Working with your Hands

There’s something romantic about doing things by hand – from grinding coffee in an old wooden-based coffee grinder to fixing electrical connections to welding two pieces of metal together, there is a supreme satisfaction that comes from working with one’s hands.  I think our current society, with its emphasis on white-collar work, has lost a lot of this premise, and I also think that’s what contributes to the frustration and unhappiness of many men.

Men are hardwired to be providers.  Nothing says “I can provide for you” more than being able to work with one’s hands, as opposed to having to call someone to fix every little thing that happens in your life.  Usually, this revelation comes with home ownership, unless the homeowner has more money than brains.  But I would venture a guess that’s about as common as lottery winners.

If You Can’t be Handsome, be Handy

My personal struggle to become handier started some 25 years ago, but only made significant progress in the last five years.  But even now, I’m always intimidated by a new project, even one that I can accomplish.  Unlike my white-collar work, there is always more to the job than appears on the surface, and unlike white-collar work, this involves muscles and force and know how – otherwise things get broken.

One of the most difficult things for me to get over was the whole part about breaking things.  To a non-handy person, breaking something means it’s ruined.  Kaput – buying a new one.  To a Ph.D. (pretty handy dude) a broken item is no issue, just another problem to solve, but for the newly trying to be handy, it’s often a flashback to childhood standing over a broken toy with your mom’s scowling face bearing down on you.  I cant say I‘m over it yet, but I fight through the feeling mostly to get to where I need to be.  This last week, I had to fix two fairly major issues on one of my race cars, which normally would have been done by my Ph.D., with me trying to learn.  This time, I had enough confidence to fix one problem myself, a dead solenoid, and diagnose and fix a second one all on my own (a leaking radiator).  Neither of which is more than a 10-minute job each, but as this was going on to a car I rent to a customer, I had feelings of “this car will never finish” after I was done.  I’m happy to report that the car finished both races without incident.

My point here is that learning something new, anything new, is a journey.  For me, learning to be handier, and work with my hands has been a life-long goal, and I’ve dedicated the last several years toward getting better at it.  I could have never replaced these items on my own five years ago, nor would I have had the confidence to try.  The enjoyment I feel from being able to do these few little things on my own is difficult to fully explain.  It’s not that I just feel proud because honestly, it wasn’t very difficult work.  It’s that it makes me happy.  I have something to look at and definitively say “I fixed that.”  It also relaxes me.  There’s something about the nature of working with my hands to create something that calms my soul.

It’s Like Paleo, But for your Mind

It wasn’t that long in the past that these were crucial skills for survival.  Cavemen had to be able to work on their own cars for survival.  I kid, but you get the point, our innate need to work with our hands could very well be hard wired.  I know it is with me.  I’m deciphering this need I feel as some sort of creative cry from my soul, but I suspect it’s really just some sort of survival instinct that kicks in as we get older, and are less useful to the tribe.  We older dudes have tribal knowledge.  We know stuff, and until relatively recently, we had to pass that information down orally or by demonstration because there wasn’t any type of written record.

So I’ll go on soothing my soul by working with my hands – my next task is to master welding, something I feel a deep passion toward for some unknown reason.  What have you felt called to do in your life that you can’t explain?

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