The Way of the Craftsman

Meredith Fineman takes to task the cult of busy in a recent piece she calls Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are:

We're all just so "busy" these days. "Slammed" in fact. "Buried." Desperately "trying to keep our heads above water." While these common responses to "How are you?" seem like they're lifted from the Worst Case Scenario Handbook, there seems to be a constant exchange, even a a one-upping, of just how much we have on our plates when we communicate about our work.

This cult of busy mentality reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a friend, in which we argued the merits of taking a walk. She was working on her masters, working full-time, and trying to raise two kids. In short, she was busy.

Too busy, in fact. I watched as she proceeded to burn her candle at both ends. She was frazzled, stressed, and tired... but she couldn't stop.

Take a walk, I said.

I can't, she said. I'm too busy.

Really? You can't set aside 15 minutes of your day to clear your head? To gather yourself?

Many recent studies have shown that working so many hours is not only harmful to our physical and mental health, it's also counterproductive. Humans aren't wired for marathon work; we work best in short bursts.

I conveyed these points. She wasn't having it.

I've used an automatic coffeemaker my entire adult life. Today, though, I finally joined my fellow coffee lovers and ordered an Aeropress. For those not familiar, this is a vacuum-driven device that makes one cup of coffee at a time. It's a completely manual process: no electronics, no automatic anything. You boil your own water, put the Aeropress on top of a cup, press the water through the coffee, and emerge with a superior cup of joe.

So why on earth would I want to do this? Why would I want to make the process of making coffee more difficult? The obvious answer is to make a better cup of coffee, but my intentions run deeper.

I want to slow. The hell. Down.

I don't want the process to be automatic; I want to live in the moment in which I'm making my coffee. I want it to be deliberate, meaningful, slow.

The rise of the digital age brought with it a plethora of ways to speed things up. Communication, and many other things, got faster, more ubiquitous, less conscious. A counterculture rose up in response, one that emphasized mindfulness. Mindfulness is a philosophy that Buddhists and their ilk have long espoused, but this digital counterculture brought it into the mainstream. Essentially, mindfulness means slowing down, paying attention to what you're doing in a given moment, and only to what you're doing in that moment, whether it's making tea, digging a ditch, doing the dishes, or playing with your kids.

Mindfulness is impossible to achieve unless you slow the hell down.

Randy Murray just posted about mindfulness and shaving.

There’s nothing that clears the mind and sharpens ones thoughts as doing something that might cause you great bodily harm.

He's right. And why does adding a dangerous element clear and sharpen the mind? Because it forces you to pay attention to what you're doing, and only to what you're doing. (I can attest to that- I switched to an old safety razor years ago, and it transformed shaving from a mundane task to a ritual I thoroughly enjoy).

If I might employ an overly simplistic analogy, life can be lived in one of two ways: you can treat life as if you're a mechanistic factory line worker, zoning out for minutes, hours, or days on end, mindlessly doing your job and falling into a heap in front of the television at the end of the day.

OR

You can treat life as a master craftsman treats his work: carefully crafting every detail, taking pride in the process itself.

What, after all, is life, but a thing to be crafted? We build our lives, day by day. If you're a factory line worker, you may wake up after years of zoning out to find that you don't even recognize the life you've created. If you're a craftsman, you will know precisely what you hold in your hands, because it was your deliberate intention that crafted it to begin with.

And the only way to cultivate deliberate intention is to slow. the hell. down.

So switch to a straight razor. Order an Aeropress. Grow your own vegetables. Do whatever you have to do to make things harder, slower, more deliberate. That is the way of the craftsman.

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