When chopping wood, take the time to sharpen your ax

Invest in yourself to survive and thrive.


  • By
  • | 12:40 a.m. January 5, 2023
  • Law
  • The Bar Bulletin
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Megan Moon
Megan Moon

By Megan Moon | JBA Young Lawyers Section board of governors

The weather may be cold, but January has no chill. This month, it’s back to the races after the holiday rush.

The new year brings a long list of to-dos (or should-have-dones) and resolutions to be better, faster and stronger. There is no time to rest and reset.

But this is the time when our self-induced frenzy is at its peak and we feel we don’t deserve a break.

We should remember the story of the lumberjacks.

Two lumberjacks compete to see who can chop more wood. Each eager for the competition, they start hacking away in the forest as fast as they can.

They can hear each other chopping tree after tree for more than an hour. Faster, faster they go, racing toward the finish line.

Suddenly, one hears the other stop chopping. “Aha!” he thinks. “He’s already tired. There’s no way he will cut more trees than me.” The man continues to chop trees at double the pace.

After several minutes, his opponent starts chopping again. They both hack in feverish unison for some time. Just when the first lumberjack begins to feel he can’t go on, he hears his opponent stop once more. Motivated by the promise of certain victory, the first lumberjack plows on.

Every hour or so, lumberjack No. 2 takes a break while lumberjack No. 1 continues relentlessly. When the buzzer sounds, Lumberjack No. 1 is confident he has won.

To his astonishment, lumberjack No. 2 cut far more wood. “How could you have chopped down more trees than me?” he exclaims. “I never stopped working and you took countless breaks.”

Lumberjack No. 2 replied: “Yes, but every time I took a break, while you were still chopping trees, I was sharpening my ax.”

It is easy to allow ourselves to get overworked, especially in this profession and at this time of year.

We keep hacking away at our to-do list, but we become fatigued and our productivity suffers no matter our persistence. Eventually, we find ourselves “just getting through” the rest of the year.

It is far more difficult to take time to sharpen our ax. Not just closing our eyes or closing our laptop for a moment. That’s setting your ax aside, but it isn’t sharpening it. The blade will still be worn when we pick it up again.

The lumberjack didn’t just take a break – he spent his time off sharpening his ax.

Let’s all remember to do the same. Put your pencil down right in the middle of the crazy.

Don’t stop there. Take that yoga class you haven’t had time for, call the friend you’ve lost touch with, meditate, cook for fun, get outside.

Take not merely a break but make an investment in yourself, your sanity, the arsenal of tools you need to be sharp to survive and thrive through another year.

Sure, every day is an opportunity to get more done, get to the end of your to-do list. But we can all do that in a smarter way, not the hard way. Find out what sharpens your ax and do it every day.

That’s how you win.

Megan Moon is a business litigation shareholder with Gunster in Jacksonville.