(Editor’s Note:) Today’s author has a lot more to do with the founding of The Daily Skep than she probably realizes. A couple of years ago, when Instagram was still a new toy to me, I stumbled across some of Anne’s work and it suddenly became clear to me that there was a whole community of people who loved woodworking as much as I did. It wasn’t just me, in the garage, struggling to figure something out anymore. There were others asking the same questions, learning the same things and helping one another along the way. It was also abundantly clear that the fact that these people lived all around the world was no longer the impediment it once was.
I’m grateful for her contributions to the craft of woodworking, for her generous spirit and for the wisdom she shares below.
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another. (Prov 21:17)
Perfect – from an imperfect perspective
“Perfect” is an interesting word for me. My generation is one marked by a feverish pursuit of perfection. Painting a perfect picture of a perfect life from just the right angle in just the right light with just the right filter is what social media is all about, and most of my peers are spending more time painting that perfect picture on social media than actually working to create a life and legacy of which they can enjoy and be proud. “Perfect,” as the world defines it, simply does not exist.
People see a few snapshots of my alpacas, my garden, a few wood shavings and tell me that I have a “perfect” life. By my interpretation of “perfect,” I’d have to agree, but there is usually a grand canyon between their fairy tale interpretation of my life and reality. Though I’ve made a point of sharing about the good and the bad in our life, not everyone reads the text below, and a few well composed photographs imply I live on a storybook farm, tinkering around in my wood shop all day, making what I want, and picking miraculously ripe produce out of my garden.
I could fill lake Michigan with the tears I’ve cried over the heartbreak of leaving my home and my incredible community in Taiwan to move to Seattle, over the broken relationship with my first woodworking mentor, over countless animal tragedies, over difficult times in my marriage, over failed business ventures, over the goats getting in and ruining my garden YET AGAIN, and especially those tears you cry when there are still 10,000 items on your to-do list and you’ve already worked 90 hours that week and you just. can’t. do. any. more. Happiness is a choice, and it is a choice I make daily. I love what I do, so work often doesn’t feel like work. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to live in a place I’ve come to love and have a life I’ve dreamed about since I was 5 years old. I’m incredibly happy, but that happiness, or the life I live does not come easily. I always try to do my best, and I’ve learned to be proud of the end result, regardless of what it is- because my best is the only “perfect” I’ll ever achieve.
Most woodworkers know me because of my Instagram account @anneofalltrades. I started that account around the same time I took up woodworking and I have used it as a platform to share the ups and downs of my journey into the life of craft. With a large “follower” count and as a regular contributor to a woodworking magazine, I am often tempted to put only my best, most impressive foot out there for the world to see. To take pictures of my work from flattering angles and cover up my [many] mistakes. However, the few times I’ve done so, I’ve done myself, and those who look up to me, a major disservice. A big part of the early success I’ve seen in the woodworking industry is the very fact that I’m a young, inexperienced woodworker with a passion to learn and a somewhat unique perspective. I work hard and always try my best, but there will always always be someone who can do better work than me. And I have come to be 100% OK with that. I’ve also come to find that the old adage is true: the best woodworker is he who can best hide his mistakes. So that “perfect” highboy you love so much? Probably isn’t so “perfect” after all.
Further hindering achieving the world’s definition of perfection, I’ve oft been accused (and rightly so) of having a short attention span when it comes to craft. In the short four years since I made the move from Taipei to Seattle and began a craft-centered lifestyle, I’ve dipped my toes in many ponds- woodwork, blacksmithing, gardening, and farming. To truly perfect any craft, you have to be fully immersed and singly focused. You have to practice, research, practice some more, try, succeed, fail, then try again. Allison Krauss had it right when she wrote the lyrics “I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,” because, as another wise person once said, “you can’t ride two horses with one ass.” “Perfect” as the world defines it is not a goal of mine in any of my various endeavors, and it’s a good thing, because with such great division of attention between them, progress and growth in every area is always very slow.
I’ve found, with overwhelming support from my peers in the woodworking industry, from my friends, and my “followers” that people like “real” a whole lot more than “perfect.” I’ve learned to laugh at my mistakes and share them freely. Sometimes, the best way to get over the frustration of cutting on the wrong side of the line or leaving the gate from the barn into the garden open is to take a photo of the carnage and share it with 40,000 people online who will laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation with you.
I’m a very impatient person, and, as any good American does, I love instant gratification. At times, I wish I could snap my fingers and become a “perfect” woodworker, blacksmith, and farmer. And while I’m wishing, I’d also like to re-write the White album in an afternoon on my guitar. But where would be the fun in that? If perfection had already been reached, where’d be the ups and downs of the journey? The joys of relationship- the humility in seeking mentorship would be lost. Trying to learn, trying to better yourself, working hard, doing your best, and taking time along the way to laugh at yourself and pet a few alpacas is about as “perfect” a journey I can imagine.