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Life Lessons From the Woodpile

The Things You Learn While Splitting Wood

By MG (Ret.) John Gronski

I have found that life lessons can be learned by doing some of the most common and simplest things. For example, I love to split wood. I call it functional fitness. I enjoy being outside with a mission that not only serves a purpose but enhances my physical health by burning calories and sparks my emotional health by soaking in the outdoors and seeing the wood pile grow.

Transforming logs into split pieces of wood provides fuel for a gathering of friends around a firepit. For others, it provides warmth in a living room on a cold winter’s night.

I have learned three important life lessons as I swing the axe or maul.

The first lesson is as old as the Bible.  Ecclesiastes 10:10 reads, “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success.”

My friend Charlie, an accomplished Division III soccer coach, taught me about sharpening the axe. He also teaches this lesson to his players. He tells them that in-season success on the soccer field begins in the off-season. Success is bred by studying the game, working on skills, and staying in top physical condition. It is about sharpening oneself prior to the season to bring success during the season.

This lesson is true in just about any endeavor in life. It is why when you peel back the onion to understand how some people have become an overnight success you find out that they have been engaged in years of hard work. Success in any line of work or profession only comes when one works hard at preparing to take on their craft. Spend the time sharpening that axe before taking your swing. The probability of success increases when you work hard to prepare.

The second lesson I learned while swinging the maul is that sometimes you must take a different angle than you started with when talking on a challenge. You must develop a plan and then execute that plan, but you also must be prepared to adapt once you dive into execution mode.

Stay attuned to how the execution of your plan is going. Take in new information as it becomes available. See if the assumptions you made are correct. Sometimes you will swing that axe and hit a knot that you did not see at first. You may have to change your stance and angle or change your approach.

Do not allow your ego to become so tethered to your plan or the decision you made, that you refuse to make a change when a change is needed. So, once you make a decision and begin implementation, stay vigilant and be prepared to adapt.

The third life lesson is always to leave the woodpile higher than when you found it. Anytime we become a member of a team or an organization, strive to make that unit better for you being a part of it. Always give more than you take. Perhaps you can coach a teammate to help them improve. Maybe you can leave behind your example as a person of moral courage and integrity or you can leave your example as a hard worker.

This applies to any organization we are a member of. Whether it is in your workplace, an organization you volunteer for, or your family. Think about how you can make the woodpile grow and then go about serving others and contributing more than you consume.

Remember these three life lessons: 1) Keep swinging that axe but take the time to sharpen it first. 2) Be prepared to take a different angle or approach if you bump into an obstacle. 3) Ensure you leave that woodpile a little higher than when you found it. Give more than you receive.

To read more of John Gronski’s leadership blogs click here.

Continue your leadership journey by ordering a signed copy of Iron-Sharpened Leadership here.

Major General John L. Gronski (U.S. Army Retired) is the founder and CEO of Leader Grove LLC, a leadership consulting firm. John is the author of two books, Iron-Sharpened Leadership and The Ride of Our Lives and he is an international and Fortune 500 speaker.

A decorated combat Veteran, infantryman, and Ranger School graduate, John is a transformational leader and also has significant experience in business as a management consultant, where he led teams implementing large, complex projects. He now serves as an executive coach, leadership consultant, and trainer.

Learn more about John Gronski at https://johngronski.com/

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