Working with Your Hands to Achieve Efficacy

by Jed Rudd

“Working with your hands gives you the confidence that you can effect change.”

— Yvon Chouinard


I bought my first polyurethane surfboard for $25.

I was trying to progress from an 8 foot foamie into the world of “real” surfing. I knew this was a long way off from “real” surfing as the complex list of developmental skills needed to be anywhere near competent were still years away and typically measured by the inches lost from your craft: the smaller the board you can effectively ride, the higher your skill level. On a similar note, the larger and more complex the wave you can effectively ride, the better you are. But I was just trying to progress one step at a time. So, I bought this used, dinged up, piece of garbage for $25. I figured if it lasted one session, I’d made my money back. And I might be able to learn to repair its plentiful dings in the process.

Over the years, that $25 board has delivered on its promise of incessant repairs. But I uncovered a practical skill and a form of meditation and internal development in the process!

An early pic of this $25 beauty – notice the white ding repairs. Yes. I did those repairs. And yes, surfers made fun of the board.

I first read Yvon’s opening quote/idea in his book, “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Business Man.” Yvon started his business journey as a craftsman, creating mountain climbing related gear with his hands, but continued to practice his craft even as the company he founded, Patagonia, grew into the impressive organization it is today.

As leaders in work and life, we need practices that build and reinforce efficacy – so let’s define those topics first:

Self-efficacy – an individual’s belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals.

Now for a leadership riff on that concept – prepare to be wowed:

Leadership efficacy – a leader’s belief in their capacity to act in ways necessary to reach specific goals.

As a leader, I often work through people or through systems/processes to achieve my end result. This leads to some challenges “feeling” the impact of my work. When I was a clinician, I could see the impact of my treatments. People came in worse off and left with measurable improvements. Cause and effect were very evident. When your work is more diffuse – that sense of immediate efficacy can become frustratingly opaque. Sometimes our work has immediate impacts but then we might struggle to see our impacts as a parent, friend, or colleague. Regardless, I believe we all can benefit from feeling efficacy.

The act of working with your hands and the associated troubleshooting of a mechanical project is an exercise that develops self-efficacy – and can bleed into your leadership efficacy (at work or in life). You are strengthening the muscles of efficacy when you work with your hands.

Ignore the guy – this photo was taken in December of 2023 during a surf trip. That old board is still getting in the ocean!

My life, before I bought that aged surfboard, was filled with yardwork and house repairs that required “work with my hands,” but I didn’t have something that I did for joy and recreation that was centered on my hands. I think that’s a key aspect of effecting change, it has to start from a place of play. Perhaps you “work with your hands” but does that work bring you joy?

As I began learning the art of surfboard repair, I found something meditative. I got lost in the process – the tinkering, problem solving, and endless frustrations were somehow invigorating. I found tremendous gratification in the step-by-step evolution of the product or outcome.

The most recent updates – refinishing & repainting

So, this old dinged up surfboard that I could easily throw in the trash and buy a new “better” one, turned into more than just an exercise of being thrifty or sentimental. It’s a leadership and spiritual practice that happens to have a net result in less waste and increased joy/stoke. Interestingly, when I lose touch with this practice or a similar type of “working with my hands”, I notice a decrease in my overall performance in leadership and life. It seems harder to see/feel the impact of my work – and my joy within work and life decreases.

I believe Yvon is right. Working with your hands supports your efforts in creating change. If you don’t have something in your life that allows you to “work with your hands”, I’d encourage you to start exploring! Find something that is just for you, devote time on a consistent basis – and assess your efficacy – leadership, self, and otherwise!

A few closing questions – please email me your thoughts at and let’s continue the exploration!

  1. Do you feel like you have personal/leadership efficacy?
  2. What do you do to develop and “hone” that efficacy?
  3. What could you do with our hands to practice efficacy?




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