Election day!

Journal entry Thursday 8th June 2017

Election day

Nope! Not political choices, electing to do what you feel called to do with your life.

I preach my own words to myself most days, “It’s not what you make but how!” I could write a book on this sentence alone. Perhaps no one would read it. I’m not a journalist, a novelist or a clever writer, I’m a furniture maker, woodworker and woodturner. In one way or another I spend my days working with wood. My love for my craft has buoyed me up through the difficult passages I’ve encountered in life and it’s been the complex projects, the ones that challenged me the most, that made a man that struggles through non-woodworking issues to as satisfying a conclusion as possible.

I first stepped off the conveyor belt some three decades or so ago and it was then that I started to understand more about the feelings I had surrounding issues I felt were important to me. Often things you disagree with lead you to a point where self examination results in you standing on a conviction. It’s an inner emotion that triggers mechanisms that enable you to respond differently to issues more important to you than to others until you begin to express yours. It’s a point where you start to see the things we do as more emotive and it’s this that caused me to reflect on whether I worked because it was a calling on my life or simply something by which I made money with. It’s funny that people who work wood at weekends might well have done well enough in woodworking to make a good living from doing it as a full time job but either never had even the opportunity to or the inkling to make that basic decision as an alternative reality. As a parent and a teacher I became aware that parents and teachers generally steer their children through the same channels they went through to become working adults. In other words, any hint of something being a calling never arrived or was considered. Such common programming has indeed become the norm. Education to higher levels first and then hope what you learned opens the doors to that ‘good (well paying, secure) job’. In my view most people seem programmed to this being the only way, whereas I think it better to individualise education based on an individual call. Higher education rarely seems to take into consideration a person’s calling and therefore is never customised to that end because universities and colleges, teachers and educators can in no way handle that.

In my work life working for bosses I was mostly unfortunate. All had prejudices, a Scottish or Welsh nationalist who disliked Brits, others with uncontrollable anger issues. Passive and aggressive bosses and such like that. But then there in the mix would be a bright star of a man who had a way of distilling everything down to the most common denominator. “Remember, when you go before the boss, we all use the same toilet.” This leveller was an important lesson in my formative years. Unfortunately I didn’t learn the lesson about how you make what you make being important until I was much older. Perhaps I couldn’t until I learned what work was not meant to be before I could compare it to what it then could become to me.

Mostly I see my working as a work of service to others. Yes, I know, that’s perhaps not something people feel positive about these days, but I like it. Serving doesn’t come naturally in most of our western culture today but I am not talking of servanthood so much as using my skills for the common good of all. We like to be somewhat known as independent beings. You know, one of those self-styled, self-made rugged individualists? Someone to be admired. But when we live in a culture where we always seem more deserving, we rarely see ourselves as having something to offer from a standpoint of sharing. It is more a question of making things for rich or influential individuals rather than people simply making for the people we might more be equal to and care about, which is often a step toward discovering people who become supportive as returning customers.

The full phrase says, ‘It’s not what you make but how you make that determines the outcome.’ I would also add, ‘Because how you make what you make requires forethought and care if you are to put forth your best work.’ I might also add that arriving at a point where a paradigm shift can alter our perspective to serve others means dismantling many of the most powerful influences that informed us wrongly. Things like in school when teachers (and parents) told us the fib, “You can be anything you want to be.” Whereas I do agree with aspirational motivation, it’s important to be real; especially with our influencing.

When I’m working on making my pieces, working alone mostly but also those close to me and my work, I become conscious of who I am. Every one I ever made for got my best work once I got off the conveyor belt. I’ve made fine pieces all my life and at points made 8 caskets for burial. They take a week to make working about 10 hours each day. When you love people you do these things. Every saw and plane stroke on the casket reflects an off-the-conveyor-belt life, even when the work you do is buried a few hours later.



17 thoughts on “Election day!”

  1. Paul,
    Your phrase of “it’s not what you make but how you make it” struck a chord with me when I first heard you say it a few years ago when I started watching your videos. Since I am mostly a hobbyist, the stuff I make is for me and my family. Without a doubt a lot of myself and love goes into it. It may not be perfect and stands for improvement (still very much a beginner) but I know without a doubt I worked as best I could at it and took a lot of time and didn’t cut any corners in the process.

