“The Career Craftsman believes that compelling careers are not courageously pursued or serendipitously discovered, but are instead systematically crafted.” — Cal Newport

I went to the most amazing knife store today. No, not a Benchmade store — a cutlery store. Their whole angle (pun intended) was culinary knives. The owner, Jackie, is amazing. Did you know handles can bevel for left or right hands? And you can adjust both the bevel and knife’s edge to match the hand you use the knife with?

I’ve visited my share of upscale kitchen shops; no one ever took the time to consider how I would use the knife, and recommend the perfect blade. And with a custom wooden sheath? Yeah, I dropped major coin for one knife — now the most expensive piece of kitchen equipment I own. But it’s perfect — I can feel the story behind the blade when I use it. There’s a fair amount of maintenance required, but I’m fine with that.

Now, I’m nowhere near a chef. But it’s interesting how one art infuses and inspires another. Especially as I listened to the audience that rotated through this small store. This store is barely the size of my apartment. Yet, I heard about a dozen chefs talk about the tools of their trade; the stresses of their job; the lack of available talent; how much they enjoyed their grind.

It’s a similar dialogue you hear on base, on deployment, at the end of the week when the team does their after action, in the morning after that exciting 2 mile run for PT. Camaraderie through craft; yet when you transition, there’s little of that you can take outside.

Careers are systematically crafted. Usually, military careers become crafted by four year gates: 5, 10, 20, or 25. Some enter the uniform knowing how long they want to stay. Others are like me: You wake up one day, and realize you’ve stayed longer than you imagined. With the night’s horizon is closing in.

The military as a career and the military as a craft are two different things. It’s not semantics — a career is something you know you can do for decades, but it doesn’t consume you.

Careers never become your heart’s calling, just a ready passenger. It’s something you clock in, clock out for. But a craft — a craft doesn’t have a clock. Here’s how you know the difference:

The choices you make for your career may not be the choices you make for your craft.

Thinking about the knife maker I just invested in — this is his craft. This is all he makes: Not any other silverware or cutlery, just knives. He can spend the long hours failing at making mediocre knives, to make the best knives possible. The knife maker could go the mass production route, selling knives as a career. Instead, he’s chosen to sell knives as a craft. And you feel that craft in the blade.

When you look at service as a career, you see the start and finish. Yet when you look at service as a craft — everything inspires and informs progress. There is no end to a craft — you evolve, your craft evolves, and your service shifts as you get better and older. Time’s incessant turning tempers you.

As you consider your transition — instead of running between careers, think about your craft. Think about the craft you cultivated while you were in the service. How can that craft still come forward as you make it on the outside? Don’t think of the past as something you leave behind, but as the canvas that continues to inspire you.

If your career was a craft you could pursue, forever and without result, what would your craft be?