You Cares!

Of course I knew that you did. It has been an interesting discussion.

I recall working on the Isle of Anglesey 8 or 9 years ago with Joseph and a man looked Joseph in the eye and said, You see this man here.” pointing to me. Joseph said, “Yes.” He said, “This man, your dad, wants nothing but good for you. He will never knowingly do anything to harm you.” I think that parents try to steer their children as best they can based on their own experiences and how they perceive the world of good things. Of course earning enough money not to go into debt is important and we want that for our children but for the majority it does mean that if you want uni or college you will incur debts you may never be able to repay. It is the association of higher education with the good life that I object to mostly. It is the good life associated with high income that for me has proven to be wrong time and time again. Most people survive anticipating that one day they will be making enough money to do things with two days off a week doing what they like. I have worked out that usually I have to spend two days a week doing semi pleasant things like associating with bank duties, answering some, not all, emails and such like, countering the misinformants and of course many other things. For others it the other way. They spend 5-6 days a week doing whats unpleasantly necessary, I know.

I can imagine a hundred jobs I might like to have done with my life and all of them revolve around crafting of some kind. I love blacksmithing and pottery. Painting and decorating and raising vegetables and chickens. I like textures like these, colours if you will. Oh, and I may not be a good writer but I do love to write for some reason. And I like to teach too by the way. One thing I will always be grateful for was the conversation I had with my dad when he asked me what I wanted to be. You see for me, at 14 even, I knew I wasn’t something and I knew that being something was a state of being you could actually own. Being a furniture designer and maker is something I own and no one can take that from me. I design a dozen things a day in my head and I think about tools that have not been invented yet. I own six hitherto uninvented woodworking tools. Most people seem to see advanced education as imperative but that is mostly because companies won’t look at you without a slip saying you passed. It saves them filtering through interviewees to find possible employees. I did get qualifiers when I was young, but no one ever asked to see them. I once went for an interview and the furniture company asked me how much I wanted. They never asked me for a piece of paper but I did do a 4-hour bench test in 1 hour that was, in their words, “flawlessly executed in record time too.” Of course no work is flawless. It doesn’t exist. there is great wisdom in interviewing someone through a bench test. great wisdom.

So the question is answered in your comments. Perspective is everything. Finding the balance, different strokes for different folks. But I think this goes much deeper. What is it in our western culture that does in reality seem to strike a certain fear when parents (and grandparents) hear their child say, “I am not going to university.”? Is it embarrassment, image, fear of some other kind? How is it that we always associate a good degree with a good life. I ask my students in every class, a group of mostly men ranging in age from 21 to 65 usually and which does tend to be more middle class I suppose, how many of them needed the degrees they had to do the job they do and 80% at least said no. I asked them how many are doing jobs they were trained to do and by that I mean went to uni to learn to become something specific like say a doctor for instance. 80% said no. I ask the same group how many of them are doing the job they chose and guess what? About 80% said no. Mostly it was economics that governed their choices and rarely a vocational choice. Most often they did please themselves in that university is a good break between childhood and coming of age.

Thanks so much for the great wisdom given in your thoughts and comments. There really wasn’t too much cynicism at all. I for one was most impressed and it helps me to get direction on how best to help the upcoming generation of woodworkers.

31 comments on “You Cares!

    • I don’t understand why universities have to cost so much when there is this tool called YOUTUBE. I have learned so much from watching your videos as well as others on many different subjects.

      • Sadly, because about half the information on Youtube is good, the other half is in various shades of wrong.
        Without some previous guidance in choosing who to believe, your success or failure is largely down to chance or expensive/frustrating mistakes.
        That said, I agree that higher education costs are getting out of hand and now are in to the realms of rapidly diminishing returns…

  1. “What is it in our western culture that does in reality seem to strike a certain fear when parents (and grandparents) hear their child say, “I am not going to university.”? Is it embarrassment, image, fear of some other kind?

