We must never be too busy to take the time to sharpen the saw. – Stephen R. Covey
A Challenge With A Lesson
The young man saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He thought the older man would be easy pickings and be his path to the bragging rights he so desperately coveted. Without hesitation, he challenged the older man to a tree-cutting contest. Mind you, this was before chainsaws were invented. “Whoever cuts the most trees with their ax in two hours wins!” the young man confidently threw down the challenge. The older man smiled and nodded, accepting the challenge hoping this one would be worth his time.
As the competition wore on, the young man hacked away at the trees with all the strength he could muster. Meanwhile, the older man employed an interesting strategy that drew mockery from the young man. He would take consistent breaks to sharpen his ax. After the two-hour mark, the young man, drenched in sweat, could not believe that he had lost the challenge. Seeing this, the older man went to the younger, put a friendly hand over the young man’s shoulder, and told him this proverb, “Where the ax is blunt, more strength is required, but through skill comes success.” It was a lesson for the young man and applies to us in our day-to-day life. We must practice the art of taking time to whet or sharpen our edge if we are to increase our effectiveness and experience greater success without wasting effort.
Your edges are the tools you have and use to bring success in what you do. I want to share three areas to consider:
Whet Your Mind
As the body requires diet and exercise to perform at a high level, so does your mind. Do you take time to think about what you are thinking about? This is called reflective thinking and is a lost exercise in the rush and dash world. At the core of reflective thinking is the connection between what has happened and the implications it bears on future application. It harnesses knowledge and lessons we have gained and allows us to piece them together like a puzzle and see a picture not previously obvious to us. This is a key component of generating new ideas. Five to Fifteen minutes at the end of the day is sufficient to do this exercise. Now we all know exercise without diet lessens the effects of the exercise itself. What you read, watch, or listen to acts like a diet for your mind. With plenty of information out there, it is easier to access but difficult to filter through the myriads of data to find the quality ‘brain food’ you need. Just like antioxidants fight the corrosive effect of free radicals in the body, reflective thinking combined with reading, watching, or listening to materials that stimulate wholesome thinking will help tame wandering thoughts that can damage your focus and compromise your attention span. One thing I have recently done to sharpen my mind is read books or watch talks that are outside my normal sphere. It has helped generate new ideas for content in my writing.
Whet Your Tongue
Wildfires have a damaging effect on life and the environment. Wildfires also expose areas to flooding and mudslides for years. Watching the wildfires in California and seeing the valor exemplified by firefighters to combat the ferocity of these unplanned heat monsters is commendable. But there is another place that carries the potential to start a wildfire; my tongue. Like wildfires we see, our tongues have ‘life and death’ power. The words I speak, whether on social media, face to face with family and friends, or with strangers I meet, have an effect. It’s in understanding this ‘life and death’ power that we carry every day in our mouths that changes what, where, why, how, and when we say what we say. How can you whet your tongue to ensure that your words are precise without causing injury? For starters, don’t speak everything you are thinking. Let time be a friend to your tongue. Take a pause. Ask yourself, “If I was on the receiving end would I want to hear what I am about to say?” Is this the right time to say it?” “What is the goal of what I want to say?” Harm or help? Build or burn? Sometimes we must forgo the opportunity to prove we are right and instead take the opportunity to be a light with our words. Words of correction can be tough, but they don’t have to be mean or degrading.
Additionally, the discussions you have with your circle have a way of conditioning how you talk. Another way to whet your tongue is a fun game called the uh-um game I constantly hear on the radio. It helps improve the fluency of speech, allows brief pregnant pauses while talking, and eliminates redundancy of saying, “uh or um.” Here’s how it goes, “Without saying uh or um for one minute tell me about you.” Go ahead, give it a try.
Whet Your Hands
I use the word “hands” to symbolize service, helping, and working. Are you systematically improving your current skill sets and adding new tools as time goes by? Firemen, nurses, doctors, pilots, police officers, and many other careers require constant training and certification to keep their skills up to date. The purpose of training is to give them precision and greater effectiveness out in the field where failure could cost lives. Most of us may not be in such professions, but getting better at who you are and what you do should be an unquenchable desire. By getting better at writing, the content I deliver becomes richer; more refined, and makes a greater impact on those I reach. Because I know time is precious, I am convinced that I owe those who take the time to read what I write, quality content each time I sit and type on my keyboard. From improving my sentence structure to growing my use of vocabulary, I never want to violate the relationship between writer and reader by becoming slack in writing. I must also thank my editing team which has been at the forefront of this whetting process providing helpful corrections and compliments along the way. Just because you are good at what you do doesn’t mean you cannot get better and become a person of greater value. Greatness beckons for the one who will continue to ferociously commit to whetting their hands to be better even though current success indicates there is no need.
Final thought: I can only imagine how much a knife or ax head would scream if it could express how it felt while under a whetstone. As a child, I used to see sparks fly when a knife was sharpened. But after that experience, the knife became the go-to tool for the job required, and it didn’t disappoint. Whetting carries the guarantee of greater effect with reduced effort.
Keep on Keeping on!