There was a traveler walking through the Black Forest in southern Germany. This traveler came across a lumberjack that was furiously sawing away at an old tree. The traveler watched him for a few minutes. The lumberjack was clearly struggling and not making much progress. So the traveler spoke up. He said “my dear lumberjack, why are you struggling so hard?”. The lumberjack looked up, exhausted and sweaty. Confused, he answered “I’m trying to cut down this tree, of course. It’s much harder than it should be for some reason.” The traveler thought about that for a minute before replying, “Why don’t you take a break, and sharpen your saw? I’ll help you if you would like.” The traveler realized that the lumberjack had been using the same saw since his youth, and he had never sharpened it. The lumberjack agreed to sharpen his saw and accept the help of the traveler. You can imagine how much more efficient the lumberjack was once he regained his strength and returned to work with a sharp saw. Let’s talk about the importance of purposely taking time to improve yourself.
The story of the lumberjack is a popular one. The simplicity of it is part of its power. Today we get to talk about the importance of sharpening your saw- your skills and abilities. I’ll also talk about some of the things that I habitually do to sharpen my own saw so that you can get an idea of the practical ways you can do the same. When I read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey there was a line that stuck with me. In reference to the excuse of having no time he says “You don’t have the time not to!”. I’ve learned that lesson in multiple areas of my life.
Let’s talk about the four pillars of our lives and why it’s important to sharpen each area.
Finances – Time goes by. This is one of the things that we cannot change, no matter how hard we try! So what does it mean to sharpen your financial skills? While this is a quantifiable and concrete field, people still have trouble grasping the fundamentals. Sharpening your skills in this area means that you are keeping track of your current state, and finding out if you are on the right track to hitting your goals. Taking time to balance and manage your money. Money is a good tool if you know how to use it. However, it can quickly go from being a shovel that is creating your mountain, to being an uncontrolled jackhammer that is digging a deep hole. Often times, this hole becomes quite large before you even realize it.
A second habit that will benefit your financial life is to learn about the principles and tools that modern finances have. Do you think that learning about the different kinds of mutual funds in your company’s 401K would be beneficial or detrimental? A 401k is something that most people will rely on in retirement, yet an amazing number of people don’t time the small amount of time to look at the various options and educate themselves on the differences. This is just one example of the kind of tool you can add to your financial toolbox. Knowing the different ways you can save, invest, and handle taxation will benefit you immensely!
Health – Do we really need to talk about this? Everyone knows that sharpening this saw is important. It’s important, but not urgent. For now. Fitness and proper nutrition are things that can go from being non-urgent to urgent overnight! It’s easy to overlook until you have a medical condition that could have been prevented. Childhood obesity and congestive heart failure are two examples of plagues that are completely preventable, and there are many more. Getting into good health habits is incredibly important and has innumerable benefits. Better immune systems, more energy, better sleep, healthy weight, and the list goes on. The trouble is that it takes a while to build good habits. This time and effort seems to simply be too burdensome for many people, so they live pain-riddled golden years. We’ve talked about the two obstacles to getting and staying fit, and deep down, we all know it’s important.
The practical steps I take to sharpen my health saw are healthy eating and exercise. My food philosophy and exercise habits are very basic. I don’t need a degree in nutrition to know that you are what you eat. Junk in = junk out. But thankfully the reverse is also true. Good in = good out. When it comes to fitness, I don’t need a gym but I also know that if I don’t push myself, I will not improve. You need to find what works for you, and keep going even when you stumble. It’s worth it.
Relationships – I’ll jump right out and say that watching TV with your family does NOT count as family time. True family time means interacting, communicating, and having fun together. Scheduling time to spend with a spouse, child, men’s group, or any other positive influential person in your life is how you establish community. The sense of acceptance and community is an innate need that we all have. Cheap substitutions may crop up that try to fill the gap, but they never truly will.
This is something that I do well with friends and mentors, but consistently struggle to do within my own home! I’ve been making it a point to meet with people who are encouraging, and are honest about things I need to work on. A new habit I’ve been trying to form is to schedule time to be with my wife and kids, one on one, and all together. I’ve found that if I don’t actually put time on my calendar with an alert to remind me about it, time goes by and it just never happens. These are the most important people in my life, yet I often forget to just say yes to playing Lego’s with my son! The intentionality here is the key. Intentionally schedule time together and make the effort to grow the relationships with those around you.
Faith – Our understanding of the way we are supposed to live determines the priorities we make for ourselves. If you don’t know what the right way looks like, it is impossible to be on the right path. The best marksman in the world can’t hit a bullseye if he doesn’t know where the target is. A secondary positive effect of sharpening your faith is that all the other categories get improved simultaneously. They are all deeply interwoven. My personal walk with God encourages me to seek the council of wise people (relationships). My weakness is overcome when I remember that I need to be fit enough to be a loving father and to play soccer with my kids, so I am encouraged to exercise (health). My understanding of Biblical financial principles helps guide me to use money correctly and to seek an abundance mentality through generosity (finances). The list could go on!
The practical ways that I sharpen my saw when it comes to faith are that I read the Bible daily, I actively try to learn more about what I’m reading, I pray, and I seek Christian community. Finding a good Bible study is a great place to start. You get all four of these elements when you surround yourself with a group of people all seeking to learn more about Jesus! Finding accountability, acceptance, and encouragement are a few of the ways we can exponentially improve our spiritual walks.
So, we’ve looked at ways we can sharpen the saw in each of the four categories. I know it can feel overwhelming to think about doing all those things, but I can tell you that they are all worth it. Once you create your habits to set you on a growth path, you will find that the 1% change you make every day adds up quickly over time!
For now, pick one thing to work on. The most instantly rewarding thing for me is family time. Pull out your phone and pick a time on your calendar to purposefully set aside to spend with a loved one. Do it now! When you create your reminder, set it to repeat weekly and do not set an end date. Imagine how much closer you will be with your kids if you spend an hour a week just being together! The days are long, but the years are short, my friends. The chances to do this are skittering away right now, so don’t wait. Second, pick a book to read. I don’t care what it is! Just pick a book and make it a point to create the habit of reading. I spend a considerable amount of time in the car so audiobooks have been a staple of my growth diet for years now.
That’s it for today! That was a long post but I truly believe that if you take the time to invest in yourself today, you will be a far greater person tomorrow. I like the saying “You don’t have to be perfect, just better than you were yesterday”.
Let’s end average together!
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