My grandfather told me this story. I have no idea where he heard it, but I like to share it with folks from time to time. It’s a story I need to remind myself of far too often.
There was this old man who was known far and wide as the greatest wood cutter in all the land. He lived a quiet life in the deep woods enjoying his twilight years. One evening, a young man showed up at his door step and challenged the old man to a wood-cutting contest.
“I’ll prove I’m the better man,” the young’un declared. “Starting at sunrise tomorrow I’ll be right here in front of your cabin and we’ll chop wood until sunset. At that time, whoever has cut the most wood will be declared the greatest woodsman.”
The old man just smiled and nodded. “Sunrise then.” And went to bed.
The next morning as the mists hung heavy along the forest floor, the young man arrived and called the old man from his cabin. As the first light of the new day broke across the forest they began.
All that morning the wood chips were so thick that the young man couldn’t see the old. After a couple of hours, the old man paused to drink a bit of water and rest. The young man just laughed and cut wood faster, spurred on by the old man’s weakness.
By noon the old man had stopped again, ate a bit of bread and had more water. The young man cut faster, hewing the wood with perilous strength.
Twice more the old man paused and drank or ate. The young man wolfed his food, guzzled his water and went back to the cutting, his axe flying so fast it was a blur.
By the time the last rays of the sun winked out for the day, the young man stepped back admiring the mighty pile of wood he had cut.
He turned to face the old man and the gloating jibe died in his throat. The old man’s pile of wood was twice that of the younger man.
“I can’t believe this,” the eager young man said. “I worked harder than you with nary a break. My axe was a blur.”
“True enough,” the old man said, shaking his head. “But every time I rested. I sharpened my axe.”
I love this story. It reminds me that when I take some down time, read a book, watch a movie, lay on my deck and watch the clouds skate across a deep blue sky, I’m not shirking my duties. I’m not wasting time. I’m sharpening my axe.
Are you taking care of the most important tool in your life? Are you honing your blade, readying yourself for the next round of cutting?
Too few of us do, and too often when we do, we allow guilt to eat at us.
Better to be rested and ready. Unwind, let go, learn to breath again. The work will be there, I promise you. There is always a challenger in the wings, another crisis for you to take care of, another deadline.
But if you do not take care of yourself, if you do not sharpen your axe, you will work like a demon and get less and less done over time.
Breathe deeply, put on some amazing music and let your shoulders relax for a while. Do something frivolous. Trust me on this. More days than naught, I’m the young man, muscling through on grit and blind determination. It’s time I start learning to be the old man and deal with the important things.
Life is just too damn short to do otherwise.