Don't Forget to Sharpen Your Ax

There are always times when we try do too much. We take on too many projects and allow the weight of the world to be placed upon our shoulders.

We think we are strong and can power through anything and we suffer in silence, wrapped in the warm steam of our own stress.

Our ego is often swollen and fed by our labors. We tell ourselves that no one else knows how hard we are working. No one else has their nose to the grindstone like we do. We are martyrs. We look around and everyone is enjoying the sun, laughing while we slave away.

When I was trying to get into nursing school I took a college algebra class with a friend who was trying to get into dental school. It was summer session, so after a long class, we would go to the tutoring center at the college to grind through hours of homework while the world lolled about in the sun. I wanted to be home with my family and my new-born daughter. I hated math, hated that I was in my late 30's and starting from scratch trying to build a new career to support my family.

I would grind away at the homework, never taking a break or allowing myself a moment of daydreaming.

 "I have to get this done," was the mantra that a mouthed with each new problem.

Each day my friend and I would start our homework at the same time and each day we would finish within a few minutes of each other, closing our books and walking out together.

Yet my friend would punctuate his homework with frequent stretches and walks around the building to enjoy the sun. One day while walking out I asked how he manged to get the same work done while finding time to sit on the grass while I was working.

His response to my question is one of my favorite parables - one which my friends and coworkers have often heard me repeat.

Here is what he told me:

Two lumberjacks went into the woods one day. One was young and ambitious, the other was old and wise. The young lumberjack was eager to prove how much stronger and faster he was and so he worked furiously throughout the day, never taking a moment of rest. As the day progressed, he often found the old lumberjack sitting on a stump relaxing while he worked. He felt sure that his dogged efforts would outstrip the old man when the tally was made at the end of the work day. 

Yet when the work was totaled, the old lumberjack had equaled the work of the strong young man. 

How could this be, he asked the old man in frustration. It seemed like every time I looked around you were taking a break. How could you possibly chop as much wood as I did? 

The old man smiled and said: 

"Every time I took a break, I was sharpening my ax."


Originally posted at my blog. 

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