    Your observations in your classes are interesting. I wonder how representitive they are in the wider UK? Just to point out that other cultures seem to place far more weight on higher education that we do in the west.. My experience with folk in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Indian and Chinese folk I work with and young folk who are my kid’s peers suggest that academic accomplishment is revered far more. Actually Singapore would be a good model for discussion rather than limiting it to the UK/USA, it is, after all, seen as one of the best places to live in the world and their higher education levels and universities are outstanding. I have 2 kids. I mentioned one in another post who is embarking on a medical path. The other has no idea – he has murmured ‘travel agent’, but I don’t see him at University, at least in the short-term – if he became interested in a trade I would be a happy man. I don’t mind what they do as long as their final choice is fulfilling and productive and they are happy. No fear or embarrassment. I think perhaps if you found yourself in the shoes of folk in other vocations you may have a different perspective on this whole topic. To put it in context, I work with 400 others in a large science research organisation. Most have higher degrees and the place wouldn’t function if they didn’t.

    • I doubt that it is representative as in being an average cross section, but talking with people outside of classes and listening to them, people seem more inclined to want to change the work they are engaged in if the work is dull and boring. Those who have had the privilege of higher education, the gifting to qualify, the money to do it and so on, can pretty well determine a career path. For those less fortunate, less guided, those in the majority that are not say surgeons or high flying engineers, or company owners or leaders and so on, working the dull and boring jobs for low or high wages, and I am thinking many if not most jobs, its a very different story.
      I think the opportunity to go to university and take the steps to become what you feel called to be is highly important and everyone should have that opportunity regardless of background.

      • So, maybe the issue is that education has become elitist and only (in out society) caters for the rich or those willing to chalk up a huge debt. Don’t disagree at all with that. Here in the antipodes student debt is ridiculously high. A far cry from the easy road I had 25 years ago. As for dull and boring, if a worker has never had a dull moment they are very fortunate. That may be as much a reflection of personality than anything. I have dull and very frustrating moments in my workshop and its only a hobby, that is balanced of course by the sense of achievement at other times. Same in my work in science. Plenty of dull stuff and the occasional highlight. I have a friend who is an obstetrician – even he gets bored with aspects of the job (paperwork mostly). Not quite sure where this is going but its been an interesting discussion.

  2. Hi Paul,

    I care. I care that you care. I care about ensuring that all the people working with me care about each other, and they do, else they wouldn’t be there.

    I care that the people who get employed by me and my company are intelligent, sentient beings, else they don’t belong with us.

    Education is commonly seen as some sort of gatekeeper, and in some cases it is, it really depends on the parameters of the job/vocation etc. I employ degree, A level and O level (gcse in modern parlance) standard educated people. We work in IT. I don’t really care about their educational qualifications, except that my experience suggests that in my ‘tech world’, it helps to have a degree or good A Levels, as a mark that you can think outside of your comfort zone. That said, most of the best people I’ve worked with (not all,) have come from a lower perceived standard of education, but all have been imbued with an inquisitive mind, a determination to succeed and the gonads (sorry – not meant to be sexist, I know a lot of gonadless people who still have them,) to give it a go.

    I also care about those who don’t quite fit into the above, those with impediments that hamper their ability to achieve their worth. Those that don’t have classic educations for whatever reason. They also have a place, I just just promoted one into a leadership position. Sheer hard work, determination, an ability to adapt and a caring attitude won them their place.

    As for me, I have degrees in Fine Art, Maths & Computing, a C&G cert in Carpentry, and a PGCE in Teaching.

    Does it make me a better person?

    No. It makes me an inquisitive one.

    And like you, one that cares.

    Regards
    Ashley

  3. There are no guarantees in life in anything that you do, doing a trade or going to university will not guarantee financial success in life. Many of the 80% you mentioned didn’t know what they wanted out of life, many people don’t figure this out until their 40th year, which is why you have 80% of your students nodding their heads in agreeance with what you say and I bet if they did a world statistic they would find that same percentage to be worldwide. Of all the students that have passed through your school throughout the years how many of them have that ‘free’ lifestyle you mention. Does attending a 5 day course or even a one month course guarantee you much of anything in life. I think not and I don’t believe you do either, it just opens up a door to another possibility that may bear fruits or rot in it’s place.

    There are many craftspersons out there better and more knowledgeable than the next and just as broke as the rest.

