Sharpen the Saw
The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change.
Sharpening the saw
As a child life seems endless, unhindered by the endless and depressing concerns that plague the minds of the adults. Always assuming they know how best to advise. A child’s spirit is one of joy and indifference to the passage of time, riding this wave in the ebb and flow of day to day stimuli. Hard to blame them for being short sighted when they have no reason to be concerned about the future. Life is long, you are young and there is time to kill today.
A blissful state as any to be in, I remember it quite vividly myself. Eventually I think most come to realize this ride leads to a river with many paths. Riding the tide seems to invariably lead to a deadly waterfall, some see it coming, others don’t. Growing up I always saw the possibilities as endless, the dreams certainly where. Adults seemed to have such boring lives in comparison and taking advice from them seemed foolish. I looked up to people like Leif Erikson, Magellan and Jacque Cousteau who lived lives of adventure with real risks and thrills rewarded by accomplishment and respect.
The sad truth is that a lot of people will die with not much to show for or have very little in the way of interesting experiences. Especially in a world where comfort and convenience are at hand without even the need to ask for them. This is something of a curse in disguise as I see that satisfaction comes from overcoming struggle and accomplishments that take real effort.
I took a skip year off school to work and save up some money and although my job was demanding, it was repetitive. I found myself stagnated on a plateau with no new challenges or responsibilities. Life felt like an endless day to day grind and I came to realize my greatest fear of all, the one horror that reminds me why I pursue the things I do, the reason I push, the terror that cautions me. Boredom.
I found the need to introduce more challenges to myself and looked for any and all possible ways to make wins every day, however small they may have been they helped me distance myself from the demons of boredom that stood by, idle waiting for me to slip back to mundanity.
The challenges where inspired from Covey’s book on the 7 habits of highly effective people, specifically the last ones about sharpening the saw. Paying attention to preserving and enhancing your most valuable asset, that being yourself. I started with the physical, something that was easily dismissed before with excuses like; ‘’well I can’t go to the gym before work because I will be exhausted and not able to be as effective as I could be, and I get out of work at 1 o’clock in the morning and that’s too late to go to the gym’’. I decided to go anyway and found that working out at night was awesome, I had the whole gym to myself and I could play music and go all out with my shirt off in total freedom.
Followed by the social which was – at the time – very difficult considering my work hours but I found ways to fit in more social experiences and was able to see immediate improvements not just in overall happiness but also in building confidence and connections.
The metal part is something that was not as much an issue for me considering that I have always been curious and enjoyed spending time reading and learning new things, especially watching documentaries on controversial subjects. I still tried to improve by forcing myself to read more fiction novels. At work I found a lot of satisfaction in teaching and training new employees.
I hate the word ‘’spiritual’’ the reason being that I have never heard the same definition for this word twice and I generally have a great distaste for anything supernatural. Needless to say, I was not surprised to get a new definition from Covey but this time I was pleasantly surprised. Mostly about remembering to spend time with yourself with art, music and maybe some walks in nature. I love spending time in nature it is extremely relaxing and a great environment to reflect on the wins and losses of the week.
‘’Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe’’ A quote from the late U.S president Abraham Lincoln mirrors Covey’s point and I think helps paint a picture of the reasoning behind the concept. By remembering to reserve time for self-improvement you make your life easier by being more capable and generally more confident, motivated and content with where you are.
We all live in the shadow of death; mortality is inevitable and the time we have is limited. Anything we build will come down eventually, but there is reason to see beauty in this. As the passing days bring us closer to death, they also offer us new opportunities and to make the most of our time we need to make the most of ourselves and enjoy the process.
You may be depressed to think that the blissful childhood state no longer has the euphoria it once had; that the child is grown, the dream is gone but the end goal or dream is not necessarily the point of living. Alan Watts made a great analogy comparing life to music, saying that the end of the song is not the point of the song. Otherwise people would go to concerts just to hear the last note of the song and be done with it. We like to think of our lives as a journey with steps starting with kindergarten, grade school, high school, college and finally yes! I’ve reached my goal! I’m working and I got my promotion. Now what? Unfortunately for a lot of people this anticlimactic end is followed by boredom. Only to learn – once it’s too late – that life was musical thing and you where supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.
Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of highly effective people
Alan Watts, Music and life