It’s easier to cut with a sharp knife

I hang my most-used kitchen knives on the wall next to my sink so they’re always at hand. Use wears them down, of course. When they won’t glide right through a carrot or when a roasted chicken shreds rather than slices, I know it’s time to visit my father. Dad has wicked sharpening skills.

When Dad returns my sharpened knives he always says the same thing. “Now,” he begins, with an air of authority, “these knives are sharper than the day they left the factory. They will cut you deeply. You will probably see your blood before you feel any pain. But they are now safer than when you brought them to me. A dull knife tears rather than cuts. It is more dangerous because it can do more damage.”

It is obvious that a sharp knives work best. On the face of it, it seems just as obvious that a sharp person works best, but that’s been a hard lesson for me. I have pushed myself too hard for too long on many occasions, bringing on exhaustion so deep that recovery took weeks or even months. Maybe I’ve had a bit of a martyr complex. But fortunately, I’ve figured out taking good care of myself gives me the resources to be the man I want to be – kind, patient, giving, involved, and effective.

I guess most people find that middle age brings deeper self-insight, but I’ve found it startling just the same. Happily, that insight tells me how to stay sharp:

  • I need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. I can get by on less for a night or two, max.
  • I need to talk through things that trouble me, even small things. Just telling them to a friend helps, but it’s even better when my friend can ask questions and give feedback. I find that I grow closest to people with whom I can talk like this.
  • I need to hang out with bright, articulate people with whom I can have meaningful conversations.
  • I need to spend time with my sons. They’re my favorite people in the world. I like to have adventures with them, hear their stories, and just hang out with them around the house. Nobody makes me laugh more than my sons. I am at loose ends when I go more than a few days without seeing them.
  • I need to spend quality time at home almost every day. My home is the center of my world.
  • I need daily quiet meditative time. My thoughts and feelings run at a hundred miles an hour. They need a break, even if it’s for just ten minutes.
  • I need to sing. It’s cathartic.
  • I need to have personal projects that I can work on at my own pace. My career is full of discussing strategies, planning projects, building schedules, and driving deadlines. I seldom do “real work” anymore. Most of my personal projects involve working with my hands; they all involve producing a finished product. They’re not on deadline and I can put in whatever amount of effort satisfies me. They give me a feeling of having accomplished something.
  • I need hobbies that let me explore and learn. This is why I taught myself how to write code as a teenager and why I follow the old roads today. I find it exciting to build deep knowledge by discovering it through direct experience.
  • I need to get away every three to six months for a day or two. I pray and listen for guidance. I consider what’s going well and what’s making me unhappy. I review and adjust my goals and plans.

Sometimes life conspires to keep me from these things. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I don’t need them. When it happens, I soon find myself tired and irritable. If I let it continue, my reserves are soon tapped and I risk depression and exhaustion.

Thanks to Tim Stevens, who through sharing his list on his LeadingSmart blog caused me to quantify my own list. And now I ask you the same question he asks at the end of his list: Do you know what you need to be whole, loving, and full of grace? I’d love to see your list in the comments or, even better, on your own blog with a link back here.

I usually recognize it when life is starting to back up on me. But when I don’t, my dog always lets me know. Find out how.


13 responses to “It’s easier to cut with a sharp knife”

  1. Dani Avatar

    Jim, I see this as a long overdue challenge that I need to take.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Good luck as you think this through!

  2. Michael Avatar

    Mine would be pretty close to your’s. I don’t think I need time at home as much (unless it’s family time, of course) though it is sad to say my computer is what fills that spot even though there are only 3 sites I regularly visit. I suppose you could include it as part of personal projects in a way, but something I find curiously missing from your list is I need to serve God. He’s called me into and out of several areas over the past decade. I’d definitely be duller than I am without that relationship!

    BTW, you better learn from your father how to sharpen those knives. He won’t live forever. A good father/son bonding time perhaps. Then you’ll be able to teach your sons.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Michael, I have to admit, I spend more time on the computer/Internet than is good for me. This is an area I need to address, for the sake of greater peace and balance in my life.

      I need to serve God, but it is not something I do to sharpen the knife. As you know from the long talks we used to have, I have a pretty full inner world. I need to keep that world in order so that I can serve God effectively. These things I listed are the things I need to do to keep that inner world ordered.

      Oh, Dad’s tried to teach me to sharpen knives before. He even gave me one of his whetstones. I just never got the hang of it! Maybe I could do better at it now, as I’m more patient than I used to be.

  3. Tori Nelson Avatar

    Love the comparison between the knives and staying at your sharpest! Thanks for sharing a link to LeadingSmart, too. That is a really cool idea for introspection!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Tori! I hope maybe I’ll see your list on your blog one day!

  4. Holly Avatar

    Thank you, you’ve just given me an idea for my next blog post :) Lately I’ve been wondering what it is I need to stay whole and fulfilled, because I find myself irritable and stressed quite often these days. So I look forward to pondering this for a day or two and then I will write my own list and link back to yours.

    I’m sure mine will also be quite similar to yours…I can especially relate to what you wrote about spending time with your sons. I feel the same way about my daughters.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Yeah, sometimes I think irritable and stressed are my two closest friends. Sheesh. I’ve ramped up my quiet meditative time lately, and that’s helped quite a bit. Anyway, I look forward to your list!

  5. Stealthoneill Avatar

    Hands down I agree with the “Hand around with bright, articulate people” statement. I find the more I am around people who challenge my mind, the better I feel. I like a good debate on a subject and often find great topics of discussion pulled from random news stories that pop on to my phone. People challenge your beliefs, make you think about life differently and – unlike it often tends to be on the internet – do it in a friendly, constructive manner are the best people to befriend.

    1. Jim Avatar

      It’s not so much the debate, but the ideas that flow that energize me. Different ideas are plenty challenging!

  6. amkuska Avatar

    Great list. I doubt you’ll have any problems keeping as sharp as those knives if you keep to it. ^^

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! The trick, of course, is keeping to it! Sometimes I find myself getting grouchy, and usually it means I haven’t been taking good care of myself.

  7. […] so, I was pleased when I read Jim’s “It’s easier to cut with a sharp knife” blog post the other day and he challenged his readers to develop a list of things we need to […]

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