Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft

I recently finished the book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. I'll be honest and admit that I originally didn't expect to enjoy this book, mostly because I'm not really a “”let's get our hands dirty”” kind of girl–I can hardly cook, I do laundry about once a month (and average about at least one ruined article of clothing per wash), and I grew up having my dad do any necessary house/car/misc. repairs. But while there were many parts of the book where it was a little hard to relate, I still understand Crawford's main points.

First, here's a little background on Crawford. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago, served as a postdoctoral fellow on its Committee on Social Thought, and is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He also happens to be very passionate about motorcycles. In fact, he owns and operates Shockoe Moto, an independent motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA. So basically, this guy is the real deal.

In Shop Class as Soulcraft, Crawford describes some of his jobs after getting a higher education. To his disappointment, he found that most of the work he did stuck in a cubicle did not actually require him to challenge himself mentally. To make a long story short, he ended up opening up a motorcycle repair shop, and he enjoyed it much more than simply doing chug and plug autopilot kind of work in which he never got to see physical results. When he was describing the kind of work he previously did and how unsatisfactory it was for him, it really got me thinking about my own level of content with my own job. In describing the intricate and oftentimes frustrating process of learning as you go and figuring things out through trial and error while repairing motorcycles, it made me gain an appreciation for the work of mechanics that makes my life so much easier. It's a shame that blue collered jobs are looked down upon and viewed as “”lesser than”” in today's society, although their work is so important. It made me realize the backwardness of someone having a college education receiving more value than a tradesman who may actually produce more viable work.

Society today is pushing for everyone to have a higher education, and while I think that there are many great institutions out there, I don't think college is for everyone. Also, depending on the field, more knowledge may be acquired while getting actual hands-on experience in the work place than in a classroom. I really respected Crawford's decision to break from the conformity of society to do what he really feels passionate about. I don't think many people today with a Ph.D. would turn away from a white collar job to open up his/her own motorcycle repair shop. From Crawford's experience it made me realize that for some, in order to find true happiness it may require rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable. To some it may seem crazy and stupid, but it's your life, and you should do what you need to do in order to be content. As Crawford would say, “”Live well.””

Lastly, Crawford asserts that in order to be a better worker and to challenge yourself, you must learn to accept failure. You can never know too much; there is always something else to be learned. I think that is something we all forget from time to time as we become comfortable in our jobs and fall into a monotonous routine. We should continuously challenge ourselves even if the outcome isn't what we had hoped

it to be, and in doing so, we will become improved individuals who will take that experience and apply it to the next, thus doing what it takes to “”live well.””

So ask yourself, are you content? With your career? With your life? Are you doing what you want to do or are you simply following the path that society has already shown its approval towards?