Sharpening the saw and making the best of your situation

This article was originally posted July 11, 2011 by the Huntsman School Blog.

I’m in the middle of reading Robinson Crusoe. It’s one of those books that I’ve always felt like I should read but never have. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it before, it’s rather new, but I’m going to spoil it a little for you: He gets shipwrecked on a deserted island and has to survive by himself.

As I’ve read this account of a lone man’s struggle and his determination to keep living, I can’t help but compare myself to what he’s going through.

He farms corn, tames goats, and builds two separate housing/fortification complexes and a boat all by himself.

I’m working two jobs and am taking an online summer class.

It makes me very grateful for everything I have, from the turkey sandwich I had for lunch to the fact that I don’t have to worry about the natives.

When I compare myself to the character of Robinson, I’m irked that I don’t quite have the motivation he does. I’m sure that if my one goal was stay alive, I could do it. But I have a hard time wanting to actually work. I don’t know if it’s that I haven’t taken time to sharpen that proverbial saw Stephen Covey told me about, or if I don’t feel like I’m validated through my work or something else entirely.

Working two jobs and going to school can make it hard for me to find some “me” time to allow myself to recharge. Whenever I do sneak in some R&R, I usually feel guilty, like I should be doing something more productive. Unlike being a grade schooler, I don’t have a whole summer to have fun. I have to schedule it in and earn every minute of it. I think of all that squandered fun time I had not that long ago and wish that I could have saved that somehow, so I could withdraw it now. And when I do find myself with a little relaxation time, I try to take full advantage of it.

My brother is a lawyer and he often will work 10-hour days. And he says he likes it, which is fine. I would not. I like what I do. However, I need fixed hours. When those hours are up, I need to go home and spend some time by myself and some with my wife.

I care about what I do, but it always makes my job easier when my boss says I did a good job on something. Student jobs don’t often allow for any promotions, so it’s hard not to feel stagnant, which could lead to feeling unimportant.

I worked for a bowling alley once. I looked at where I was at that point in life and thought, “Why am I working here?” I was working there because I needed the money. I didn’t think I was going to change the world. It happened to be a really fun job, and I got to work with some pretty fun people. I enjoyed my job, and I’m pretty sure my customers knew it. Looking back, I hope that because I liked my job, I transferred some of that happiness to my customers. They were going bowling, so it was pretty easy to be a catalyst for happiness. But maybe I did change the world, just a little. I made it better for a few people, a half an hour at a time.

So now when I’m working and I remember that I’m not a doctor or something that has obvious positive rewards and I have a hard time staying motivated, I just try to focus on how whatever I’m doing is an improvement on the world in any little way. It makes me feel less like a cog in the corporate wheel and more like Robinson Crusoe. Then I take a break.

My work might not determine life or death (you can breathe a deep sigh of relief now), but I’m still trying to make the world I live in a better place.

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