January 10, 2020

Building with your own hands

No, I don’t mean physically building something with your own hands like woodworking. Though if that’s what you like, great. I’m talking about learning to make something by yourself. Not buying a store-bought solution nor paying an ‘expert’ to do it for you.

If you had been reading this blog, you might have noticed a change in the web design recently. I had been working on the design for a week or so. And it had been deeply rewarding.

But firstly, I didn’t build it from scratch. To do that I would have to learn too many programming languages. That would be too overwhelming to learn within a week or two.

What I think is important is that we learn to build things with our own hands. Not everything. That’s not practical. But to do it enough, so that we don’t lose all our capabilities to build anything at all.

Pitfalls of outsourcing

In his book How Will You Measure Your Life, Clayton Christensen talked about the pitfalls of outsourcing in parenting by drawing an analogy from outsourcing in business. He described how the computer company, Dell, started outsourcing its consumer business to Asus. It got to a point where Dell’s computer was completely built and assembled by Asus. Through that process, Dell lost the capabilities to build a computer themselves.

Similarly, some of us outsource household chores to other people (e.g. domestic helpers) and appliances (e.g. dishwashers) that could help us. There is fundamentally nothing wrong with outsourcing. But Christensen argued that kids who don’t have a chance to learn how to solve simple problems at home will find it harder to tackle greater challenges in adulthood.

Now, I’m not about to get into parenting when I know very little of it. But drawing the link back to our lives, I think learning to build things with our hands teaches us to solve our own problems.

Solve our own problems

I had a vision of a website that I was trying to achieve. A design that’s simple, has ample whitespace and doesn’t distract people from reading. The old theme wasn’t working because I felt that it slowed the site down too much.

The problem was, I don’t have the budget for a web designer. The only other choice was to go the DIY route. I guessed that what I wanted shouldn’t be too hard as long as I start with a theme that is already close to what I envisioned.

I further cemented my belief that most, if not all, technical skills can be picked up along the way through this project. The lack of knowledge shouldn’t be an excuse to stop us from starting anything. Not when there are so many tutorials online for us to learn from.

The lack of knowledge shouldn’t prevent you from starting

If you want to start a business, you don’t need to wait till you have full accounting knowledge before you can start one. If you want to work in the creative industry, you don’t need (most of the time) higher education to start. Yes, you might not be able to earn a decent income from your work initially. But you just need to start making something.

Now, that doesn’t guarantee that you will make it. But if you don’t start trying, it’s guaranteed that you won’t make it. You will just continue to give yourself excuses. You will continue to tell yourself, “If only someone can spot my talent, take me under his or her wings, and give me the work that I deserve be doing”.

Except that it’s not gonna happen. Not if you don’t have anything to show at all.

Something is better than nothing

One of the biggest challenges I faced in architecture school was the studio environment. We were expected to have fresh ideas ready for discussion with our tutors every Tuesday and Thursday.

It was hard initially. I was very uncomfortable because I was not used to sharing ideas that are still raw and unpolished. But slowly, I realised that showing something, no matter how raw the idea is, is better than nothing. By putting something on the table for discussion, my tutors will have something to provide feedback on. When I don’t show anything, they can’t help me refine my ideas at all.

Maybe you want to make a career switch to interior design. Or maybe you want to work in the area of lifestyle content publishing.

Is there something that you can build to showcase your ideas? Even if you can’t find a client or an employer, can you show us your ideas in renderings, mockups, videos, writing, or anything else that you can think of?

Because if you can show someone what you built, maybe that will kickstart the process of refining your ideas. And perhaps eventually one day, you will find yourself in that career that you dream of.

What are you gonna start building?

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