Somewhere along the line, in the past week or so, I read a short story about a wood-chopping apprentice who’d just arrived on the job for his first day. Fired by youthful enthusiasm, he felled 30 trees in his first day, impressing not only himself but earning accolades from his lumberjack boss. The following day he arrived, axe at the ready, but only managed to fell 20 trees. On the third day, only 15. No matter how he tried, his total kept diminishing, day after day. By the end of the week, tired and disheartened, he entered the lumberjack’s office. The lumberjack boss, who had observed the apprentice’s first week and noted his predictable decline, was thankfully able to offer the youngster his wisdom. “You have worked with strength, passion and determination – and yet you have forgotten one vital element of success.” he said. “You have forgotten to sharpen your axe.”
Buried in my own business, and the mother of a not-far-off-teenage boy, the weeks fly by with diary pages full of meetings, clients, programs to write and run, and online media methods to master; the weekends blur together in a haze of cricket games, couch-cuddles and Star Wars movies. Christmas is coming (it’s Wednesday and Christmas is on Monday), and when my international-skype-call-client asked me yesterday whether I was still working, my internal reaction was an eyebrow-raised “of course I’m still working…..). My son will go to Mozambique on Boxing Day to spend a happy, beachy 10 days with his Dad – and my mind is already thinking about all the things I’d like to get done then.
The wood-chopping apprentice made me pause. Honest truth – I’d forwarded it on to my partner in an effort to explain to him why he should slow down workwise in the week between Christmas and New Year. But, like most things, it’s harder to take in and apply personally than it is to prescribe to others. My mind flies immediately to the queue of books awaiting my attention on my bedside table. What if I were to allow myself time to actually read them? Devour them. More than the 30 minutes I normally schedule for 5am most mornings… I feel a guilty excitement which almost requires me to look over my shoulder to see who saw me think that.
Back to the wood-chopper. Sharpening my axe. What does that look like? If I was to slow myself down long enough to contemplate it…..what would that actually consist of? Aside from the gazillion things I want to do to move my business forward. All the things I’m learning daily (the last few months particularly have been like drinking from a fire hydrant)….and I’m LOVING it!! But what if what happened to the wood-chopper happens to me? What if I hit the ground swinging in 2018 and only get so far! What if, regardless of my passion and drive, I can’t achieve what I aim at because I haven’t sharpened my axe??
Suddenly, certain things start to take on a new perspective. A new importance. Suddenly there are a few things that have risen from “self-permission needed” to “necessary”. For me that means that the books in the queue rise from being a luxury to being a vital source of essential nutrients. The respectful-yet-demanding 0550 knock on my bedroom door as my son comes in for cuddles and philosophising (anything from SimCity technique to World Peace) becomes another successfully stolen moment from time that is rapidly rushing forth to a place where I’m terrified boys don’t cuddle with their Mums anymore. I fantasise about what next week may gift me. Perhaps I’ll read those thousands of article links I’ve saved. Perhaps I’ll clear my email inbox (currently 815). Perhaps I’ll finish watching the 3 hours of webinar I videoed on my phone because I was too divided that evening in my responsibilities to watch it live. Perhaps I’ll watch a movie?!
What is it for you? How do you sharpen your axe? I recall an AH-HA moment when someone explained to me that the difference between introverts and extroverts is not necessarily how they present in public, but how they recharge. If you draw your recharge from social crowds and other people, then you’re an extrovert. If you draw your recharge from a book or a bath in your own space, then you’re an introvert. By that definition, I am a “social introvert”.
I need to think more about this pause I’ve noticed I need. How awkward it feels to pause. How hard it was to immediately answer my question to myself about what I needed to do to sharpen my axe. And how guilty I feel about taking some of those “pleasures” – when in a slightly different frame, they are necessities.
2018 is coming. Will I be ready? Will I be sharp?
Ah – it’s 0550. There’s the knock….gotta go!
By Christen Killick
20th December 2017