Chapter to Chapter: August 13, 2020
There’s an old expression that is accredited to Abraham Lincoln: “If I were given eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first six hours sharpening the ax.” I first heard that saying several years ago. And although I’m not certain that Lincoln was the originator of or even used the phrase, I’ve thought about it often. In fact, there have been many times when the phrase has kept me from making a few critical mistakes. I have learned through the years that preparation is more important than most people realize. The more you have planned and plotted out everything that you may think you may need for a project or every item you may need for any activity, including a trip, the more likely you are to be successful. I’ve learned that procrastination is a dangerous habit. Getting rid of at least 90% of the procrastination in my life has saved me many headaches that I see other people still struggling with. However, another well-known axiom comes to my mind during this conversation: “You definitely can have too much of a good thing.” Chocolate cake may be delicious, but feasting on it three times a day for several months will probably make you sick. As delicious as a tender ribeye steak is, I wouldn’t want to eat one every single day. In the same way, a person who means well and plans for projects and possibilities can get so caught up in the planning and the preparation that he forgets to take action. Although I, myself, have lived a very busy life, sometimes I get caught up in planning for possibilities and for anticipating problems and dangers, so much to the point that I overthink things. I know several people who are in the same boat. While some people act spontaneously, depending upon pure instinct and emotional highways of thought, many of us think things out in great detail, often too much. We weigh out options and anticipate every potential obstacle we can imagine. We think way too much, especially in regard to what situations may have, but often do not.
In 2020, in the slowing down of many external social activities, through the numerous crises, in the midst of the jaw-dropping news cycle, and much more, many of us who have always been used to living life at warp speed have been forced to stop and breath and rest, and in many cases, use this time to plan even more, especially projects and future activities that have rested on the back burner of our possibilities, never seeing the light of day because 2019, 2018, and all previous years have been too hectic. But with this forced change, almost everyone has had to gear down and slow down. For many of us, this situation has given us time to think. And therein lies the problem.
For a normal person, thinking is a good thing. It exercises the mind and expands activity. However, for an over-planner, for a mind that takes up residence in the world of possibilities assessment, “think time” has been like giving seven kilos of cocaine to an unapologetic crack addict: it feeds his addiction, yet it’s exactly what he doesn’t need. Let the hallucinations begin! However, what intelligent person hasn’t become an excessive thinker and/or worrier in the past few months? If a person is awake, is coherent, actually keeps up with current events, and has the cognitive ability to read, he has had bad days recently, days in which he has doubted if the people have walked out so far out in the ocean that they cannot be saved from drowning.
People everywhere, people who in the past have not been news junkies, people who have been too busy to keep up with too much outside of their own existences, have recently stopped and watched and listened and (believe it or not) read, yes, read actual sources that are not spouted on TV. Those people have stopped and realized that they have missed a lot of what has been going on. But now, this time, this crisis, this rudeness, these temper tantrums, these crimes, this violence, these political battles, this manipulation, the ongoing attempt at brainwashing, all of it has shed a blindingly bright light on the world we live in, no matter the group, no matter the political party, no matter the level of screaming. And people are watching. They are listening. And they don’t like what they see or hear. These people are thinking, but they are also taking action, thinking carefully, but knowing that they cannot sit in fear while the structure around them is eroded like acid poured on precious metal. People who are so used to living and loving are now watching, and they fully intend on continuing to live and love and to bulldoze through anything that stands in the way of their lives. People of action do that. And they succeed. It’s who they are. It’s what they do.
Such is the lesson for us all. Planning is imperative. We need to research and know everything that we are capable of knowing, even things we may not want to know. It all prepares us and arms our intellect. And we should indeed plan for as many possible problems as possible. Sharpening the ax is pure wisdom. However, sharpening the ax over and over and refusing to stop sharpening it leaves the lumberjack with no ax blade at all. While tempered, thoughtful planning and self-control are noble, there comes a time when action has to begin, whether in political or ethical causes, in professional campaigns, or in personal choices. Intellect and analysis are essential, but without action, it is all an exercise in futility. I urge you to prepare, but to act, to plan, but to implement, to analyze, but to engage, to research, but to speak, to evaluate, but to vote, to dream, but to do, to anticipate danger, but to fight, to feel doubt, but to love, and to think, but ultimately to live. Life is too short for the alternative. This never-ending year has shown us that fact. If Lincoln didn’t spend any portion of his time actually chopping, the tree would never be brought down, and the shiny, pristine blade would be nothing but an object of inaction.