Several years ago, I took a course in welding at a local community college. For years, I had wanted to have the skills to do welding, but had never had any exposure to it. I just knew I wanted to get exposure; I wanted to learn to do something completely outside my skill set.
My interest was two-fold: 1) build/repair metal “stuff” if I ever achieved my lifelong dream of having a shop and a place in the country and; 2) create metal art. Because I traveled quite a lot at the time for clients, I missed a number of classes, so I didn’t learn as much as I would have liked. And because I had neither a place to do welding (i.e., no workshop sufficient space and with 220V power required for arc welding) nor welding equipment, I didn’t continue welding after the class ended. I wanted to, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to do it. Mostly, it was a matter of a place to do it; I could have bought the equipment.
The class was an eye-opener. I hadn’t been familiar with the different types of welding to which I was exposed; TIG, MIG, and arc. And I hadn’t been familiar with other “goodies” I had the good fortune to learn about, things like plasma cutters, heavy-duty grinders, and equipment for heating and bending and finishing metal. It enthralled me. It was so utterly different from my career. I spent the bulk of my career in offices, hotels, airports, and convention centers. I dedicated my time to pushing paper and selling ideas and contemplating issues that, for the most part were dull and didn’t contribute much of value to society.
I looked at welding and what could be done with it, both the “hard” productive side and the “soft” artistic side, as something honorable and meaningful. The outcomes of the work to which I dedicated my career, on the other hand, often were difficult to measure and were ephemeral. The productive values of a metal gate or welded beams in a building are solid and tangible; the values of achieving consensus on budgets and strategies often are questionable and intangible.
Lest I give the wrong impression, I spent the majority of my career committed to what I was doing. I enjoyed having an impact on individuals and groups of people. I reveled in facing and succeeding in solving intellectual challenges that led to effective group decisions. Perhaps if I’d had more client organizations that, bluntly, mattered more, I would have continued to enjoy what I was doing. Maybe going after the weekend getaway place with a shop would have been a sufficient balance to the workplace in which it was rare to include in a successful outcome physical product of demonstrable value. As I think about it now, I suspect working with more of the “right” organizations might have done it. Organizations whose purposes and objectives correspond with my interests and whose subject matter serves more than bottom line profit over all other gods…maybe working with them would have made the last few work years more fulfilling.
It was during the several years before I decided to shut my business for a sabbatical that I really started longing for something of value to do. I thought again about welding. I thought about art. I thought about all sorts of other things that might rekindle my entrepreneurial spirit and might give me a sense of doing something that mattered. I thought about those things because I had the very real sense that what I was doing didn’t matter, that I was serving several clients that didn’t matter. I began to reveal in conversations with friends at first, and then anyone who would listen, that if the organizations with which I worked were to disappear suddenly, the world would not spin off its axis and only an infinitesimally small fraction of a minuscule piece of a tiny percent of the world’s population would even notice, much less care.
It was time I got out. And I did.
Now that I’m out, I’m looking for someplace else to go. And I return to the idea of welding. Not necessarily just welding, but something like what welding represented to me; something I’ve never done before, something that takes skills I’ve rarely if ever tried to develop. Woodworking. Real estate rehabs. Something involving manufacturing. I may be going over the edge here, of course, but the idea should be clear: something that has a measurable outcome. Despite all I’ve written, I’m not looking for a new career; I’m not even looking for a full-time job. I’m looking for a diversion that’s not just a diversion; a diversion with a purpose that involves some tangible “product” at the end of the day.
Perhaps I’ve been looking for a way to recover from years of mindless assembly line work, work with no finished product at the end of the line. More likely, I’m just experiencing a temporary dip in an otherwise fairly upbeat attitude. Once we decide precisely where to go after we sell our house (which we may have finally decided will go on the market at the end of February), I’ll find it easier to do something about welding or woodworking or manufacturing instead of just talking about it. No, life’s too short to put things off forever. Waiting for a home is not reason enough to delay decisions.
Today is my birthday. I’ll celebrate by making some decisions.