2021. Rebooting the Artisans

Most of the time my Mac operates flawlessy, although every now and again it bumps into something, and I have to try variously reloading the offending app, clear the cache, and a few other things I’ve got used to (but don’t really understand) over the years.

Sometimes though, that doesn’t work either and I have to do a hard reset. Easy enough to do, just have to log back into programmes etc. Irritating, but no real hassle.

A conversation with Steve Done this morning set me to wondering how we do that as individuals. In many ways, we are similar. We have become used to ways of operating, and conducting our work, and often our lives along familiar patterns. Like my Mac, for the most part it works well, and we don’t really have to examine what we’re doing. Life just trundles along. Until it doesn’t.

Sometimes, we get the equivalent of that little spinning wheel in our lives and no matter how much we try to restart the offending part of it, it doesn’t quite work. Something in our basic operating system is out of kilter. Something just isn’t connecting.

We live in a society where we are conditioned to assuming there is a “fix” we can apply (normally at a cost) that will sort us out. A course, a self help guide, a “successful people do x” programme. Often though, all they do is overlay their approach on top of the many others we have bought into over the the years. They often provide a temporary cure at the cost of making our lives and thinking processes ever more encumbered. Before we know it, there’s that little coloured spinning wheel again.

Right now, I think there’s an epidemic. We can’t move without encountering people staring at their own spinning wheel. A combination of Covid, Brexit, Politics and toxic employment has brought us an outbreak of them, and we find ourselves just quietly – sometimes not so quietly – angry, and we can always find someone, or something to blame. It’s easy to be angry at the anger itself.

The reality is, there’s nothing wrong with our own operating system. We’ve just downloaded too much seemingly attractive software and apps in search of an easier, more efficient life and we’ve run out of our own equivalent of random access memory. We need to find a way of rebooting.

We need other people, but not to tell us what to do. We just need them to be there, to listen, and to share ideas with. We also need to understand what our operating system is. What are we operating? We all find meaning in something that challenges us and to which we feel compelled to find an answer, and which whilst we are pursuing it, gives meaning to our lives.

It sits at the “still point”. That point at the centre of the little spinning wheel that is stationery. Some people practice mindfulness, or yoga, or martial arts. Others run, or take in extreme sports. Some write and others paint. What is certain it that nobody ever found it by making target or receiving bonuses. They just complicate the issue further. A temporary, addictive adrenalin hit.

Artisans find it in mastering what they do. In the world of work and measurement, where goodness is conflated with money, their jobs often seem insignificant. They lack the big job title, the big car and the corner office but their ability to master what they do brings far more than enough . They might be a roofer, a paramedic, a teacher, or any number of other people for whom their sense of being is at least as big as their sense of doing. They are what they do, and what they do makes the world a better place.

I saw Taylor Mali recite this at a conference a few years ago, For me, it captures the idea.

We are all Artisans at heart. We all want to make something that matters. We struggle when we pretend to ourselves that the companies and bosses we compromise ourselves for matter.

2021 seems like a good place to start finding our artisan again.

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