On Craft and the Human ConditionMarch 19th, 2020 · 10 comments
In Deep Work, I tell the story of Ric Furrer, a general blacksmith who runs a forge in Door County, Wisconsin: a rural idyll near Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay. He works in a converted barn whose doors he often keeps open to the surrounding farm fields to vent the heat, his hammer blows echoing for miles. He makes a living with architectural metal work, but he’s known for his rare mastery of ancient weapon forging techniques. I came across him in a 2012 Nova episode in which he recreates a viking sword using crucible steel (see above).
In Deep Work, I write the following:
“Ric Furrer is a master craftsman whose work requires him to spend most of his day in a state of depth — even a small slip in concentration can ruin dozens of hours of effort. He’s also who clearly finds great meaning in his profession. This connection between deep work and a good life is familiar and widely accepted when considering the world of craftsmen.”
As I then elaborate, there’s something about mastery that resonates with the human condition. When we observe someone successfully apply a hard-won skill — an athlete, a writer, a leader, an adventurer, a musician — we become rapt, our admiration unmistakable. We also, crucially, tend to feel a moment of inspiration in which we experience a compulsion to pursue something noteworthy ourselves.
I take such intuitions seriously, as they tend to point us toward the things we deeply need. The conclusion here being that the incremental but upward road to mastery — whether it’s in some professional endeavor or hobby — is fundamental. A quick tap on a glowing screen can conveniently banish boredom in the moment. To instead redirect that instinct toward your equivalent of Furrer’s blacksmith hammer, however, can be transcendent.