Dear Matt (age 29),
Right now, you are most likely reading this while on a 10-minute break from toiling in the shop. I hope it is not a break during your 11th straight work hour. Preferably earlier in your day while your focus is still sharp. I don’t envy your nearing future of working 10-12 hour days going on two years straight minus a couple days off. I send suggestions your way based on experience and lessons hard learned. So many relevant factors form character traits that need improvement to being more aware of aspects of the work that have nothing to do with woodworking. They can hold your potential success hostage. The disappointment of a tool or machine that does not work out is something I also hope to help you avoid.
First, please be warned that the journey you are embarking on will require fortitude. Do not get distracted or discouraged by any success or setbacks along the way. You have to keep showing up in practice and continue striving to improve. You must be willing to sacrifice time and comforts often in the first few years. You are going to miss some fun social outings, relationship opportunities, and money will be tight at times. If you want to succeed you will be willing to do so, and it will not be a permanent sacrifice.
You will have to summon the grit to push through physical pain, injury, and fatigue to make deadlines at times. It will be worth it if it means keeping your word to a client. Integrity goes a long way in building a business for the long term. Always keep your word. I suggest adding more lead time to all of your work orders to prevent this from occurring constantly. You are talented, but you are not as fast in practice as woodworking is slow in process. That will never change. Keep your pride on a leash to stay open to learning new things, this will serve to constantly renew your love for the craft and creative thinking (it will also serve you well in life).
When you have employees or apprentices, be sure to lead from the front. Don’t ask anything of them you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. They will respect you for it and will have a willingness to push harder on those tight deadlines beside you because of it. These will all be characteristics you must hone for the journey ahead. They will be just as valuable as any skill you develop with your hands or tools.
Please remember that a career is a marathon, not a sprint. Long hours are expected at times but you have to develop a better sense of when the cost of long term fatigue and injury is greater than the short-term gain. Not to mention the financial cost of ruining a workpiece because you are exhausted and making a careless mistake. Sometimes you save money by walking away for the night. When logging long heavy work hours, you are not as productive or accurate as you think. You can get more accomplished in less time with better results after some good sleep. A good rule that will serve you well is “less than 5 hours sleep means you cannot use any machinery” since physical safety is paramount to surviving the marathon.
Be mindful that you must realize how much of your success is involved in work outside of the workshop. Getting out and being part of the world is good for business. Go on some trips, to tradeshows, to restaurants, and social gatherings. You will meet some of your best clients, industry contacts, and good friends this way.
In my next note, I’ll talk about some of the nuts and bolts of running the shop. For now, know you’re on the right track.
Matt (age 42)
Editor's note: The 2023 #YoungWoodPro competition is now open for entries. Please feel free to submit a project using our entry form for an opportunity to be recognized for your craftsmanship! Deadline for entries is March 10, 2023.
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