Trade school taught me more than a skill

Trade(trād) school taught me more than a skill

By Vera Oleynikova

As children, we do things we are not very good at. But as we get older, we develop our skills. We work horrible jobs in our teens(tēnz) and early 20s, but eventually we are expected to learn what we are good at and build careers around those things. By our 30s we are expected to have a skill-set that makes us money. But what if the skill-set we have is useless to the world? What if, for example, we are really good at walking on stilts(stilt) or writing personal essays(ˈesā)? What happens then? I guess in that case we would go to our backup skill-set. Well I had none, and I wanted to develop one. So, I did what most unemployed(ˌənəmˈploid) people in their 20s are told to do: I went to trade school.

The program I went into was called “cabinetmaking(ˈkab(ə)nətˌmākiNG),” but in addition(əˈdiSH(ə)n) to cabinets(ˈkab(ə)nət) we also made tables and coat(kōt) racks(rak) and footstools(ˈfo͝otˌsto͞ol) and serving trays(trā). It struck me as highly ethical(ˈeTHək(ə)l), even moral(ˈmôrəl), to work with wood. I mean, Jesus(ˈjēzəs) did it, right? Furniture(ˈfərniCHər) seemed like a good thing to be able to contribute to the world; a far superior(səˈpirēər) thing to contribute to the world than, say, an essay about how good looking you were at 19. (An actual essay that I sent to a magazine for publication. I have yet to hear back.) I thought it was going to be empowering, wielding(wēld) power tools and commanding(kəˈmandiNG) scary(ˈskerē) machines with ease(ēz). Instead, mostly what I learned at trade school is that I am not very good at making furniture.

I mean, at no point did I actually think I was going to be good at building furniture. I’m not handy. Nobody in my family is. As a child, I was given books and art supplies, not tools. My high school didn’t even have a woodshop. My high school had a golf team.