    You know the old saying from teachers “heads down bums up” hard work, dedication and proper utilisation of time is the key ingredients to success but at the crux of it all you hope for the best as there are no guarantees in life in anything that you do. Why? because that’s life.

  4. I graduated from high school in San Antonio, Texas in 1969. I decided I would go to a community college to see if structured higher education suited me. After two semesters I became restless and wanted to do more with my life. I left school and entered into sales and marketing. I worked hard and tried to learn all that I could to become a more valuable person and to satisfy my own ambition and hone my skills.

    After 45 years of hard work I have achieved many professional goals and been free of debt for a good many years. I work in a highly competitive sales group in a very competitive business. The criteria to join our group now is five years of experience in the industry and preferably with an MBA. Frankly, I wonder if someone could start in these times the way I had done 45 years ago. I think yes, but it takes a big commitment to do so not just a BBA or MBA.

    I plan to retire from this sales grind in the coming year. Not sure if I will miss my sales life because I do like the challenges the job presents to be creative. But I have always enjoyed woodworking and it presents the same challenges and satisfaction since I have always enjoyed the design and engineering aspect of the craft. My skills at best are barely intermediate. But I have accomplished much with hard work in my life and I am hopeful I can achieve my new goals.

    My point is higher education is not for everyone. You owe yourself the privilege to make that decision. I’ll add that my parents were supportive in my choice to leave school. I believe they had faith in my resolve to succeed in whatever I chose to do.

    My last point is to recognize the craft people we need everyday. The HVAC guys that have the expertise to fix your furnace, the car mechanics who can repair cars that are so complicated the average Joe would be helpless to begin a repair. Then the experts in other manual crafts too numerous to mention we depend on for their commitment to craft. What happens to all of us if we do not have the diversity of craft and commitment to a job well done by these craftsmen. Living in a use and throw away lifestyle is not sustainable nor very interesting.

    Ray

  5. There is a dichotomy in the persuasion from our parents in that they say they want us to be happy, but do it their way. Also, we are taught morals and values that interfere with our goals during and after school. I had a prof who stated a person doesn’t keep a job or go into business: you go into competition! I’ve always been uncomfortable with his assessment, but found it true. The Inability to treat others poorly has always been an obstacle that I couldn’t overcome, and my career floundered. However, the drive for competition stopped the minute I found what makes me tick. It turned out I had been competing against myself and the portrait my parents had layed out for my career. They were great parents, I cared for them dearly, but they did meddle.
    Truthfully, there is one piece of advice that I’m glad I followed: to not join a rock band and travel the country. If you’ve heard my singing and guitar playing, you would agree that my Dad gave me some good advice.
    Take care!

  6. Higher education gives me options. I’m a public school teacher at an urban school in the US. Now that I have the teaching thing down pat (15 years), I can pursue other interests in my life such as woodworking. I started to learn how to sharpen my chisels and planes last winter and now I’m making chests as well as clocks. This summer I’m going to try making a chair. My chests have tight dovetails along with panel and frame lids while one of my clocks keeps great time in my shop and the other just does good in my kitchen. I love how they look (Paul Sellers replicas). What do I like more? I like woodworking more, but paying bills and my overall livelihood (wife and son) depends on my teaching pay check. There was a time where I couldn’t wait to teach but standardized education has killed that creative process. I still like it but it’s not the same. In a way, it’s been a blessing in disguise. The staleness of teaching has steered me towards a different creative process: furniture making. Plus, I have started to buy cheap hand planes at a local Antique Store for refurbishing and sale. I really like doing that. It’s not hard and the money I make I will use to buy my wood at the local depot or for the UKers, timber store. Do I regret receiving higher education and becoming a teacher? No way. I impact young lives every year. Do I wish at 41 that I could make as much money teaching as making furniture? No doubt. But the fact of the matter is when push comes to shove, if the health of my son or wife (god forbid) ever becomes a concern, my health insurance coverage from my higher education teaching certificate will save his life, not my love of furniture making. Let the grain be with you.

