April 7, 2014
June 30, 2012
June 19, 2012
Somewhere during this last year I became a carpenter. Back in the day when I thought of what I’d be doing with my life around the age that I am right now, being a carpenter was not on the list. Or anywhere near the list, for that matter. But here I am, in the year 2012, with a tool belt around my waist, stain underneath my fingernails, splinters in my hands, and it’s beginning to dawn on me that I actually love this line of work.
I’ve spent months avoiding that word. Love. It’s like being in the early stages of a relationship and neither of you wants to be the first to say it for fear that it won’t be reciprocated. Or that as soon as you say it things will get messy and ugly and won’t be as fun as they were before. But once I was honest with myself and got up the courage to look carpentry straight in the eye and say it out loud in a sweet, yet steady and determined voice, “I love you carpentry,” things started to click.
Drew and I have wanted to go into business together since we first met during one of those long, hot, languid summers in Ann Arbor, nearly 11 years ago. We didn’t know exactly what type of business we wanted to start, we simply knew that we had to work together, side-by-side even, as it turns out. It has since taken us nine of those 11 years of living in different cities around the country, trying our hand at what felt like a million different jobs, to find our home here in East Nashville.
Then randomly one day, six months into living here, we started Space Lift.
I suppose it wasn’t completely random. Drew has carpentry skills, I have business skills, we both have people skills, but when you actually go ahead and take the plunge and people start paying you real money for real services you’re providing, it feels a little bit like you have no idea what you’re doing. And I’m beginning to think part of that feeling never really goes away. I mean, does anyone really know what they’re doing? Apart from surgeons I guess, or rather, I hope. And maybe astronauts who go out into orbit and fix the space station. If I was dangling out in space, I’d like to feel pretty confident with my skill set.
There are quite a few things I’ve learned about myself during our first year in business together, like the fact that I am not as patient as I once thought I was. It’s one thing to keep it together during the two hour wait at the DMV (which I’m still not very good at), but it’s quite another to watch the building process slowly unfold over the course of a project, knowing that you’re not really going to have that “holy crap we BUILT this!” type of moment until the very end of the very last day when it’s installed in the client’s house. There are a lot of conversations in our shop that begin with, “Imagine how good this is going to look when it’s all finished…..!, “ as we stand there staring at a wooden shell of a box that still needs to be sanded, then sanded some more, then stained and buffed and tung oiled and buffed again and oiled again, and hell, maybe even one or two more times to make it absolutely perfect.
It took me until, oh, I don’t know, a few weeks ago, to truly accept and enjoy the process of building things with wood. It’s not as if I hated it all along, although if you asked me what I thought about it when we were building 40 cabinets for a hair salon out of a 300 sq ft garage last fall, I might have used the H word once or twice. That job forced me to question everything I thought I wanted with this business of ours. And when we started working 100+ hour weeks of non-stop physical labor during the final push to get everything done, because that’s about the time when it occurs to you that you may have slightly (or hugely) underestimated how long it would take to actually build and laminate 40 cabinets with their accompanying doors and drawers, I realized with blinding clarity that I really had absolutely no idea what I wanted with any of it. All I knew was that I most certainly did not want to do this again. And that laminating is for the birds.
But perhaps everyone who starts a business goes through some type of similar experience. Because how else are you supposed to know what you want if you aren’t certain of what you don’t want? Even though determining what you don’t want is the easy part, at least in hindsight, because deep down you probably knew you weren’t that into it from the get-go. The hard part is figuring out how to transform this whole carpentry charade into a viable, creative, profitable, and dare I say it, fun, business that has an actual long term future. A future that fills you with confidence and self-worth.
As I’ve been writing this over the last few weeks, Space Lift has continued to evolve and I have realized, yet again, that I really have no idea what the future holds. In fact, sometimes it feels like the longer we’re in business, the less I know. But it’s a familiar feeling, that sense of being both simultaneously lost and exhilarated. Like the countless times I’ve been new to a school or a job or a city and realized, despite the overwhelming sense of the unknown, how great it is to be able to reinvent yourself. To be whatever you want.
So here I am, a business owner, which is something I’ve wanted since I was probably eight years old and had the keen notion to double my lemonade stand prices during the Ann Arbor Art Fair, as people would straggle back to their cars parked on my street, hot and thirsty for a lukewarm cup of Country Time. And even though I feel confused a lot of the time, and wonder how to navigate it all, this whole business thing just feels right. The saws, drills, clamps, nail guns; my framing hammer that makes me feel like a total badass; the idea that a plain old piece of wood can so easily be turned into something sublime, much like sewing I’ve come to realize; and the simple fact that Drew and I get to work together everyday and build a business that is uniquely our own, a dream of ours since we met. It’s a good thing to see your dreams start to come true.
And that’s about all I know right now.