    When I was at University, I had to write a “book” that was a culmination of five years of hard work. I put in many hours and did not cut corners in what I produced. I have forgotten much of the contents but I know that I really strived to make each and every page and illustration the best it could be. I take great pride in it and that is because of how I went about it. I never really thought of a good way to express that until I heard you say it. Thank you.

  2. Phill N LeBlanc

    30 years ago, when I asked my 5-year old son what he wanted to be, he said: “I don’t want to BE anything. I’m happy just the way I am.” And he still is. We prepare our kids for a life of slavery because we don’t know any better. Some young people today are discovering that us old farts are not so smart. We all have a book or two of advice in us, but our intended audience is too busy writing their own book, to read ours. I read Paul’s words because we are twin sons of different mothers and share the same mind. Trump’s tweets… not so much. Vote for Paul.

  3. Jumbliah Jones (aka)

    “In my view most people seem programmed to this being the only way, whereas I think it better to individualise education based on an individual call.”
    If only we could know such things! Knowing one’s calling just might be a life-long pursuit for many. I would never trust an institution of any kind, especially one whose underlying structure is politically-charged bureaucracy, to know what is best for my child at a tender young age. The Soviets tried this, as well as the Chinese…and also, to some extent, our social stratification in the free world, too. All tend to enslave, not liberate.

    Perhaps the time-tested calling is truly handed down from our ancestors from ages past: our calling is the same as our father’s, and usually forms our surname. What is not handed down through genetics, is passed on by family mentoring.

    1. When I was young my dad told me the same thing his dad told him.

      1) if you take a job for a dollar, give that man a good days work. Do not complain about the dollar, you agreed to it.
      2) Do your best at everything you do.
      3) Never quit anything. See it through to the end.
      4) Take pride in your work.
      5) No one else will see that mistake, but I will know that it is there.
      6) Man mans word should mean something.

      “even when the work you do is buried a few hours later”
      It was not buried. I am willing to bet there where people there that seen that act of love that it took to make a coffin by hand.

  4. Leonard Pierce

    All I can say is ‘Amen’. After 24 years of education, 40 years of work, and now retirement, to find my self and meaning has become a challenge and your words have helped.

  5. Wayne Yankoff

    America tries so hard to educate towards liberal products. Then a very fearful response is interjected into a progressive agenda rooting out skilled complacency. All are complacent. The woodworker turns his wood this way and that hoping it will release it’s secrete.

  6. I was a youth in the thirty’s during the Depression. I was In stilled with the idea that I had to find some job that had stability and that college was the route to follow. This was a myth that I believed. Your view is the correct one! Tha k you for expressing it.

  7. Thomas Tieffenbacher

    Paul, Thoughtful pause in a reflecting pool. When I work with kids and their parents because they are in crises, I challenge the conventional norms especially for structured mass education. I ask the parents to remember what they liked and didn’t like about school. And what they like or don’t like about their present work. As adults we tend to do work that we feel comfortable in doing as it is part of our strengths and we love to use our strengths, while kids have to labor at both what they are good or not good at doing.

    Non verbal intelligence is equally as important as verbal intelligence. We just have to change our perspective.

    You sir have the gift of both.

  8. Michael j daingerfield

    Paul, I know from experience that your thoughts are more than rhetoric. To work a job and chase a pension for thirty years,and then realize there is so much more than the “conveyor belt” is sobering. Wish I had jumped off it long ago. You expressed what many of us now know in our latter years. I’ll teach my grandchildren differently, and have no regrets about the past. Maybe they will reject all the tired dogma and follow their calling. Thanks

  9. When you talked about being driven to a “calling”, I thought about a recent conversation I had with my niece. She was telling me about her 23 year old son who doesn’t have any idea what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t want to go to college or to get a job, but is okay with not having any money and playing video games and surfing the Internet all day, freeloading off his parents. She told me the high school teachers failed to inspire him in his career choices and her efforts to do that have been ineffective. Unfortunately her story is not all that uncommon with todays youth.

