodworking items for many years. By some definitions, that makes me a professional. However, throughout that time, while I’ve been serious about the craft, I’ve held a day job. There were periods during that time in which I had reduced my hours in the day job, but I didn’t fully maximize that off-time for pursuit of the craft. Now, I’m walking away from a great day job with people I admire, to pursue the craft, to get better every day, and to try to make a living working with my hands. (full disclosure, I’m keeping some hours with the office job for a little financial security and variety in my life, but I officially consider myself a professional woodworker with a part-time job).
It has been a long journey of back and forths, ups and downs, self-doubt and hubris...but it was something I thought I wanted to do nearly ten years ago. After having developed a career in government, this thought at first seemed outrageous, but it persisted. My skills in the shop steadily improved, sales increased and the interest grew. I read books and blogs and that encouraged me to dive in; I read books and blogs that encouraged me to stay on the traditional path; I sought out and spoke to other people who made similar transitions (each of them was incredibly generous). Then I started down the road several times, only to go back to the traditional well-worn path.
Last fall, when I must have had an extra cup of coffee or something, I decided I could just do both pursuits full-time. I quickly learned that while some people may have been able to pull that off, I could not. This last leg of the journey was incredibly challenging. But I learned a so much from doing it. First, it was probably one of the best office jobs I’ve ever had. So, if I still wanted to leave that to pursue the craft, that was a good sign. Second, in order to even remotely keep up with demand, I had to work at a professional pace: turning out high quality goods quickly. Not having the luxury of time forced me to get faster and better. Finally, by treating my woodworking like another full-time job, I had face the prospect of getting up at 0430 on a Sunday (and every other day of the week) to start a workday...not once in a while...but every week. I figure, if I can still get out of bed that early on a weekend and go to work without resentment (for eight months), I’m probably gonna be OK in the long run.
I’m not sharing this because I think what I did is special. Lots of people do similar things. Bob Clagett of I like to Make Stuff did pretty much the same thing to get his Maker business kickstarted (and he has FOUR KIDS!). Elizabeth Gilbert was waiting tables throughout her writing career until the wild success of Eat Pray Love (perhaps you’ve heard of that?). Perhaps more importantly, as I kept telling people, there are single moms out there raising kids, working multiple jobs, going to school, all at once.
I’m sharing this for several reasons:
One, if you’re a customer of mine: thank you for your patience and I hope the backlog clears out more quickly now!
Two: lots of people have shared joy/jealously that I’m able to do this...I wanted to share a little bit of how I made the decision and show that it was heavily considered and tested before I jumped. More on this below AND in another post.
Finally, as I’ve told people my plans, no one responded with the expected, “You’re nuts!” Most people have been incredibly supportive. I have really appreciated that. Some people have responded with supportive-jealousy, e.g., “you’re living my dream.” While I still take that as supportive, I’d like to add that: no, I am not. I’m doing what I want to do...and it might all fail miserably...but I’m gonna try it, because we get one short life....I’m not special...and if you want to do something slightly less-than expected, you should go for it.