Sharpening Your Ax

There is something that most people miss when talking about success or living the life of their dreams. They think that if they work hard, and do all the “right” things that a big reward will roll their way and then they can stop doing whatever it was that reaped that grand reward and begin enjoying their lives.

They miss the point: the work is the point.

Not in some I’m-only-here-to-slave-my-life-away-and-to-live-as-a-drudge-for-the-benefit-of-others kinda way, but more of a work-is-why-we’re-here kinda way. The reward, the good life we all seek, is so we can continue doing work that matters.

Work that matters. That's intentionally open ended. Ultimately, only you can decide what matters. But in my mind that's work that makes a difference. Work that makes life better for everyone, including ourselves. Worthwhile work is not self deprecating. Ruining yourself for the benefit for others just creates a job that someone else has to do, mainly cleaning up the mess that has become of you.

Now, here’s the rub. You can’t work all the time. I know, I know - that's shocking. Especially coming from me. In fact, at a certain point, the harder you work the worse your return. I ran across this illustrative story last week.

A wood cutter took a job at a sawmill. He reported for work early the first day and eagerly set off into the woods. That day he felled 18 trees. When he returned to the office and reported his progress the manager said, “Wow. That’s really impressive.”

“Wait until you see what I do tomorrow,” replied the woodcutter.

The next day he showed up early again and set to work. He really threw himself into his work and worked even harder than the day before. At the end of the day he had felled 15 trees. A little dismayed at his decline he resolved to work even harder the next day.

But by the end of the third day, he could only report 13 trees. Each day he came to work resolved to do better and each day he ended having chopped down less. Finally, Friday afternoon he drug himself into the office. Completely despondent he reported his total: 10 trees.

“I don’t understand,” he said, “Each day I’d work harder and harder but I kept getting fewer and fewer results.”

The manager looked up from his tally book. “How often did you stop to sharpen your ax?”

“Never,” the woodcutter said, “I was too busy cutting down trees.”

It’s easy to throw ourselves into our work. Especially if it’s work we care about. We lose sight of the need for recovery and self development that makes it possible for us to do our work, especially at our highest capacity.

Trust me, I get it. I started my work late. I’d goofed off through my twenties and weathered an extended adolescence that left me in my thirties before I fully embraced the mantle of adulthood and the duties of my calling. I threw myself, with an extreme fervor, into my work. I felt I had a decade to make up for, and in someways I did.

But not stopping to sharpen my ax, not taking the time for adequate recovery to better hone my skills and position myself at the top of my game has taken a toll and ultimately held me, and Agoge Fitness Systems, back.

It’s time to sharpen my ax. It’s a good ax, sturdy and strong, but the blade has taken some nicks and the edge could be keener.

The funny thing is, it’s all the same work. Even if it doesn’t look like it.

To our perfect imperfection,

Dave​

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