It’s easier to cut with a sharp knife

This post from 2011, which I’ve freshly updated, deserves another chance.


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 tomato or when a roasted chicken shreds rather than slices, I know it’s time to visit my father. Dad has mad 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. I’m definitely a type-A personality, and maybe I’ve had a bit of a martyr complex too. But fortunately, I’ve figured out that 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 at least seven hours of sleep each night. I can get by on less for a few nights, max, but then I become very grouchy.
  • 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 when I talk through these things, I am more likely to resolve them rather than let them molder and become big problems.
  • I need to hang out with bright, articulate people with whom I can have meaningful conversations.
  • I need to spend time with my sons, who are my favorite people in the world. I like to hear their stories and just hang out with them. Nobody makes me laugh more than my sons.
  • I need to spend quality time at home almost every day. My home is the center of my world.
  • I need regular 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 singIt’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, leading people, and driving deadlines. The pressure can be very high. I need little things I can do with my hands and finish them at whatever pace I choose. It feels freeing to work on them whenever I darn well please, and when I finish, I feel like I’ve 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 take pictures with old film cameras today. I find it exciting to build deep knowledge by discovering it through direct experience.

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.

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.


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

  1. Robyn Avatar

    Well, I don’t have a list, but your post has inspired me to create one. Yesterday, two things at work came crashing down on me, causing me to spiral. They were of my own doing. One of them the result of being rash; the other the result of being avoidant. Both are costing me plenty, including sleep and peace of mind. I take on too much work. I’m programmed that way. I am going to “sharpen” myself so this does not happen again. Thanks for the insight.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Robyn, boy, we firstborn type-As sure have the stress to manage, don’t we. Good luck coming up with your own list. I hope you stick with it better than I seem to.

  2. pesoto74 Avatar

    It took me a while to learn some of these lessons. Especially not to keep plugging away when I am too tired. Now I almost always stop for a break when I see that I am spinning my wheels. And it is amazing how quick a solution to a problem comes up when I look at it again when I am rested.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m still trying to build, I guess, the right habits here. I find myself pushing, pushing, pushing to get things done and only when I’m about to collapse do I realize I’m past the point where I should have stopped!

  3. John Smith Avatar
    John Smith

    Over the years, I have learned what feeds my soul. And I find when I neglect that nourishment, I get increasingly agitated with even the smallest things. I do say Mr. Grey, you get very reflective this time of year. :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m usually reflective. I just don’t always write about it!

  4. Anonymous Son Avatar
    Anonymous Son

    Wow, you’ve seemed to put my thoughts into word-form for me. Some people (my family) don’t understand how a person (myself) needs quiet time, alone time, reflection time, educational time, etc. after an 11-hour 100-mph workday. I’m not a freak, after all! Thank you :).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There are few true freaks. Most of us just have our ways. It often takes much of our adult lives to accept that, and honor it.

  5. Holistic Wayfarer Avatar

    A beautiful blog you have here, Jim. Inside and out. I appreciate the self-awareness that helps you stay on track. To answer your ques: I would hope my whole blog spills over with what keeps me vitalized.


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