I was scrolling YouTube one afternoon when a video popped up from one of my favorite creators—a man known only as Pocket83. He never shows his face and rarely talks about anything more personal than his lawncare routine or tree felling methods, but he often espouses thought provoking ideals, philosophies, and common-man knowledge. His content is honestly refreshing and encouraging on a platform where the biggest creator tricks his friends into performing inane tasks for the promise of a big payout. When Pocket83 publishes a video, I know it will be worth my time watching and I always stop what I’m doing to do so.
In this particular video, Pocket83 was demonstrating a method he had devised to create a particular item for his wife. I don’t remember what the item was and it doesn’t really matter. The intention of the video was an instruction and demonstration for Pocket’s clever methods. My takeaway was something unintentional—a passing comment—that wedged itself firmly in my brain ensuring I wouldn’t sleep without ruminating on everything that I am—and am not.
Pocket shared with us that his reason for creating this object was that Mrs. Pocket had asked for it. She encountered a problem, brainstormed a solution, and asked Mr. Pocket to create this new thing of hers.
“She’s a woman of theory. I am a man of action,” Pocket83 mused.
In the video this simple statement was not called out or emphasized in any way. It was a transitional statement between explaining the device and introducing the methodology used to build the device. I enjoyed watching the process and put it out of my mind. I didn’t need this particular solution in my life, but I always enjoy the insight into Pocket’s methods. However, over the next several days—weeks even—I kept coming back to the second half of that statement: I am a man of action. It stuck with me because, I realized, I am absolutely NOT a man of action. (I am also not a woman of theory for anyone keeping score.)
Pocket83 wasn’t trying to be coy. I’ve watched his videos for countless hours and he seems to have an endless supply of creative solutions to common workshop problems. From an outside perspective, it appears as though he has all the time in the world to spend tinkering in his garage devising solutions to common problems, developing interesting projects, creating puzzles, and philosophizing on life lessons. In his content I see the exact opposite of myself. While I have an abundance of free time, I rarely put that time to good use. Again, I am not a man of action.
If you were to ask me to make something for you, I would enthusiastically agree and ask a lot of questions. We would have a brainstorming session where we devised—together—all the materials, facets, and goals of the project. I would enthusiastically start blocking out time (in my head) to begin putting our plan into action. A few months later, you’d ask me about the project’s progress, and I’d announce that I’m “almost ready to go” or maybe “nearly there.” Lies. The truth is, I have either completely forgotten about your project or I have thought my way into a corner that I cannot foresee a way out of and I am frozen in a state of panic over a colossal mound of unknowns. I shut down, move on to something else, and your project sits on my bench unfinished—or more likely unstarted.
This exact scenario has played out so many times in my life that I rarely say yes anymore. It’s just not worth disappointing myself by agreeing to something that will only result in disappointment for you. This is me prescribing your disappointment. At the peak of that colossal mound I imagine you, looking at my creation, and judging it unfit.
My experience, however, has taught me that my friends are rarely disappointed in my results should I actually see them through. They are always happy with whatever I create—despite my loathing of the obvious failures and flaws that I see in it. These blemishes are usually infinitesimal and go completely unnoticed by everyone but I have deemed them to be gigantic faults. The worst part of all is knowing that this is all in my head, and yet nothing changes.
I’ve fought an internal war with myself for decades. One half is the staunch supporter of “Done is Better than Good”, and the other defends “Anything Less than Perfection Is an Atrocity”. These two ideals are constantly fighting each other while I watch from the sidelines with zero influence over the outcome. I empathize with both and sometimes—rarely—I have influenced the battle to one side or another.
In my twenties I had a dream of being a successful board game designer. I designed dozens of games and all through that process my shelves—both external and internal—were littered with the carcasses of failures. For the dozen games I did complete, there were scores of unfinished failures. I learned that failure was part of the model for growth, and I strived to push through. To this day, when I am working on a game design, I am still able to accept failure as a valid outcome. I fail, I create solutions, that fails, I engineer further solutions, and I repeat this pattern until the game works or becomes something far removed from my intentions.
Why is failure only an option for me when it comes to designing games? Why can’t I apply this wisdom to my other passions?
I enjoy woodworking. Before Melia moved in with me, she asked me to build her a desk. She needed some space to keep personal items and a place to work when she was here. I agreed and we worked on a design together until we were both happy. We settled on a simple design and I threw in a few new building techniques to keep it interesting. We went shopping for supplies and I set about making the desk.
There was swift progress at the start. I made a top out of hardwood cherry that was both beautiful and durable. We broke down furniture-grade plywood to build the carcass and drawer boxes. I completed those in a weekend. Then it came time for the drawers and the project came to a screeching halt. Things weren’t going to plan. I wasn’t able to assemble it all the way I wanted. I wasn’t sure I knew how to make the drawers both functional and sturdy to fit the design. I doubted I knew how to apply finish to the desk. When I made the top it didn’t come out as flat and even as I had expected and would need to be sanded for hours to fix it. I failed.
The desk sat in that state for months before I had the courage to continue. We talked about it. She was upset, but she helped work me through the blocks I was having. One day she told me to just go try—make something and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll go buy more wood and try again. To her, it was that easy. We’d just go get more. No big deal. That was a major complication for me that I simply couldn’t afford to think about. Just go buy more? That costs money!
I now understood—money was the blocking factor for me. I feared messing up on a fifty dollar piece of wood. Making a mistake didn’t just mean that the desk wasn’t perfect, that mistake also represented a financial failure—waste. I had spent so much of my life being poor I demanded a total absence of waste in my life. I was building this desk because I could make what we wanted for less than we could purchase it. We weren’t poor at that particular time, but we weren’t doing great either. Fifty dollars wasn’t going to ruin us—it wouldn’t really bother us much at all—but it became an insurmountable figure in my mind. With enough mistakes, the project could easily cost more than something store bought and then why go through all the trouble?
Later, I learned that money wasn’t even a consideration on this project for Melia. She hadn’t considered the price when asking me to build her a desk. She asked me to build the desk because she wanted something that we designed, and I built. She wanted an experience and something to treasure. The desk was a byproduct.
I was the one that placed a price tag on the finished desk. I had presumed we were doing this to save money and I projected that supposition onto her. It was obvious to me that I needed to build the desk because we couldn’t afford to go to the store and buy one. To my client—my girlfriend—that wasn’t the reason at all!
I’ve come to understand that being a “Man of Action” doesn’t correlate with always being busy—or even with jumping to do something the moment you have an idea. You can be a Man of Action and a Man of Thought at the same time. One does not preclude the other. Being a Man of Action simply means doing what you say you are going to do in a timely manner. That could be minutes or years. You’ll have to work that out with the client—and stop projecting!
I built that desk in 2019 and I’ve made progress since. I’ve finished heaps of projects and became better at setting expectations with myself. On my quest to become a Man of Action—or in the very least, more like a Man of Action—I have learned that it is not my responsibility to ascribe value to my craft. I can afford that extra fifty dollars of mistakes. I can afford hundreds of dollars worth of mistakes—maybe even thousands—because at the end of those mistakes lies a lesson in what to do differently next time. The greatest achievements in improvement come after hardship and difficulty. It’s the tough times that teach us the lessons we need to learn. Hardships show us how to ignore the insignificant.
Becoming a Man of Action involves doing. Doing involves failure—it’s a vital part of the process. Learning to accept the failures may be the hardest lesson to learn. I’m still working on it, but it’s getting better!