Masterly Skills

Varying stories about masters of their craft have floated around for years. My friend Penny recently highlighted the masterly skills of a cobbler who saved her favorite shoes:

This cobbler is a master of his craft. I’ve now had him rebuild the soles of two pairs of my shoes, neither pair were “easy” cases. Today I picked up my beloved work shoes. He stitched them back together. They have nice new heels and rubber soles. They look amazing don’t you agree? It took all of my energy not to hug him and I really do not this he charges enough for his amazing work. He laughed at me because I gushed at length about the work and praised him. I think I embarrassed him. Good. He knows what he’s doing and he does it well and with pride.

We have so many channels available to us for sharing our skills and talents, but the ease has made some people careless. What saddens me is how few individuals seem to take pleasure and pride in being masters of what they do. I’ve worked with so many people who subscribe to doing the bare minimum to get by, then justify their actions by saying, “No one notices anyway. What difference does it make?” Other thinking includes, “Everyone else gets away with it, why should I put myself out?”

I’ve decided that these trends are somewhat reversed in this new world I’ve chosen to join. I find myself surrounded by talented, driven people, many who would do what they do out of sheer love, even if it didn’t come with a paycheck. About two years into college, I finally figured this very thing out, courtesy of my dad.

After changing majors seven (yes, seven) times, my dad sat me down and started asking some pointed questions.

Dad: “Why have you gone through every engineering program the school offers?”

Me: “Well, there’s a demand for women in engineering, and I’d make good money?”

Dad: “Do you like engineering?”

Me: “Not really, but I want to make a lot of money?” (Yes, at 19/20, I was seriously interested in making money.)

Dad: “But what is it you really love to do?”

Me: [stumped]

Dad: “Did you really like writing in high school? You seemed to enjoy writing for the newspaper?”

Me: [light bulb starting to flicker]

Dad: “I can’t tell you what to be, but I can tell you that if you’re doing something you love, success and financial security usually follow. When you’re doing something you’re good at and enjoy, people can see that and respond to it.”

Me: [My dad’s brilliant.]

I took his advice and have tried to become a master of my craft. If I’m lucky, this will be a lifelong pursuit, and I share Penny’s sentiments:

On my walk home in the rain with my renewed shoes, I began to think about the details in my work. I strive for perfection the first time. I’ve prided myself in the quality of my work. As I’ve gotten older and/or “more comfortable” with what I’m doing I’ve gotten both sloppy and slightly lazy, allowing mistakes to creep through. In honour of my cobbler’s work, I’m renewing my desire to improve on the little details, with fibre, foods, photos, and words. I have a very long way to go before I feel I can call anything I do “master” quality. I hope one day to be worthy.

Do you feel like your a master of what you do?



2 Responses to “Masterly Skills”

  1. October 19, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Thank you Britt! I have a few draft replies and further comments, but will need to further refine them. I shall try to write a few now…

    A week later, I wear my shoes and am both amazed and saddened. Why isn’t mastery the norm anymore? Can we have mastery in items which were once a “by hand task” (i.e. knitting, sewing, writing) and are now produced by machine and thus require less planning or thought because it is both fast and “cheap” (i.e. digitial photos vs film and development)? I’m not saying that there aren’t masters of these both by hand or machine, but why does it seem to me that there is less mastery?

    Am I improving on the little details? It’s getting better. In some areas I had become blind and deaf to them without the advantages of alternate senses taking over to tell me of the problems. I’m taking a few minutes each day to evaluate and reevaluate.

    It will be a lifelong challenge, and one I look forward to.

  2. 2 Britt
    October 20, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Producing things by hand is slowly becoming a skill that only a minority are pursuing. We’ve, in some ways, sacrificed quality for quantity and speed. The thrill of figuring out how to do something faster seems to have replaced the thrill of doing something really well.

    I’m as guilty of these changes as anyone. However, I think it helps that I still do things with my hands (work outside, knit, play the piano, etc.). I’m at least reminded that there’s another way of doing and looking at things.

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October 2007
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