  7. Paul , thanks for your blog. It is interesting to hear these comments and see different perspectives on how people’s lives play out differently than they had planned. It seems to be a natural occurring thing. I have noticed that young people (here in my part of the world) don’t have the ambition to learn and accomplish much. It seems as they are hoping to get a good job and do little. I think this will change at some point as these things go in cycles. With the use of cnc and the like,I was afraid that traditional woodworking would disappear, but I find a lot more people are interested now. The Internet has helped this cause and is a good thing. I wonder if the next generation, (after the hobby woodworker ) will be more appreciative of quality work?
    I have worked in wood all of my career,31 years and consider yours and others videos ,and this blog, my (Higher Education). Thanks

  8. About 2 years ago my wife and I were looking for a new home. We, like many in New Zealand had bought an apartment which turned out to be a “Leaky Building” – the product of a drop in building standards and a move towards so called monolithic cladding systems unsuited to our sometime wet climate – which cost us dearly in repair bills and tied us down for 7 years..
    I was Standing in the front room of a house we really couldn’t afford, but was well placed to “keep up with the Jones’s”. I sudden realised that I had lost my way. Since then modesty has become our watch word. The results have been fantastic. We found our new home – a smaller run down place in need of love, which it got. I became happy in my job because I realised I liked what I did and no longer needed to climb the corporate ladder. I started to “live” a more interesting and productive life, and best of all I let the craftsman in me free.
    I have no degree, didn’t finish school, have no formal training, but now have 8 staff and and look forward to every day. I didn’t choose this job as part of a life plan, but I grew into it.
    Your simple, honest approach to woodworking has been a great help. I’m recovering from a table saw accident that took the top section of one of my fingers and left me with nerve damage in the others – but I can still saw by hand, plane, and cut my first dovetail, largely thanks to you.
    I think we all chase the mighty dollar or pound at some time in our lives. When/If we get wise we start to think more modestly, and hopefully enjoy life a bit more. The challenge is to put aside our parents voices and speak to our own children with our voices and the have the courage to listen to their dreams and help them on that path, even if it seems strange to us.

  9. I am really envious of any 12 or 14 year old child who ‘knows’ what they want to do. I know of 2 and I’m pushing 70.
    How the heck can a child ‘know’ with any certainty what they will want to do in ten years time? Streaming (technical vs academic in my case) helped, but poor teachers didn’t.

      • Unless schools have changed, in that easy learning age, 12-16, you choose one or ‘tother. It’s only when you choose (later) can you include a bit of both, to your own liking. Then it’s often constrained by time and the often more dominant need to earn some brass.

        • I was meaning why not learn a trade or craft or do something in a more realistic working setting and then go to university or indeed vice versa. So may have commented that they had several career changes and ended up doing or not doing what they wanted. I can see all kinds of benefits in many configurations. Course mine was the cheapest and very beneficial. Leave school at 15, apprentice for 5, two years a journeyman on full money and paid all the way through. 50 years in a craft I still love. I suppose I don’t meet many if any at all that feel that way about work after five decades. As someone pointed out in this series of comments, the thought of doing woodwork every day for 50 years would be very boring. Not so for me. A guitar and a cello, a timberframed home and workshop, a lapstrake canoe.Some of these I have done and some I have yet to do. Apart from that life would indeed be quite dull.

  10. Sometimes I think it is a shame to call it “higher education” when you pass a college, university or something like that.
    On the other hand you call it an approach – or let’s say an understanding – of immerse “deeper into” any specific matter (for example: fine woodworking, yoga, …).
    Does the one way mean that you are on the shiny top and the other one that you are digging into dirty holes? I am often surprised how we take these terms un-reflected. And how this guides our way of thinking. And how wages belong to that. – As if we are still living in times of kings/queens and inferiors.
    If you follow history you will find so many examples of (I think, but not sure about it, mostly) men who lead their craft to such a high level, that we are still impressed by today. They must have been so deep in the depth of handcraft that they made it to the top. Very high, indeed.

  11. Hello Paul,

    I totally agree with what you have said. I myself did not attend university but have lead a successful life. Two of my 3 children have taken the ‘vocational’ path as I did and are happy and successful in what they are doing. Our eldest child did get a degree and is also established and happy. Horses for courses springs to mind.

