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Scott A. Roush

Focus

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I'm probably not the only one.. But I have a hard time focusing. I admire people like Peter Johnsson and others who are deeply committed to a particular genre of craftsmanship and take it to it's highest levels. I often wish I was that way. Mostly because I do this full time as my sole source of income (my portion of the household anyway). I know that I would be more efficient and would likely have an easier time attracting a solid base of collectors for my work if I could just settle on something and take it is as far as I can. But I struggle with this. I have my whole life actually... I've done everything from pHD level evolutionary biology to tuna fishing to dive boat captain to nature/travel photography. I have so many interests that drag me this way and that and I can't help but to follow these temporary passions or whatever you might call them. These 'passions' are not actually *temporary* as I've always had them and always will.. but they come in cycles. I feel like the best thing that I can do is find the connections between these interests and focus on those.. and hope this comes through clearly in my work and that I can make a career for myself based on those intangibles. I feel like this makes me more of an 'artist' rather than a 'craftsman' though and it's the true 'craftsman' that I admire the most but feel I will never achieve unless I can bloody focus on something.

 

As I indicated above.. I would truly love this about myself if it was not for the fact that I need to run a business. So.... what do you folks suggest? :wacko:

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I have the same problem. Seeing the bank account dwindle usually gives me a more narrow focus. ;)

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I have the same problem. Seeing the bank account dwindle usually gives me a more narrow focus. ;)

that is so true it hurts.

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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Thought you might enjoy that...

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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Thought you might enjoy that...

 

Specialization is for insects. George... I will NEVER forget that quote. :-)

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Be analytical about it. Find the things that bring you the best return on your money for time invested, and focus your business time on those. Everything else becomes a hobby that you allocate time and funds too. If neither of those exist, then neither does the hobby until time and fund become available. Artist as a profession can be chaotic. I have relatives that are artists, and all of them focused their work energies into places that made them the most comfortable. They then had much more leeway(fundwise and timewise) to explore the other things that they love.

Incidentally, this is why I never had any desire to run my own business. I love the clear delineation between work and play. Trying to make a living out of something I love like this would pollute it for me. I respect you guys that are able to not have this happen.

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Yeah Wes.. this is something I know.. but have a hard time putting into practice. I can usually find buyers for all of my work.. I've quit worrying about that. The issue usually comes down to me becoming interested in new techniques all the time and I just don't get the return I need from the time and effort. And since I poke around a lot into different areas I haven't had time to develop a collector base within that genre. For example.. I'm doing some very difficult Japanese style work right now and I have not yet found that market.

 

As to doing this as a job versus not... Well for me it's partly because of where I live. We live in a beautiful place with very few job options and we came here specifically for a job that I just could not live with anymore (gillnetting on Lake Superior). So I started selling the products of my hobby. I believe I WOULD prefer to keep this at the hobby level.. but on the other hand I probably would not have had the time to take it as far as I have. I NEED to figure out a way to teach. That would take a lot of pressure off of the business side and is something I immensely enjoy.

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I know you know this, but sometimes it helps to hear it from someone else. I actually understand your issue quite well as I find lots of things fascinating. So much so that I have to control what I spend my money on rigorously. It is a constant self examination of what I want and if it is practical. I unfortunately tend to only want to love expensive hobbies, either in time or money. My wife is also good at curtailing any excesses.

 

It's even worse for you since time is money. Do you record your time spent on anything related to work?

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I have something of the same problem.I wonder, from your description, if the problem is not focus on the thing your doing but the impulsive behavior to go on to something else. Your phrase " I can't help but follow these temporary passions" would seem indicative of an impulse control issue. The mention of these " temporary passions" occurring in cycles could also be significant.Do you have any cyclical mood problems? I am only going on what I have lived with and what you have posted. That being said, have you considered the possibility of an underlying condition?

 

Daniel

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Jack of all trades and Master of one...........Is what my Dad always said . not sure where it comes from.

 

I think there needs to be a dominant path to govern the dendritic off-shoots . everything is interesting but its not all doable.

 

I think it has merit to focus on one main path even if you have to slightly con yourself into keeping interested in it. I see my smelting as part of the main path of my work adding nurture and depth , a more sceptical or analytical view would dismiss it as a waste of time and money but it keeps me interested and keeps the learning progressing.

If I get bored I am dead in the water and I have to try and keep the interest in the work up , sometimes that can involve a little peripheral stimulation.

 

I have got to the stage where the periphery urges are more easily controlled. I have managed to avoid glass blowing completely (for example)

 

Tools are another thing all together. I would probably get another 4 days work a month out of myself if I just had the tools I really needed and didn't find fixing acquiring and understanding them interesting.

