As we pull up curbside I get out and follow a coworker inside, new sights and sounds adding to my nervousness. The hallway, filled with the acrid smell of sweat and cleaning fluid, feels a mile long. A new task master awaits. Youthful questions fill my head. Will this master be kind or harsh? Will I live up to the challenge?
Anxious feet shuffle from vinyl covered concrete to the warmth of polished wood throughout the shop. I settle into my newly assigned bench space and desk. The person next to me is new and at the same time familiar.
Light fills the cavernous shop giving it that homey industrial feel. I see dust dancing through a shaft of light. “This is going to be good,” runs through my mind and my palms begin to sweat. Breathing deep, my lungs fill with the pungent woody odor and calm washes over me. The task master enters.
“This is worse than a first date” and my pulse quickens again as everyone settles into their positions. As the lesson begins, I realize there’s more to learn than I fathomed. A whole new world opens. Work begins and, with great apprehension, I follow along as best I can. Mistakes abound. As I begin to get more comfortable with the tools, shop, materials and the lesson the quality of the work improves. As the confidence builds, I begin to push the boundaries of what I perceive as my limits. With each subsequent day, I promise myself to do the same.
What I’ve just described is not my first day as senior editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, but my first day of Werner Duerr’s class at vocational school. The more I think about the description of that day, I realize it applies to many days in my career. It certainly applied to every first day I started working in a new shop but it also applies to every project that I’ve undertaken that stepped beyond the things I’ve already built. The first chair, the first highboy, the first elaborate carving all came with the same self-doubt. Now, more than 30 years later, I understand that the fear came more than anything from not wanting to make a mistake. I also now know that without all the mistakes I would never have accomplished half of the things I’ve done.
So, it is with great trepidation I sit in a new chair at a new desk in a new shop with new coworkers. And, like every step in my career so far, I’m loving it because I understand that being outside my comfort zone will make me a better craftsman and a better editor.
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