Clay can be dirt in the wrong hands, but clay can be art in the right hands.

- Lupita Nyong'o

For everyone stuck in the nine-to-five grind, it’s not always easy to draw clear lines between the professional and the personal. There’s always more work that needs to be done and more deadlines we need to meet. The professional life inevitably ends up encroaching on the personal life, and vice versa is also true. Very soon, the days bleed into each other, and before we realize it, another year is gone. That’s what makes following our passions even more important – it’s a way to stay grounded in reality amidst the turbulence of our lives. For this week’s feature, we have Eric Lizotte, Senior Customer Engagement Manager at Torry Harris, who has honed his passion for metalworking into fine art.

So, why gemstones? It’s not every day you come across somebody with such a specific set of skills. When asked about it, he recounted in his signature matter-of-fact demeanor, “I have always been something of a woodworker and metalworker. If I had to single it down to a singular point in time, it probably began with me tinkering with vehicles and electronics as a child.”

As Eric’s professional career began to take shape, his curiosity soon matured into an intense desire to build something material, something where you’re actually using your hands to create something. Eric’s first foray into artisanal craft was with wooden works. While he began small, by learning how to sand wood and make different types of wood fit together, he soon moved on to working with different types of exotic woods and fashioning them into different shapes.

Woodworking led the way to knifemaking – he went from carving wood to making knives with custom pommels from scratch. Starting with a piece of steel and forging it into a complete knife would require metal casting. And so, Eric graduated from knife-making to stone setting. It’s not mere fancy or luck that helped Eric get in touch with his passions; it was in fact a long and storied history of creating artisanal craftworks that led Eric to metalworking.

But again, working with jewelry and gemstones is not a cheap hobby by any means. While making jewelry is still manageable, gemstones are expensive, especially the ones worth having. Getting an accurate faceting machine is also an expensive affair, and even then, the faceting has to be done manually. So, why go through all this trouble? When we asked if it wouldn’t be simpler to pursue a passion that’s easier to master and less expensive, Eric’s reply was a simple, “Not really, no. Not to me.”

“For me, making jewelry and working with stones is very important, especially from the perspective of a software developer. From a professional standpoint, we can’t touch or hold anything we create. At best, you can tell your family that you created a transaction alert system for a banking portal, but you’ve got nothing to show them other than maybe a URL.” In a way, Eric’s journey perfectly sums up the dissociation tech workers tend to experience with their work. One way to deal with it can be to create something material, something physical – like for Eric’s case where it’s easier to say, “Hey I made this plaque, or hey I made this knife,” than explain the potential impact of an application feature.

For Eric, pursuing his passion for metalworking was not simply about the creative aspect of it; for him, it opened the gateway to a new world. His desire to learn and perfect his craft allowed him to meet a ton of people on Facebook who share the same interests as him. He was able to connect to a sizeable network of people, physically scattered all over the country but united by their common interest in creating jewelry and working on gemstones. “When you meet all these new people and talk to them, it’s very easy to get inspired. Now and then, we get together and share designs and design ideas on Facebook,” says Eric. According to him, once you set down the path of pursuing your passions, you’re already past the most difficult part.

For Eric, he has always had jewelry clubs, YouTube tutorials, and a vibrant, virtual community to support him on his journey. It’s a way for him to meet people from all over the world and not just the continental United States. He recounts, “I became friends with a woman who lives in Namibia, Africa. By sheer chance, she happened to be living 30km outside of one of the only mines on the planet producing the demantoid garnet. It wasn’t cheap, but I asked her to send me one.” In a similar vein, pursuing metalworking has allowed Eric to meet and collaborate with many such people. “I don’t sell anything I make, but I trade with people for faceted gemstones and sometimes pay jewelry makers with equivalent stones,” says Eric.

In his own words, pursuing his passion has been a great way to get out of the ‘software mindset’ once in a while. It’s always handy as an excuse to travel, and getting a piece of jewelry exactly, perfectly right is always very satisfying in the end. While Eric doesn’t sell any of his creations, he often donates them to charities for various causes like cancer, pet rescues, and more. Other than that, there’s the occasional request from a friend or family member. The tech space is fiercely competitive, and very often we find ourselves dealing with burnout or stress. Pursuing your passions can always be a good way to get some headspace and reset. So, take some time to pursue what interests you, and maybe, just maybe, it might add more meaning to both the personal and professional aspects of your life.