Once upon a time a very strong woodcutter got a job with a timber merchant. The pay was really good and so were the work conditions, and the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him where he was supposed to work.
The first day the woodcutter chopped down 18 trees. “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!” Motivated by the words the woodcutter tried harder the next day but he could only cut 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder but he could only bring down 10 trees. Day after day he worked harder but ended up cutting fewer trees.
“I must be losing my strength,” the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologised, saying that he could not understand what was going on.
“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked. “Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been too busy cutting down trees.”
Dear Readers, our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don’t take time to sharpen the ‘axe’.
Sharpening the axe is an activity that helps us to improve our quality of life, our general awareness, our knowledge of things around us. All of us need to continually sharpen the axe of our life. We cannot start a long journey and say we are too busy to fill fuel in the car. Just as a car needs petrol to keep it going, we need refuelling through learning to continue to perform well.
So what exactly is sharpening the axe? Dr Steven Covey, who popularised the term, believes that it means ‘increasing your personal production capacity by daily self-care and self-maintenance’. Most people mistake it to mean taking a break or vacation. If you’re overworking yourself and your productivity drops, take a break. However, that isn’t sharpening the axe — that’s putting the axe down. When you put down a dull blade and rest, the blade will still be dull when you pick it up. After a period of strenuous study you need to rest. That is necessary but not equal to sharpening your axe.
Here are examples of axe-sharpening activities:
Read a new book every week or month. Visit a library and read something of interest quietly.
Have a meaningful conversation with someone who has more knowledge and experience than you do, and sharpen your axe through that interaction.
Pick up a new hobby. Stretch yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
Study something new, different, something that has nothing to do with examinations or marks.
Overcome a specific fear you have or quit a bad habit. Identify your weaknesses and try to overcome them.
Great leaders like Gandhi, Mandela and Steve Jobs showed a continuous appetite for learning and growth. They always listened and watched in the hope of learning new ideas and discovering new truths and realities. Ironically, many of us do just the opposite from a young age. We feel we know enough if we have passed our school examination with good grades!!
What do we need to sharpen? We need to sharpen our skills, our knowledge, our mind, our physical body, our relationships with family and friends. Find out which faculties are dulled and what you can do to sharpen them. Why are we so caught up in mundane chores that we fail to sharpen our axe? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay ‘sharp’? There’s nothing wrong with activity and hard work. But we should not get so busy that we neglect the truly important things in life, like our personal life, taking time to pray or to introspect, giving more time for our family, taking time to read. In today’s world it seems that everyone is busy, but less happy. We all need time to relax, to think and meditate, to learn and grow. If we don’t take the time to sharpen the axe we will become dull and lose our effectiveness.
Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my axe.”
Dear Readers, what are you doing to sharpen your axe? Take a few moments to pause and think about how you plan to rejuvenate yourself and start sharpening your axe today.
Readers, if you have questions related to your life or life skills send a mail to Indira Aiyer and she will certainly have a response for you.