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Chipping Away at How I Really Learn



I often spend a few days in a “woodshop retreat” between Christmas and New Years. I do respectable “square” work, but I’ve wanted to carve a bowl for years. I bought an adze three years ago. It carved like a claw hammer.


You can pick up some tools and just use them–like screwdrivers (or like my kids with iPads). Others demand training, practice, adjustments, and outside help (like my parents with iPads).


The adze is an ancient tool, but its apparent simplicity deceives. Turns out, most modern commercial adzes (not artisan-made ones) require extensive user-modification to scoop a chip without sticking or bouncing.


I spent far more hours Internet researching and then reshaping, resharpening, and re-hafting (making a new handle for) the adze–in multiple iterations–than actual carving.


Learning is a constant process of figuring out how to close the gap between the image of what we want to achieve/create/be and our current results. It’s far from finished, but the rough bowl is much closer to the image I hold in my head. Success drives me to get better (sources say this happens in golf).


I also have the satisfaction of having figured it out on my own.


But that last part is crap.


I’m a do-it-yourselfer, but that image gets conflated with notions around independence and “self-made”. Though no one else touched the walnut or adze or saw me carving, I didn't learn this in a vacuum. I was coached.


Twenty minutes of coaching from tool and chair maker Tim Manney at a 2017 woodworking event showed me the stance and flicking technique to make an adze sing. Later, I learned carving tool sharpening tips from Madison spoon carver Tom Bartlett. Those key moments of teaching and feedback gave me critical foundations for bowl carving.


Individual trial and experience are central in learning. HOWEVER, I now see where feedback and key interactions helped me jump ahead several spaces in closing the gaps between my images and results. Besides woodworking, I have to include running, competitive shooting, farming, metal work, machine repair, parenting, and most definitely more recent skills around business development and coaching itself. I’m sure there’s more. Most was informal, but it all mattered.


You might be an owner, leader, or in a position where you’re doing and learning independently (or lacking the support you need) 99% of the time. It’s often true in other parts of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be. It’s time to acknowledge that the road to success is far more interdependent than we realize. Reach out and close the gap.



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