Edited by owen bush

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You could be like me and be ADD/ADHD. I find myself pulled in different directions and have a hard time sticking to one thing for very long. I normally have four or five projects going at one time. When I get tired of doing one, I go to another for a while and so on and so on. With bladesmithing, I have found that it is fairly easy to forge the blade. When it comes to making bolsters and handles I have a really hard time, and finishing a knife. I do it because I love it, but I also do it to make money. But the amount of time it takes me to finish a knife hardly seems worth it. I realize I am just at "apprentice" level and I will get better with time, but damn it's frickin hard. I am determined to continue because I have come too far to give up now. I guess as they say "I must forge ahead" or "keep my head to the grinding stone" those metaphors seem appropriate to the subject matter eh?

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Thanks guys.

 

Yes.. I probably have ADHD .. but what does that even mean anymore. I do need to take better control and put forth a stronger organization regime and most importantly as Owen says.. have better impulse control when the muse strikes like lightning. That might just be the heart of the matter right there.

 

Dan.. No mood issues that I'm aware of. Might have to talk to the wife on that one... ;-)

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I have this issue, to a lesser degree than when I first started.. I found that i need to keep a list in my head of what needs to be done. things I want to do (not getting paid for, spec. work, practice, test work etc) get added to the the end of that list. writing is down can help but this list needs to be somewhat fluid. I come in the shop and start on the fist thing on the list. I plan out what I am going to do and in what order before I ever even heat the bar so it becomes a check list in my head (forge, grind, heat treat, polish,make hilt handle pommel etc) when I feel stuck or unmotivated, I try and just do the next thing on the list.. the only time I switch jobs is when it makes things more efficient (get four swords ready for heat treat at same time) or when I mess something up .. and I get in to that situation where I am making things worse trying to fix what ever I messed up, that is a sign I need to stop , switch to something else and come back to that later.

The most important thing I have found is to just start. just do what needs doing. I tend to try and avoid what I don't want to do. I drag my feet take lots of breaks etc. but I need to remember (and reminding my self through the list helps) that the fasted I get the thing I don't want to do do the sooner I can work on something I want to.. with the ironwork I will set a time to switch say 4pm then go on to what every else I want or need to work on.

I don't know if any of this will help but it is something all of us struggle with to a greater or lessor deg, we all need to find ways to motivate/ discipline our selves.

MP

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Id be very reluctant to put too much fetter on that Muse.....a lot of my best work has been spontaneous muse fed rolling with it.

The muse can be pretty good at fishing out the best from the swirling pool of possible directions.

 

Jesus has it about rite .

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Making something, planning out the how and following through - even though it does not work exactly as you thought, to me, is at the center of the creative desire. Building a business does not have to be any different. I guess what I'm saying is perhaps keep the process in mind. Making a knife is fun, you get to play with fire, excercise your creativity, there are plenty of challenges to overcome. However, it is still work. Hard, dirty, work. When the work is all done, though, you have something tangible.

 

Making a living off your work is no different, there are plenty of challenges to overcome. There is plenty of hard, dirty, work but, keeping records for tax purposes is not really different than sanding hardened steel... They are both a means to an end, something you do to get from A to B. When you finish a knife, you can hold it in your hand, swing it around - it is imediately, physically tangible. Making a living is no different but, you cannot hold it in your hand. You have to develop the habit of lifting your eyes off the workbench, looking around, and saying to yourself "Self, I built this. Everything here is a product of my desires and effort. I didn't just go find a job... I MADE one!"

 

Yes, making what will put money in the bank can suck - if you let it - but, getting it done is no different then sanding hardened steel. Just part of the process. It is YOUR business YOU have control, yeah you may have to build 100 hunters to make ends meet this year but, they do not all have to be the same. Working for someone else, a chair factory for example, they do all have to be the same and the only real control you have is working there or somewhere else.

 

Bruce

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Good thread. I too have focus issues, or to put it another way I find so many processes interesting that I can't stick to just one!

 

I get what I call "enthusiasms", AKA "I just must start this elaborate, non-money-making project right away". (It seems to be a family trait, on my mom's side especially :D ). I've been trying to implement a waiting period on these urges; I give myself a week or two to calm down, really think about why I want to do the project, and what it will gain me. Often the waiting period short-circuits the impulsive project starting, or a least lets me plan better how to go about it.

 

All the same, I'm usually sitting on several half-finished impulse projects at any given time (currently: a pair of moccasins and a medieval crossbow). It's just how my brain works, I guess; I'd be quite bored without a few pet projects to play with. As long as I can keep it balanced with paying work I'm OK with it...

