5/20/2018 5:42 p.m.
I remember five years ago I asked if I could maybe help you out or simply watch in the workshop to see if I can’t learn a thing or two about carpentry. Although I ended up not being able to come in at the time, I’ve become more interested in the trade, and was wondering if there’s any chance I could learn something from you provided it doesn’t interfere with your work.
Jacob (not the writer’s real name)
5/21/2018 8:09 a.m.
I would be very happy to talk with you about your interest. I’m not in a position right now to give any instruction because my schedule is jammed. Simply watching me (or anyone else) work is not how you would learn this craft; it’s completely hands-on, a matter of training eyes and hands to work together, in addition to learning the principles behind joinery, how to use hand tools, and how to use machines. There is also much to learn about wood and other materials, such as adhesives and finishes. Aside from this, I don’t let people come and watch me work because it’s distracting; this translates to increasing the likelihood of errors, not to mention danger.
If you’d like to come to the shop and have a chat over coffee one day this week, let’s set up a time. I can make time on Tuesday or Friday. Let me know.
5/22/2018 10:16 a.m.
Hello again. I’m writing out of avuncular concern (or whatever the feminine version of “avuncular” might be). Please understand that the following is not a reprimand, but advice from a friend of the family who has known you for many years and wants to see you succeed in whatever endeavors you undertake.
When you contact a businessperson to ask for what is essentially free advice or help, it’s important to respond to his or her reply in a timely manner. It doesn’t matter whether his or her answer is “sure, let’s do this” or along the lines of what I wrote yesterday morning. If you want to be seen as a responsible, considerate adult, you should acknowledge the reply promptly and respectfully. I don’t know what is going on with you this summer; I don’t know how you’re feeling about life in general, whether you’re excited (as you have much reason to be!) or anxious (which would also be understandable…). Your state of mind is immaterial to the importance of responding. This is the kind of situation where you must learn to act regardless of how you feel. (Trust me, it gets much easier with practice. I’ve had a LOT of practice.)
The other point I want to make is that you have expressed an interest in my line of work on two occasions, and I have offered what I could in response. The first time, a few years ago, I offered to start work an hour earlier each day, at 7, to give you an hour of free hands-on instruction. I have not made such an offer to anyone, though had [my stepson, who attended the same school as “Jacob”] been alive today and interested in learning about my line of work, I would have done so for him. People from around the country contact me for advice and help, and I don’t have the time to give it to them. Others pay to take classes with me in woodworking schools. I was offering you instruction at no charge. It was totally fine that you decided to spend that time with the [local theater group] instead. Selfishly, I was happy not to have to add another hour to my [shop part of the] workday. But to contact me again about your interest in my kind of work, then not respond promptly to my reply, makes you appear less than serious in your interest. Honestly, it looks bad. If I were a prospective employer, this lack of response would make me choose someone else instead. Who knows? Maybe you got some great offer in the past 24-odd hours that you decided to take, in which case, yay! But that still does not obviate the need to acknowledge my response to your note, or that of anyone else in a comparable situation.
Let me offer a snippet of my own experience in contrast. When I was 20 and living in a rural village in England I decided that I wanted to learn to build furniture. I signed up for a City & Guilds course at the local vocational college. I didn’t drive; I couldn’t afford a car, let alone driving lessons. I rode my bicycle in all weather. You lived in England for a year; you have some idea of how miserably chilly it can be. I got chilblains, a precursor to frostbite, on my fingers and toes. But I showed up every morning at 7:45 and did the work along with the other students, then spent the afternoons working on a cobbled-together worktable in the dining room of the house my boyfriend and I were renting, so that I could earn some money to pay bills. That yearlong course was just the beginning of my education in my field. You really don’t start to learn seriously until you go to work in someone else’s shop and get some experience of the economic realities in this (or any) line of business. This is just a tiny peek into what serious interest looks like. It requires dogged perseverance and existential investment. And it is essential to be courteous to everyone with whom you come into contact, whether or not he or she is able to provide the kind of help you would like.
Again, this is emphatically *not* intended to criticize or reprimand you. I am writing in the spirit of helpfulness as someone who knows the ropes in her line of work, and as I said above, wants to see you flourish.
With the feminine version of avuncular affection,
Nancy–Author of Making Things Work