Six months ago, I left my job. Soon after, I withdrew from my MBA program, and fully committed to this self-study. I thought I’d mark the occasion by reflecting on my experience so far. Without grades or performance reviews, it’s easy to get sucked into the day-to-day without looking at the bigger picture.
On the whole, this sabbatical is going well -- considering I’m making it up as I go. There hasn’t been a blueprint to follow, only loose inspiration from things like The Recurse Center. Not only have I had to teach myself, but I’ve also had to build the classroom, so to speak. In that, not having a blueprint has been good, allowing me to find a system that works for me.
My approach is extremely freeform. Ever since my first post, I’ve avoided goals. Anything’s fair game as long as I continue to learn. If I’m frustrated with manufacturing, I’ll switch to reading, or to drawing. If I’m fed up of writing “Composites in Plain English” articles, as I have been recently, I’ll stop for a bit.
To me, the beauty of a self-study is its freedom and it would be a shame to spoil it with schedules. That would feel like work.
When one of the Athenians said, "Nicander, you Spartans insist too much on your principle of doing no work," he said, "Quite true; we do not make work of this thing or that thing in your haphazard fashion."
Plutarch, Sayings of Spartans
I haven’t found motivation to be an issue. What could be more motivating that working on things I’ve been daydreaming about for years? Accountability hasn’t been an issue either. I tend to be extremely critical of myself. If anything, too critical.
As I was looking back on my first six months, I kept thinking, “I should’ve done more. All I’ve done is combine a milk glue with linen.” But I’ve done plenty.
On the newsletter side, I’ve gone from writing for family to having over two hundred subscribers. I’ve had interesting conversations with people from all over the world and even virtually met a few. My writing has gotten better. I’ve tried to show what I’ve wished others would show -- the twists and turns and failures along the way of creation, rather than an edited version that makes the author look like a genius and the hurdles to making things unbearably high.
On the engineering/manufacturing side, I’ve gone from not having made a full composite part by myself to a consistent habit of making something new every few days. I’ve worked almost exclusively on materials science, which is definitely not in my wheelhouse. I’ve made some things that I haven’t seen anywhere else -- like composites with hide glue and casein glue. And the casein glue composite, after dozens of iterations, feels like its on the cusp of being able to match the performance of a fiberglass/epoxy composite. I’ve got a composite from natural materials that I can build like an arts and crafts project rather than with a hazmat suit.
That’s pretty cool, but when I evaluate myself, I keep moving the goalposts. I keep picturing the things that I want to accomplish, the crazy ideas I want to build, and wondering why I haven’t made those things yet. But the goal, which I need to keep repeating to myself, is not any specific project but rather to become the person who’s capable of building those projects. And in that, I’m definitely progressing.
These reviews usually end with a look ahead, so let’s do that. In the next six months, I intend to keep learning. That’s all I’m promising. The only change I’ll make is that, before starting a project, I’ll write down what I would be proud to accomplish so I can give myself a little credit now and again. Everything else is out of my hands.
Corrections? Questions? Comments? I’d love to have your input. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on LinkedIn.
Drawing exercise #24. If you missed it, here’s why I’m learning to draw.