To those who have been on a quest for personal growth and professional development while preparing to reach their peaks of excellence, there is a time worn story, you may have heard, that I like to tell this way:
A number of years ago, a delightful, petite, young French-woman, by the name of Jacqueline deChopper came to this country in order to fulfill the dreams she had, that we seemed to allow.
In her search for employment, she ended up in the Northwest lumber camps. We can only imagine how they must have received her. “Ho ho, Sweetheart, just what kind of work do you expect to find by coming here?”
“Well, I was hoping to get on as a chopper.” She replied. “It’s part of my family’s heritage.”
“A chopper!” They snickered, “That’s hard to believe, little one. You’re hardly bigger than an ax. Where have you worked before?”
“As a matter of fact,” she smiled, “my last big job was the Sahara Forest.”
“Sahara! That’s not a forest,” they laughed scornfully, ” It’s a desert.”
“Yes… Now.” Was all she had to add to get the job.
And, it turned out that she was quite good. So good, that upon entering the annual lumbermen’s contest that included trials in log rolling, tree climbing, sawing and of course, chopping, Jacqueline made it to the finals.
The last remaining challenge was against a huge, muscular, and obviously experienced young fellow whose reputation as a near superman preceded him.
The contest demanded not only chopping skills but stamina as well, since the event was to run from ten o’clock in the morning until two in the afternoon. The winner would be the one who chopped the most wood during that time.
At ten o’clock sharp, the whistle blew and the chips flew. Amazingly, to the onlookers, the petite young woman seemed to be pulling well ahead. Suddenly though, about half way through the morning, she stopped and walked away, disappearing into the crowd.
The young man, taking full advantage, quickly began to pile up a distinct advantage.
Then Jacqueline returned, and to the astonishment of everyone, quickly turned the tide. But, once again, around noon, she took her ax and disappeared. She returned after an even longer absence, and applied her energy and effort to securing her hold on the championship, despite the young man’s consistent effort.
Mid-afternoon, and the scenario repeated itself. By two o’clock, when the final whistle was blown, there was little doubt that the new champion was Mademoiselle deChopper.
Friends, family, coworkers and fans rushed forward and surrounded her as the sports reporters and their cameramen crowded in and around with their only question, “How in the world were you able to win like that? Especially, after taking all those breaks?”
“Oh, I wasn’t taking breaks,” Jacqueline exalted, “I was just taking the time to sharpen my ax.”
Promoters have been using that story to sell seminar tickets, books and tapes since before the Last Supper. And, it works, because it’s a good, valid analogy. Anyone who has ever used a cutting tool knows the feeling that accompanies the efficiency and effectiveness of a freshly honed blade. The gradually increasing difficulty of any task is so subtle as to go unnoticed. Yet, having a freshened edge can make it immediately apparent that things tend to get harder and harder, more and more difficult, if we forget to devote or invest some time to sharpening our tools and skills.
However, there is more to this than meets the eye.
As a very young lad, I was afforded the opportunity of working alongside my Dad and a number of other lumberjacks, as they harvested timber found in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Granted, I wasn’t allowed to do much other than clear brush and top a few fallen trees after hewing the upper limbs. I also carried water to the loggers, as well as to the horses that were used to twitch the logs to the skid-ways, provided to assist in the loading of trucks. But it was fun, I was treated with respect and most importantly, I got to be with my Dad, whom I adored.
He was a non-demonstrative man, and I cannot recall ever being complimented, encouraged or confirmed by him. Nor was he ever able to hug me, pat my back or tousle my hair in an approving way. He never seemed satisfied with any of my efforts, and I loved him. I was confident that he loved me too. That’s just the way it was in those days.
Early one morning, I had the bright idea of grinding my Dad’s ax, as I’d seen him do so many times, preparing for the day’s work ahead. Although he would touch up the edge throughout the day with a hand honing stone, he almost always ground the ax, in the morning. He used a large grindstone that stood in our yard, by the woodpile. It was about two inches wide and eighteen inches in diameter, mounted in a wooden framework that included a foot pedal, attached to a fulcrum that spun the wheel as it was pumped. A strategically placed seat allowed someone to sit as they ground their blades, and there was a small can of water that could be tipped frequently to wet the spinning stone.
I took my position, pushed the round stone to get it started and began pumping the pedal to keep it going. Grasping the ax head in just the same way I’d seen my Dad do it so many times, I placed the edge on the stone and proceeded confidently.
When I checked the ax’s edge, it felt sharp. The edge was buffed and shiny and looked good. And, the sound of the steel against the Carborundum was familiar. Everything was going well. My Dad would be pleased.
It wasn’t long though before he came from the house, hurried to where I was, and with some degree of impatience asked me to stop. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” he said, “but, you’re doing it wrong and doing more harm than good.”
That stung. Once again, in spite of my intentions, I had fallen short.
He went on to explain, “You’re doing everything right, except that you’re spinning the stone in the wrong direction. When it’s going away from you like that, it’s turning the edge, and it won’t hold up for any time at all, even though it looks and feels sharp. It may seem wrong, but you’ve got to have the wheel spinning in your direction, so the edge of the ax is being confronted by the stone’s abrasive service. That way, providing you hold the blade at a forty-five degree angle, you’ll have a sturdy, durable edge that will get the job done.”
I remembered and with practice became acceptably proficient at grinding ax heads, scythes, cutlery and the different saws we used in the woods and on the farm.
It wasn’t until years later that I became aware of the high percentage of people who were failing to fulfill the quotas assigned to them, missing or abandoning their goals, and relinquishing their dreams. Too many people weren’t getting it, in spite of great product and sales training, along with all the motivational speakers, books and tapes that were available to support them.
Then, in 1957, after two fruitless and frustrating years in selling, I realized that the grindstone was being spun in the wrong direction. We were being stroked and buffed by a lot of feel good, time worn admonitions, aphorisms and clichés that didn’t hold up under the rigors of the job.
And so, I decided to position myself at an abrupt angle, and began to turn the metaphorical wheel toward me. This meant I had to question and challenge every idea and thought that was thrust at me. I’d twist and turn whatever I was told every which way to see if there were another, more effective, way to express it. Always looking for another perspective, a different phrase, or a novel posture. My life began to change dramatically, and as I progressed there were new and different perspectives that came to light.
I was confronting life instead of accommodating it. I suddenly realized that I was in command of the direction my life was taking, even though I was never in control. Rather than reacting to circumstances, I became one.
The joy of my life since then has been the conveying and coaching of these insights. A literal parade of successful, happy and fulfilled people are the assets of my being and having been. You are invited to look closer at what we have to offer, and encouraged to not turn away too quickly. There is the promise and a guarantee that our ideas are fresh, unique, powerful and they always work. Think of us as your honing stone, and be confident that we’ll be spinning your wheel of fortune and fame in the right direction.
From the heart of the mind of Bern Moses