Gaining More Confidence Through Building & Knowing Power Tools
People often look at me a little confused, as if they can't quite connect the picture of me and the way I act and behave with the tools and projects that I build. And I get it, woodworking and building is not a path I probably would have come to on my own. Sure I did wood shop in school when I was a young girl, but so did the rest of Sweden, and it really hasn't made that many Swedish women interested in using a table saw or operating a lathe.
So when I get comments or emails and I sense an underlying perplexity about who I am and why I'm doing this, it's not that strange. Because when it comes down to it, I've been a very feminine girl all my life, and I think that probably comes across in the way I look and move through the world. When I walk down the street, people don't look at me and think, aha, she's probably interested in doing construction, more likely they see someone who fits into the norm of what a regular girl, or woman looks like.
I've always enjoyed things traditionally associated with women: softer things, like sewing, painting, cooking, interior design... And no matter what light you want to paint woodworking in, it is harder, as in physically harder. Cutting wood, and operating metal tools, is a different type of work. It's something that I didn't come to on my own, but I have since fallen deeply in love with, and I think it has changed my life for the better.
Before going into how important I think woodworking is, and how I think it can add tremendous value to people's lives, especially girls, I want to back up a moment, and explain how I came into this world of building. I have someone in my life, who has been a pretty strong force in every way. Normally when other woodworkers and builders tell the world of their path, this person is usually their father or their grandfather, or perhaps a teacher. Someone who opened their eyes to the shop, and the intriguing work that can be done inside of it.
For me however, it's not someone I grew up with, it's my husband. I met Matt, right after I first came to the US from Sweden to study. I was pretty young, and in many ways he introduced me to everything I'm doing today. I found him fascinating and he pretty much hijacked me into the world of entrepreneurship, literature, business & philosophy. He was unlike anything I had known up to this point, and he constantly encouraged me to be bolder, braver, and more aggressive in terms of learning new things.
We quickly left the US and traveled for awhile, we lived in Paris and in Sweden, and eventually settled back in Oregon. Throughout this time we were always self-employed and we ran a software business, and constantly had a million different ideas for what to do next. Eventually we bought a house, and after living in an apartment for many years, we were aching to finally do things – renovate, paint, build, create something new. During these times in the apartment we had spent some time working on his 1966 mustang convertible, so working with tools was not something new. At one point we actually took apart the entire convertible top – in the parking lot – and refinished, painted and put it back together again. In retrospect, it's not something I would recommend doing without a garage!
So when we bought our first house, a small 1946 bungalow, I wanted to do EVERYTHING at once. We had lived in an apartment for so long, and I had dreamed of the day I could finally paint the walls, and create projects and get my hands dirty. Little did I know that those projects would soon take over the house, and that we would start woodworking seriously and grow out of the space to the point where there was not a square foot left of the property and house that wasn't being used.
We started building various projects, doing some construction, outside work, building bookcases, furniture, etc... And while I was very enthusiastic to do all these things, I realize now looking back, that it was because of him that we went full out. Matt didn't have any reservations about buying tools, even though he didn't exactly have a ton of experience in a wood shop. He simply had more experience using tools in general, and felt more comfortable doing this physically. In many ways I went along for the ride and thought nothing of getting these things, but if I had been alone, would I? I'm naturally more cautious, and I suffer from what I call the-fear-of-starting.
This is a mentality that I come across in myself too often and that I see in others too. It's something that I'm constantly working towards changing, but sometimes it can be a hard habit to kick. I suppose you can call it the insecure creator vs the confident one – the hesitant starter vs the one that fundamentally has faith that everything will work out. I always looked at myself as daring and excited about these tools and projects, but now when I look back, I'm wondering if I actually was. Perhaps I was simply confident by association. If I had been alone, I don't think I would have taken the step to buy a table saw for example. And after using one for years, I now think it's the most important tool in the shop. It's the tool that separates the causal DIYer from the more serious one. Now, I can't imagine the shop without one as it would seriously limit the projects I could take on. And I think to myself, why was I like this? Why am I like this? Why are most girls whom I've ever come across in my life like this?
What is this insecurity exactly? Is it inexperience? Is it fear of failure? Is it simply not trusting that YOU will figure it out, even if things go wrong. I think it's all the above. There has been so many times where we have started a project, and initially I've been a bit perplexed, and a bit intimidated. However, once we've gone through the process and completed it, it seems obvious. Of course, I can do this, it's not a big deal. No part in any project is really that complicated when you break it down, it just seems that way when you look at all the different steps at once, the final result. So why is this a mentality that prevails?
Woodworking is a pretty wonderful skill to possess. Knowing how buildings and furniture come together, and understanding how to use the tools involved in creating these various pieces, can give you an immense sense of satisfaction and power. Suddenly you're not an outsider looking in, just observing the beauty of a product. Instead, you're now someone on the inside, who can look at something in a store, and understand how you could re-create that for yourself. You could pick something apart and perhaps improve it, or at the very least create some version of whatever it is you want for much cheaper. However you want to look at it, it gives you control, and control is a wonderful thing.
This shift that happens when you go through a process, where initially a project seems hard and intimidating, honestly out of reach – to when you come out on the other side, perhaps with some struggles beneath your belt, but ultimately with a project completed, it is such a great feeling. And it's something that I think more people would enjoy if only they got the chance. But in order to do that, they may need a push, I know I sure did. Someone to show you that it's not scary or too far removed from who you are. That person can be your family, your spouse, a friend, or some strange girl on the Internet who doesn't quite look like who you might expect to find in the wood shop. And that's OK.
During these years where I've been learning, and building and figuring things out – sometimes with Matt by my side, sometimes by myself, I've really come to appreciate how important it is to not get stuck on that first step. That step is the dangerous one that sometimes keeps you from doing anything at all. I still have to work on that, and in many ways, I'm a bit of a mess with too many things on my list that never quite gets done or started. I might come across as organized and on point in my videos, but the truth is, I'm not. But, I'm trying to acknowledge where I fall short, and figure out what I can do to change it, and what I can do to inspire others to follow in my path.
For several years now, I've been sharing the work that I do with other people interested in the same subject. Hopefully it will spark an interest or change in someone who will dare to do something different. I know that if I was able to do it, chances are, you could too. And in many ways, it all comes down to gaining more experience and not being afraid of messing up and trying new things. That's what I try to keep in mind whenever I get a little stuck, that nothing really matters, and what's the worse that can happen? You grow a little stronger, perhaps you mess some things up, but that's OK. You can always fix it.