In Defense of Craft

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Whether it’s stacking wood, lifting weights, running a mile, drawing a picture, recording a song, or writing an essay, I’ve come to believe strongly that there is something nourishing and gratifying about doing work where there is nothing and then there is something—and you are the only thing between the two.

The following reflections may be about about my experience in the weight room, but they are true for many crafts—from woodworking to sculpting to gardening to running to cycling to calligraphy to making music to writing (at least sometimes). As you read, feel free to replace “weights” and “weight room” with whatever may be most appropriate and resonant for you.

Something so many of us share is that in much of modern life, a job well done is almost always contingent on external factors like office politics, the opinions of your supervisors, the mood of your clients, and so on.

In the weight room, however, it’s just you and the bar. You either make the lift or you don’t. If you make it, great. If not, you train more, and try again. Some days it goes well, other days it doesn’t. But over time, it becomes clear that what you get out of yourself is proportionate to the effort you put in.

It is as simple and as hard as that, a kind of straightforwardness and self-reliance that gives rise to an immense satisfaction, a fulfilling feeling that makes it easier to fall asleep at night because you know you ​did something real and concrete in the world​. Something that stands on its own.

You ​learn not to rush the lift​. Even when you are nervous and the inclination is to jerk it up, you’ve got keep your positions and stay with it. The arc of progress is long and requires patience, consistency, vulnerability. The pursuit is best when supported by community. These are all important lessons in the gym, but perhaps even more so in life.

Though woodworking is different from running is different from weightlifting is different from playing the violin is different from writing, the generalized benefits of craft have much in common.

As technology automates more of our lives, the risk is that we ourselves become automatons. Craft is a powerful antidote. If you stick with a craft for long enough you begin to reap the ultimate reward: you gain a feel for what you are doing, which, by definition, is uniquely human.


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