I love chopping wood. Throughout the late fall and winter, I participate in our church’s wood ministry by hand splitting logs for a couple of hours on Wednesday mornings. The others on the team refer to me as Paul Bunyan.
OK, in all honesty, they do not refer to me as Paul Bunyan. But it’s sure how I feel when I swing that eight-pound maul into a large piece of helpless oak.
Now, I just turned fifty-eight a few days ago and often, I come home with aches and pains from chopping wood. In fact, the other day, I was working on a log and fell. I landed squarely on top of the log, banging up my knee and arm. It wasn’t a serious fall but now that I think about it, maybe my new nickname should be Paul Bumblin’.
But here’s what I find interesting. The aches and pains I get from chopping wood are not distressing because the end result is for a greater good. In other words, it’s not about chopping wood but about heating houses.
According to several online wood-cutting geeks, a few pieces of oak will keep a wood stove hot for two to three hours. If I could split four pieces of oak in a couple of minutes, an hour of consistent splitting would lead to eighty pieces of firewood. That’s twenty to thirty hours of heat for someone who may rely on wood to warm their home.
So, whenever I get tired, feel an ache in my lower back, or start to whine about the cold morning temperature, I imagine how it would feel if I didn’t have heat at all. That connection reminds me of the bigger picture—it’s not just what we’re doing but why we’re doing it.
And actually, this concept applies to just about anything we do.
The classic example that is often used in corporate customer service programs is that when you buy an electric drill, you are really buying a hole. The drill provides the technology but the hole is what you ultimately need. And if you’re like me, you’ll also need spackle to fill the unnecessary holes that were made because you’re not so good at using drills. But that’s another issue.
So how does this hole concept apply to our routine jobs and tasks?
Let’s say you’re a receptionist and your job is to answer incoming calls and then transfer them to the appropriate person within your organization. On the surface, this may seem like a very mundane job. But in reality, it’s critical to the success of the organization. For instance, when I worked in hospice care, our receptionist was the key to everything. She greeted callers with warmth and compassion. She connected prospective patients to the departments they needed. And she had a smile for every employee when they came in to work each day. In addition to simply answering the phone, she was both a resource and a bright light for everyone she encountered.
Suppose you do data entry. You might feel that your time at work is filled with the monotonous typing of numbers and letters. However, information is one of our most important assets. In fact, in healthcare, the coders are responsible for entering the data that leads to insurance payments and effective medical records. If done correctly, healthcare organizations remain viable, insurance companies cover their subscribers, and patients get the necessary care they need. What may seem like just hitting computer keys can actually lead to keeping people healthy.
Lastly, let’s imagine that you’re a manager. Your job not only has specific duties, but you are also responsible for supervising other employees. You could feel that all you do each day is put out fires and answer questions. I found that managing people was one of the hardest jobs I ever had. But when I stepped back and realized the importance of my role, it made it easier to handle the challenges. You see, as a manager, your job is to help employees reach their greatest potential. That requires attending to their needs, mentoring them, and in some cases, replacing them when they pursue bigger and better opportunities. You are actually not just managing them, you are developing their potential. And that’s pretty cool.
So you see, what we do is often not just about the task but about the bigger picture. When I chop wood, I’m heating a house. When I write an article, I’m helping someone see their world differently. And when I use humor in my presentations, I’m actually making a meaningful point in a fun way.
The “why” in what we do is bigger than the “what.”. And when we understand that connection, the little things become the big things. And that makes a difference to us and to others.
I may not be Paul Bunyan or even Paul Newman (although the resemblance is uncanny) but when I’m chopping wood, every swing matters.