The first time I started a business I just wanted to escape being an employee; to unfurl my sails and see where the winds of work and chance would take me. That worked well at the time.e I look back and see that the route I took was to simply try things.
I wanted to do woodworking, so I bought the equipment (slowly) and built my skills with each job, supplementing the physical work with words and conversation with others on how to do what I wanted to do. General construction was a lesser interest at first. I saw it mostly as a way to stay busy: siding, decks, and small remodels are abundant and seemed an easy job. I applied the same method of reading and searching out more experienced people to talk to while doing these jobs, and realized that the knowledge necessary to do that work well was vast and under-appreciated. I dug into the details and overcame my own biases about rough carpentry and the other apparently “simpler” work. I came to realize that most of it really is the foundation that the rest of the house hangs on, and the coat that protects it. The technical aspect of much of “rough” carpentry and construction is every bit as complex and skill intensive as the most intricate woodwork.
Skill is a synertgystic intelligence; the better one gets at one thing, the easier related tasks get and more knowledge becomes relevant. At some point everything becomes part of a whole. Today I see that learning how to be a prep cook illuminates how I organize a job- both are about expectations, projecting the work ahead and setting up to do that work efficiently. You don’t want to have to chop onions in the middle of a rush any more than you want to run to the lumber yard for 2×4 in the middle of framing.
I know the value of getting a rhythm while sanding cabinets as much from woodworking as from Longlining. Setting 10,000 hooks with snap gear has most of the same trouble as sanding a kitchen’s worth of 5 panel doors. Learning to loft eyebrow dormers and handrail fittings was simplified by drafting classes, years of sketching cabinets, and framing a camera shot. Perspective and practicing looking at the dimensionality of objects is useful in all of the disciplines.
Skills acquisition, then, is an easy path now. Not that I have nothing left to learn: instead, I have a much better idea of how much I don’t know and how much time it takes to gain those skills. This is a double edged sword. I want to learn so much, but I only have one lifetime. I can see more clearly what I might like, but also know that I have to choose between what I know I want and what I know I have time for.
This creates guidelines for the new business. I know that I can do the management part well enough to do any residential job. I know that I can do commercial, but I don’t have much passion for most commercial projects. I am good at working with third parties- subcontractors, architects, designers. I also have an idea of how I am willing to work with them. By this point I have the experience and skill to know that I will always be working among equals in residential construction- it will not be common to be in a room with anyone who has greater knowledge or skill in the whole.
Therein lies the dilemma- What do I want to do? It has the same quirks as choosing what I want to learn. As a generalist I will do more projects, but have less chance of using the skills I have acquired over the years. I will be mostly a manager. If I specialize into one thing I may be able to use some of the skills to their nth degree, but will be relegating myself to doing similar work all the time, and will be limited to the product of my own labor.
And then there is the question “how do I want to live”. I have always wanted to think of myself as an artist, a creator if interesting and possibly beautiful things. How can I integrate that as a goal of my new venture? I will be spending most of my days on this project- shouldn’t I make sure that I will be doing something I have passion for?
This is what most of my thinking recently has centered around. What is creativity? What is art? What is craft? Can I define my strengths and prejudices about these subjects so that I can define the place I would like to create within them? Can I define them well enough to explain to others who I am and, thus, what my company is?
It is tempting to just say that I want to be a prima donna. That I want to be an artist and demand that I get respect for just that. I have a history, a portfolio, even people who would agree that I create art. But that’s a shallow thing of itself. I am not an artist for art’s sake- I am too much of a Usarian: what I make needs to have purpose beyond beauty for me to feel satisfaction. But merely creating useful things is not satisfying, either. I am stuck between those demands. Struggling to find a balance between useful and aesthetic, respect and utility. Finding that balance is important to me. As well, the work has to be satisfying but with enough time to do the work while having the time to live. I would be lucky to find all that. Most of the world doesn’t get to have all those qualities, and I don’t expect to get them. It does seem like a goal to reach for, though.