Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

You have to be Present to Win – Chopping Wood

chopping-wood

I am not going to engage the title of the new book  (You Have to be Present to Win) in this blog (I know that the phrase “to win” has many interpretations that create the potential for misunderstanding the intent, and that’s OK).

I am going to talk today about an experience I had early this morning. My wife, Sherry, and I purchase a woodstove in the late fall. We had been talking about this for a few years and Sherry was concerned that we have a reliable heat source if our power fails for some reason in the dead of winter.

The day the woodstove was installed, we knew we had done the right thing. It is a cast iron stove that has an exterior of soapstone. The stone is slow to heat (which took some getting used to for me); however, when it gets hot it stays hot. We have found that even on very cold days, we can heat to an acceptable level our two-story home, even though the woodstove is not in the best possible location for air circulation. But I digress.

One of the pleasures of a woodstove is the morning ritual of chopping the kindling, organizing the fire in the belly of the stove, and then… bringing this potential for heat to life. What a joy to watch the fire catch the wood, watch it heat the draft and draw in the air it needs to intensify its heat so that it can sustain itself through the day.
This morning, our 10 year old was up early and I invited him to start the fire. I volunteered to be the one to wield the ax and chop the oak into the right size for building a great bed of coals.

I put on my gloves and grabbed the ax from the shelf on our sun porch. I searched through the woodpile to find the perfect piece of wood. I grabbed a number of pieces and, each time, my intuitive response was, “Not right.” Finally, I found a piece that felt perfect.
I propped it up vertically on the adjacent woodpile and put the ax in my right hand. Without a thought, and with a complete sense of peace and deliberateness, the ax came down on the wood with a single chop and a perfect piece of kindling flew off to the left. I continue this process of putting smaller and smaller pieces on the edge of the woodpile and chopping.

At one moment, my brain kicked in. It said something like, “Wow, this is easy, I wonder why?” That simple distraction changed the flow of wood chopping. The next downward chop missed the mark and bounced off the wood. This continued for a few more chops until I realized that I was trying to chop wood by thinking rather than feeling.

It was a moment of recognition about how many times I have entered into some area of life with singular purpose and the ensuing experience was either “hard” or did not turn out at all like my intention. Could it be that I was allowing my thinking to distract me?
Yep… thinking that is not deliberately engaged is distracting every time.

After I realized that “my best thinking” was making this wonderfull experience “hard”, I took a deep, deliberate breath and felt peacefulness return. I then finishing chopping all the wood we needed for the fire. When I brought it in to our young fire tender, he said, “Did you cut all that wood just now?” I smiled and nodded.
Life is easy when I don’t try to think my way through it.

How about you? Have you had experiences of “chopping wood” and found a lesson that covered your whole life? If so, I would love to hear about them.

Until later,
Thomas

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3 thoughts on “You have to be Present to Win – Chopping Wood

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