    On a separate note I feel very lucky to have attended one of your ‘last’ foundation courses at Penrhyn Castle in May last year… what a wonderful setting never mind the excellence of the course. I wish you all the best in your new home and eventually your new teaching workshop in Oxfordshire.

    Kindest regards,

    Chris Bailey

  12. I think shop programs should be setup for troublesome youth get them off the streets and into something more productive.

    • A really interesting comment, taking a liberty to riff off it…why not have shop programs for “non troublesome” youth that stream academic vs technical?

      A couple of other observations…in my younger days, well even now, I can’t say I know what I want to be when I grow up, The high school guidance councilor, based on my less than stellar academic performance pushed hard to stream technical/vocational vs academic. This would have streamed me into basic (easier versions) not advance level courses in high school, closing the door on university as even an option. After my Mom intervened with a face to face meeting, i streamed advanced courses.

      Academic schooling/university never resonated with me until in my mid-thirties, I went back full time for my masters degree. Loved it, doing my thing, getting a paid internship in Europe (first time there) where I met my wife. Brilliant, Thanks Mom.

      My second observation …university seems to be contradiction for me, its academic learning yet many programs are vocational/technical training programs.

      As I’m leaving my forties now (well soon), I’ve taken up working wood by hand as it is less physically demanding than my past hobbies, provides me lots of thinking on a project, and I can do it in my apartment (running power tools not an options and I can work around limiting the banging of mallets). I have a healthy list of projects for others, but I have refused their offers to pay. What I really enjoy, which I didn’t expect when I started, is the positive energy I get back from people when I hand them something I’ve made. Those moments draws me to the bench in my free time. Brilliant.

      • Yeah, I do think going into higher ed for some is better when more mature and based on some real life experience rather than being a student for 30 years. Yes, I did know what I wanted to do and it worked well for me, when I was in my mid teens, and I have noticed young men especially seem less able, or is it apt, to make decisions and commitments than say 50 or so years ago, but then I think better to make it later and know rather than guess.

  13. an interesting couple of days , I have done what I felt was right for me all my life , and while I am not a rich man I owe nobody anything and am very content in my later years , I have strived to be the best at whatever I did. being self employed I always tried to give the best value for the money spent.
    I look at my self every morning in the mirror and am happy with what looks back.I have no regrets. ,
    money and debt are things that seem to grab you and try to control you and I have avoided both as much as possible.Waiting at times instead of buying on the spot,but in the end I could buy it. and have ,and probably appreciated it more as well.
    some need the security that jobs and retirements furnish ,others need to create no matter the cost. its what is in your own heart that really matters

  14. I started and then dropped out of University to pursue a high flying career in the oil industry, which ironically enough nose-dived and dropped me into the dole queue, luckily I pushed myself out and managed to do pretty well for myself without the degree. But there was a glass ceiling and I wasn’t fulfilled by administrative work in the slightest.

    So here I am at 29 going back to college to take a city and guilds carpentry course and trying to get an apprenticeship as a joiner in any capacity, with a long term view of becoming a crafter/maker/artisan but with the backup of construction industry or manufacturing experience as part of a rounded woodworking knowledge.

    I’d absolutely murder to apprentice with a Luthier or cabinet maker but fully accept thats a pipe dream in todays economy.

    • I like this. It is interesting that many people will say something like I would murder to apprentice as a crafts person and become a master of this or that and rarely say they would like to apprentice with this mag editor or the corporate head if this or that. I do think it is interesting that almost everywhere I turn people will use a newspaper magnate or politician or billionaire as worthy of not for their success but not the woman or man who makes their living from working with their hands, raising their family on their income and paying the bills and perhaps saving a little for a rainy day need. Personally, I look at many friends who have done such things and feel nothing but respect for them.