Edited by Orien M

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Great input folks... I appreciate it. Yeah... I have to agree about following my inspiration.. those are the projects where I shine. I drag my feet on commissions based on knives that I've made 100 times. I also drag my feet on projects that are not going well. Reading about ADHD types and procrastination.... there is a lot of perfectionism amongst creative people with focus issues. And this manifests itself in procrastinating on difficult projects in which you feel will be inadequate. This is something that has become much stronger over the last couple of years for me. But this has been beneficial in terms of the final project. If something is going wrong I now just set it aside rather than rush it to completion for the paycheck.

 

"I just must start this elaborate, non-money-making project right away" ....Orien.. are you sure we aren't brothers? Good advice on letting it simmer... following my 'muse' has not always paid off.

Edited by Scott A. Roush

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Scott,

 

Go with who you are. The results will be better :) Some people like to spend their whole life doing one thing and becoming a true master. That isn't for me. I like variety. My story doesn't help you focus on a knife style, but perhaps my outcome will help you see how you can gain value from diversity.

 

When I was a kid, someone told me I should plan for what I want to be when I grew up. I decided I wanted to be like the old guy down the street that knew how to do everything. You know who I am talking about, the guy in the neighborhood that everyone took their broken stuff to, and he would help them fix it. Most of the people on this board are probably that guy. I thought about this for a long time because it bugged me. Even as a kid I knew it was a foolish goal, but I was always drawn to it.

 

I've spent most of my life jumping from one interest to another, and I have a long list of things I still want to do. I almost always get very passionate about something for a while. Sometimes the hobby sticks, and other times it fades away. However, after 40-some years of doing this, I'm beginning to become the guy people in the neighborhood come to when they want something fixed.

 

I'm fortunate in that I got to go to engineering school. I've had a great career as an engineer, mostly because I am willing to work outside my comfort zone to do something completely new. People seek me out to do their new development projects because I can fold a wide variety of experiences into my work.

 

I now scoff at "Jack of all trades, Master of none" I may never be a master at anything, but this jack can adapt and overcome when things don't go according to plan.

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Thanks for this post Brian... great story. I too have always admired the Jack-of-all-Trades guy. I think a lot of people do. Look at the stylized 'Renaissance Man' and folks like Leonardo Da Vinci.

 

I would prefer to fall in the category that Owen brought up.. 'Jack-of-all-Trades, Master of ONE'. I really like the smack of that.

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Someone I know is a craftsman and makes his living with it. He is e really good smith and his name is well known in the Northern Europe viking circle. But what makes him really outstanding are his shifting focuses. Not like now a smith next year a programmer. He looks for new things in the craft. Every winter, when he is not on "viking fairs" he learns one or two new skills that are still near the topic but new. Last year he became a descent silver smith. The year before he learned to make outstanding enemalded pendants. And everything flows in his knifes and swords at the and. What I have learned from him is that you should not try to focus on one thing the whole time, but to look around what interests you that could flow in your craft. The best craftsman are not those who only make an outstanding blade (of course it's still an art, and I would like to be able to do that), but those who make an knife/sword/axe/whatever that is like a complete package. Right now I have stepped back from smithing to learn goldsmithing. I think/hope when I have learned that my pieces will be more one of a few.

Edited by melf

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Short answer, "planned spontaneity".

 

Longer answer, you are aware of your focus issue, in general at least, and that actually provides the solution. Structure promotes focus, but can also feel very restrictive, resulting in a "rebound" effect. Basically, holding yourself back until you "have to" give in will usually result in you going further down your rabit trail before you can reign it back in.

Planning in spontaneous tangents feeds your drive to bounce, and makes it easier to control them.

 

I will now step away from my keyboard before I get stuck on giving the best answer I can craft...

I am convinced I have "brief" response bouncing around in my brain at the moment, along with a "simple" explaination of the biopsychosocial processes behind these issues.

 

Unfortunately, brief means I might keep it to 5 chapters and simple means that a Masters in psych or neurophysiology would be sufficient prerequisites, no PhD required...

 

My issue is, you have just flagged me down and asked me to chase the most gargantuan and compelling rabit trail in my existance. I have a severe case of ADHD and have spent half my life studying it in minute detail. Along the way, I somehow managed to pick up a Masters degree in community counseling with an emphasis on differential diagnosis and a specialty on ADHD. I got licensed as a professional counselor and now do emergency psych evals, because it is unpredictable enough to be the only category of paying work that will hold my attention more than a week at a time.

Back to my previous point, I will now actually step away from my keyboard before I find yet another thought to chase and end up typing ad infinitem.

 

Scott, if you care to discuss in more depth, send me a PM.

 

Ok, for real, I'm stepping away...

James

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