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Bag of Tricks

Peter Elsea in the 70's

Professor Peter Elsea completely changed my view of what a person can do when he taught me that skill is nothing but a bag of tricks.

The thing is, just about anyone can express music to some degree. Anyone can make a picture, or cook a meal. It might not taste very good, but perhaps that’s simply due to a dearth of tricks in the cuisine bag.

Baby Steps

Every day I learn some new tricks and do my best to remember them. Eventually I become competent and even successful at the things that I study.

What I most appreciate about this perspective is that it makes the extraordinary digestible. It is granular. Great artists are great because of the amount of passion they bring to their art. However, the passion is never devoted solely to the finished product. It has to be for the process as well.

It’s like a beaver building and patching the dam. I know that beaver isn’t as excited about being a dam builder as she is excited about doing a good job of patching that hole or placing that log in particular. The beaver is a great dam builder by virtue of loving the process of building a dam.

Or take the example of a parent and a child. We don’t have kids with the intent of making a masterpiece. We have them so that we may enjoy every stage of their growth. The more thoroughly we engage in every day of their lives, the more likely the child is to grow up healthy, wise, and loving.

Cross Platform

What blows my mind is how this can be applied to anything. Just as a true artist is one who brings art to anything she does, the concept of a bag of tricks can be applied to everything.

  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Singing
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Loving
  • Etc…

My sister, Sadye, was struggling with an essay for school. We talked about it and worked out an approach to essay writing: learn each part of the process of writing an essay and add it to your bag of tricks. Adopt each essay writing skill as your own, and grow to be comfortable with it. No one becomes an expert over night. But over time Sadye is becoming a fantastic writer.

Your Bag

Everyone has a bag of tricks. In fact, everyone has a bunch of bags of tricks. What’s your bag?




I lead a fantastic team of WordPress developers building enterprise level WordPress systems. On occasion I have been known to speak at conferences on the topics of Freelancing, WordPress, and the meaning of life, though I tend to spend much of my performance energy on my music. Perhaps one day I will figure out how to merge the two without having to write songs about debugging Javascript.