      • There are many barriers that prevent a person from entering into an entirely different vocation, and the numerous fears, self-doubts, and half-truths can be debilitating. My nod goes to everyone who went forward with their dreams into that great unknown! Numerous educational/training organizations are more than willing to counsel a person toward enrolling and spending money for a piece of parchment. Most counselors will repeat whatever their employer or colleagues are saying, which can be unfairly influential, and offers no help to a young seeker.
        It would be nice to have a single source of truth about career choices: all based on an extensive battery of tests that a person could take to determine their interests, abilities, needs and goals, and future market predictions of availability and the expected changes in vocational fields. And wouldn’t it be wise to approach every person16 yrs old and beyond and offer them this councelling with encouragement, because this single, trustworthy, source of truth would be invaluable and empowering. They need to know that they can and will become more competent with age and experience, and their past or recent performance may not be the defining model for the rest of their lives.
        I’ve been a teacher for many decades, and the most common thing a pupil has said to me is they can’t do something due to their lack of ability, their lack of guts, their lack of resources, or their grades or other performance markers was substandard. The most rewarding thing is to convince a person that their future self will be much more complex and competent than what they see of themselves right now! This applies to every age and culture.
        I just fell off my soap box.
        Please take care, all of you.

      • Surprised that the occupations you mention are esteemed as many folk I have come across have more contempt (at least that is what is said) as often (but not always) they have made their fortune at others’ expense and are fairly ruthless. Bankers in the UK also maybe fit in the group of the despised rich. Personally, I’d like to work for NASA (although wouldn’t murder for the opportunity) but realise I have neither the training or brains to do so and age is not on my side anyway. So it won’t happen. Neither will I become a great luthier, training with a master of the craft, but I can enjoy having a go at harps and guitars and get satisfaction from it – but, in my case, I’m not expecting to make a living from it. Must say, I admire the folk who can make a living from craft in the West, where cheap imports from low-wage economies dominate – as mentioned in another post, the last decent local furniture maker has sadly just gone bust. However, as you describe it, the prospect of a fairly hand-to-mouth existence (with a little saved for the rainy day that inevitably comes) might not be without stress and may well not appeal to all. For me at least, a job, which has its ups and downs, but with a steady income means that woodwork and other crafts can be enjoyed as a hobby or part-time occupation with less potential worry (if you are lucky enough to land a stable job these days). This sort of hobby woodworker can also probably afford to support other local craftspeople including local (but more expensive) tool manufacturers, for example, who I think are just as worthy of support as the local wood craftspeople. To me there is an inconsistency in the philosophy of lamenting the decline of manufacturing of local tools by craftspeople, not supporting the few local remaining toolmakers because they are seen as too expensive for what they are (or cheaper ones can be got from China) and extoling the virtues of becoming a wood craftsperson who works with their hands and the sweat of their brow to feed their family but who will enevitably have to compete with cheap imports.

  15. Interesting discussions about life choices, work ethic and related things. I wonder if you could comment on what you think about the future market for handcrafted woodwork. On the one hand, genuine quality and small scale production is appreciated in many fields (think about the craft beer revolution for example). On the other hand, there is a tendency for clean surfaces, reduced clutter and a “less is more” approach to the arrangement of our living spaces. I read somewhere recently that the demand for antiques is getting weaker and weaker. Plus the digitalisation of life lessens the need for cabinets and shelves for storage of books, documents, vinyl records etc.

    • Sadly, I noticed my favourite high-end furniture shop has just gone into receivership. That’s the last one locally. All the competitors bring in cheap Asian imports so there doesn’t seem much future in this country (New Zealand) for hand-crafted furniture at least. Most folk want cheap and disposable. But the same could be said for woodwork tools.

  16. Ok, let me tell you my story. I’m a software developer. A profession that is usually associated with a high level engineer degree and other prerequisites such as lots of trainings in special tools and and always changing technologies. However I don’t have one. I tried, but I just couldn’t. I trained myself to program, then I took two years weekend course and wrote a lot of small programs along the way. So uni never worked for me as they taught us lots of distant theory and no practice. I dropped off, worked as a docker and then I passed a “bech test” at one of the local companies. They gave a chance a I grasped it. 10 years from that moment in a seasoned but passionate system architect, developer, team leader, even r&d manager once. I hire people myself now, and never! Look on their formal education. Only at what they really know and can.
    P.S. And I still love programming!

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