    My response was to say that neither my school nor my parents needed to tell me or inspire me toward any career path or goal. I figured out what I wanted in life (my personal calling) all by myself. I then went out and did what was necessary to make it happen. I am truely at a loss with young people’s lack of imagination and self sufficiently. No motivation and no personal responsibility seem to be their mantra. Where did we go so wrong?

    1. Whereas not all young people fall into such flawed perspectives on living life, there is a small percentage that slip through the cracks. Another issue is the reality that parents today tend more to mollycoddle their children away from accountability and responsibility and generally finance idleness when such a thing happens. Young adults come in many surprising packages and thankfully there is still a higher percentage of determined hard workers over idlers. Another issue is that too many parents assume that teachers have the responsibility for their children beyond teaching them their subjects; they for some reason distance themselves from their children and simply hand them over to teachers to instil certain values and standards that they have ultimate responsibility for, abdicating the responsibility that is theirs to instil a work ethic, moral accountability and much, much more. These are the ones that say, “What are they doing about it.” As if teachers are not too heavily burdened as it is with 30 other kids in their classes. Unfortunately teachers too can be guilty by not putting things squarely back on the shoulders of parents and assuming surrogacy without the actually having any real authority and certainly not parental authority. Young people are taught from birth to understand when parents are disagreed over how to raise them. This leads to percentage of late teenagers (who from age 15 should be seen and treated and expected to be adult) playing one off the other by the now child-adult.Children capably work successfully through childhood to adulthood playing one of the other and continue such tactics on into adult life and indeed higher education, coming out with a degree that can oin some cases artificially qualify them as being adult but still not facing any real accountability or responsibility.
      I have no doubt that young people are still marvellous entities full of hope, easy to inspire but definitely let down, sometimes to the point of cynicism and disappointment; but I see often enough sometimes that parents miss that narrow window of opportunity and in some cases it is just too late. Usually I suspect it’s because the parents fobbed off authority that would have led to maturity in their own lives. It’s also true that parents make career choices that limit their access to quality time with their children as they grow. This is of course the choice they make. A current issue with young parents with babies is the now acute lack of baby/parent eye contact because parents cannot live for more than a minute without playing with their devices. I wonder what such a thing will lead to?

  10. “…working alone…I become concious of who I am.” Dropped on me like a rock.
    Thanks for posting.

  11. Dear Paul,
    thank you so much for all your inspiration! I can not say what impresses me more: your craftmanship or your philosophers point of view! Or the passion you are living.

    I guess, in the end it must be this very special highly intelligent humor of yours – those ›ups‹ from time to time.
    A big honest thanks from Germany. Olaf

  12. David Lindsay Stair builder 77 years of age Newcastle, Australia

    We all like to look at what/who we think we are, but to me it is more important to understand and face what we not, and it is a privilege to come to the point of knowing that. I grew up, like most other people believing that I wasnt who I really was and the saying that we can be whatever we want to be is to fill our minds with naive nonsense, and it is only when we are prepared to see what we aint, that we can then go on to become who we were meant to be, and to build our lives on fact and not fallacy.

  13. When I was young, about 60 years ago now, my dad told me “when you love what you do you will never work a day in you life”. After a few jobs in my adulthood I started building log homes. Having left over logs from the build, customers asked if I could build some furniture for the new home. I was then that the love of woodworking got ahold of me. I decided to stop the log homes and just build furniture. That was 25 years ago and have no regrets. It have been the most rewarding and the most frustrating endeavor I have ever tackled. There have been several time over the last 25 years when your down to your last buck and wondering how you will make ends meet and the phone rings. I don’t know why or how but it always has a way of working out.
    Thank you Paul for writing this. And Paul, if you wrote that book I would definitely read it!!

  14. Spencer Gaskins

    Mr Sellers,

    I hesitate to encourage you to write the book, as that would take time from the generous font of knowledge you teach daily. It would satiate a selfishness in my soul which desires the immediate gratification of my thirst for more craft, more loveliness, more love that you selflessly provide to others in your service.

    But, this is tempered in the semi-permanance of the written word. After all, translated Estonian and French books on handmade furniture are still impacting students of Handworked crafts even today…if you write it, I will read it.

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