Tag Archives: skills

Getting Back on Track with Your Craft

chicago rail line track facing downtown around dusk

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to keep up with crafts and skills. You know, like when it comes to learning a new language, crocheting things, wood carving, writing letters to friends, baking bread, and so on. The reasons I – and many of us – “fall off the rails” or track or wagon, or if you prefer, “fall down on the job” are a-plenty.

Time, for one, is a handy excuse for ceasing some activity. “I wish I had more time to do x“, we say. When what we really mean is that we haven’t prioritized x lately.

And the reasons we don’t prioritize and instead procrastinate or turn our attention toward other things are far ranging. Yet a lot of it has to do with fear of embarrassment or lack of motivation to get started again.  For example, if I take a year off crocheting, I might be embarrassed with how rusty I’d become and probably wouldn’t want to crochet in front of an audience. Unless, of course, I was an aspiring postmodern thespian.

From another angle, I might feel unmotivated to pick a craft back up. I love wood carving, but it’s not impossible to imagine a time when I approach it in lackluster fashion. That said, a lot of mundane activities lack excitement. Consider the excitement of raking leaves or sweeping the floor. Some folks who study motivation argue that it begins with the doing, not the other way around. That is, we build up the drive to carry on in the throes of making bread, not in anticipation of bread making.

Whether falling off the tracks involves potential embarrassment, lack of motivation or something else, we can wrestle up the time and energy to re-enter the realm of doing and making.  Getting back on track is about identifying those moments that needlessly evade our grasp. Once we’ve picked out these moments, we can take advantage of their potential by deploying our wit and energy to the task at hand.

Through graceless fumbling and reflection on countless mistakes, I’ve learned that re-sharpening dulling skills involves – in one form or another – proceeding through 5 steps:

  1. Telling ourselves – and writing it down – precisely when and where we’ll pick up basketry or baking, crocheting or candle-making. This is called “planning” or creating  “implementation intentions.” And like we’ve discussed before, they’re about developing a plan for implementing our intentions to get back on track.
  2. Breaking the job of re-skilling down into manageable chunks. If learning a new language, for example, this might involve setting aside 30 minutes of practice time a day, picking out a reputable procedure, and engaging a  foreign-language conversation partner.
  3. Gathering the support of friends, family, or colleagues. Rediscovering and honing crafts in trusted company offer us a measure of accountability to each other. Plus, those of us who craft together (stay together!, no really…) can more easily exchange fruits of our labor and in so doing, deepen our social bonds.
  4. Adding complexity as we re-acquire or re-discover a craft or skill. If we mindlessly do the same thing the same way every time, we can too quickly succumb to that dreaded word: complacency. It’s good and wise to spice things up, to add some variety and complexity to the mix. It’s akin to starting by knitting scarves and working toward threading sweaters.
  5. Reflecting on how much we enjoy, savor, and gain from doing. If our answer is “nothing,” then we should cease the doing. But in most cases, we’ll find that immersing ourselves in meaningful activity makes us feel more engaged in life. We’ll find that we want to experience this feeling more often and under varying circumstances.

Of course, these approaches are easier to list than to put into practice.  Really, I could distill this list down to making a commitment to do and make, and acting upon that commitment. So, now that you know – or simply were reminded – how to start and keep going, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming a competent and satisfied vernacularist, except – as existentialists might say, for you! Happy making!

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