Mia plunges into the life of self-taught woodworker Gary Rogowski, a 44-year-old craftsman who found mastery by choosing to repot himself.

In order to change, Gary Rogowski spent four years in his basement covered in sawdust. Like most of us, he didn’t graduate with a college degree in anything relevant to how he hoped to spend the rest of his time. In the years after graduating college, Rogowski bumbled through odd jobs like car mechanic and bartender, growing despondent over the prospect of his stagnant future. But as Gary would later write: “Fail in order to succeed better,” and that’s exactly what he did.

But as Gary would later write: “Fail in order to succeed better,” and that’s exactly what he did.

After returning to Portland, he scored a job working under a concrete pourer who was a very do-it-yourself kind of man. After enough times of his boss saying “I could build this!” Gary started to think the same. The key here was that when casual fascination caught his eye, he let it.

What I admired most about Gary’s story was his sheer disinterest in anyone’s opinion but his own. He chose to go down a different life path that he had a feeling would lead to the kind of life he wanted to live. We’ve been conditioned to believe that toiling in our basement for the equivalent period of time of a college education implies that we are an utter failure; but to Gary, it was a worthwhile investment. Instead of “going back in time,” Gary was putting in the subsequent time to master something he cared deeply about. When he re-framed the situation, Gary was able to humble himself at the bench, wrestle with table saws, kick up the sawdust, and emerge with a better view. I wish that for each of us who feels we’ve outgrown our pots.

Gary was able to humble himself at the bench, wrestle with table saws, kick up the sawdust, and emerge with a better view. I wish that for each of us who feels we’ve outgrown our pots.

The most beautiful thing about getting good at anything is that through our selfish pursuit of improvement and mastery, we can make our most selfless and worthwhile contributions, both to others and to the world. In this way, the skills we cultivate become our real gifts. Gary’s story teaches us to get creative and think about our life in terms of its quality rather than its expediency.

A Look at a Book is a series I’m hosting to help keep you informed about the latest books having to do with adult development and middlescence. A Look at a Book is an efficient, enjoyable way to stay informed. 

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