“Work is passive without you. It can’t do anything. Work is only an idea before a person does it. But the moment a person does it, the impact of the work on the world becomes a reflection of that idea—the idea behind the work—as well as the person doing it.” –Michael Gerber
It was a beautiful spring day here in Texas dispersed between our intermittent thunder storms which meant my grass was long overdue for a trim.
I go through all the preparatory steps: filling gas tanks, checking oil levels, opening the side gate, de-dog toy the yard, safety glasses, and set my playlist for a few hours in the sun.
I finish all the accessory work such as weed-eating, edging, and trimming the flower garden before I grab the most essential workhorse in my line up: my 11-year-old, self-propelled, stunning green and yellow, John Deere mower. Let’s just say we’ve logged a few hours together.
She fires right up! But, she’s limping. I cannot get the self-propelling motor to kick in. Not wanting to actually take the time to pull the mower apart and thinking “great, I’ll have to take this in eventually…another bill!” So, I decide I’ll just push the mower for the time being.
A few weeks go by, and I’ve repeated this process a couple times now and just can’t stand it anymore. I call my master mechanic who doubles as my father, and I ask him what he thinks it could be.
The conversation goes as follows:
“Well son, you know it is an old mower, and you’ve put it though the ringer. But that doesn’t mean you give up on it. Just take it apart and see if anything’s going on. View it as a learning opportunity.”
To which I respond, “why can’t things just work like they’re supposed to?! I’m tired of learning…”
1) Problems Are Not Always as They Seem
Sometimes life throws some real heavy wrenches at us and we cannot help but think there is no way I’m getting through this on my own. Our self-talk turns into “I give up,” “I can’t do that,” “I’ve never done this before,” or “this is too much/too complicated.”
When in reality we do not want to deal with the issue at hand. You’re not always going to know what caused this problem in your life. But the fact of the matter is, the problem isn’t going anywhere. It’s chosen you, and guess what? You have to deal with it!
Just like when your car starts to make a funny sound. Turning up the radio only gives you a distraction from the problem. The issue has not gone anywhere. In fact, it’s only growing worse, festering and manifesting itself to other regions because now they have to compensate for its failure, and your inability to address the issue in the first place.
The same goes for your health and numerous other examples.
There is good news, though! What mowing and other issues like this have taught me is problems are not always that complex. They’re not that hard to solve. All you need to do is have the energy to look into the issue at-hand and get a feel for what’s going on.
So maybe you just have one brake pad that’s getting thin. Replace it before you have metal-on-metal and you’ll soon be replacing much more than a brake pad.
So maybe you have some high blood pressure. Maybe the underlying issue is the caffeine high you chase all day. Or you have trouble losing weight. Maybe your genetics are playing a key role, and you don’t respond well to a particular food group that you’ve been indulging in twice-a-week for years.
Long story short: it took me 3 minutes to get the cover off the mower, but only 2 seconds to see a twig caught in the belt drive.
Twig removed. Happy Deere. Happy grass. Happy Jake!
2) Taking Pride in Your Own Work
Here’s something you might not know: Nobody gives two cents about your yard, no matter what your HOA rules state.
The only person that actually cares about the way your yard looks: the greenness of the blades, the sharpness of the edges, the lack of weeds in your garden, is you!
Sure, you may notice your neighbor’s yard when it’s two months past due for a trim, but you don’t really care as long as it’s not infringing on your immaculate yard.
Most work in life is not that exhilarating, it’s not sexy, and it’s not fun to talk about. However, it’s expected to be done. You expect your office to be cleaned by the janitorial staff, you expect those contracts to be legal and binding, and you expect your accountant to file all your taxes in the correct manner to keep you from legal trouble.
Although you do not genuinely care about how the office was cleaned or how long it took, you don’t read through all the jargon in those contracts, and you certainly do not care about all the work your accountant went through, as long as it’s done and done right. You expect this job to be done. You expect your neighbor’s yard to be in reasonable fashion when you arrive home. AS HE EXPECTS OF YOU TOO!
But that janitorial staff can look back on the shimmering office and take pride because they knew how long it took. The lawyer can proudly hand you a contract to sign because he’s confident in his wording and knows the education required to do his work. And the accountant is ecstatic about your $210 refund because he knows how many loops he jumped through just to keep you from paying in.
All this to say: No one will care more about your work, in any area of your life, than you do.
As it should be. And if you do not care about your line of work whatsoever, see point 1 above and then listen to our chat with Al Curtis and Sandi Make here.
Mowing gave me confidence and pride in my craftsmanship that translates to other areas of my life. When I drive home and see the lush green and smell the intoxicating aroma of freshly cut grass, I feel a sense of pride that I helped to create this sensation. No one else will feel this way about my yard but me. And no one else will have that excitement about your work either, but you.
3) Attention to Detail
This leads me to my next point. I can take such pride in my work because I know all the effort involved in the process.
There is a certain order you need to mow to produce your desired result. It requires not only the right equipment but the correct use of that equipment as well.
The difference in a yard that looks pristine, and one that appears like it was cut because it had to be, is in the details.
This includes edging to create sharp lines, weed eating around all trees and structures, bagging or mulching, and blowing off your driveway and patios after it’s all done. Yes, it takes more time, but the idea of such a perfect yard is what motivates me and leads me to take these extra steps.
Have you ever met someone who has lost a bunch of weight and how proud they are of that? It’s because they paid attention to the details: counting macros, calories burned, measuring food, sticking to a plan, and having accountability.
Paying attention to the details makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between doing work because it has to be done and creating something magnificent that you can take pride in.
4) Working When It’s Not Convenient
Grass waits on no man to grow. It does not ask to compare planners and then set an appointment. In fact, the majority of the time it’s not convenient or conducive with my schedule to be out mowing.
The rain does not call and ask if it’s okay to flood your yard for a week straight. Business does not get placed on hold so you can take care of your lawn (but that should be an excusable absence!). Throw in time spent fixing and maintaining your equipment, and you have a real part-time job on your hands.
My point is this: rarely will you be mowing and say to yourself, “this is exactly what I want to be doing with my day.” More often than not it will be a gorgeous, sunny day outside and you rather be at the pool.
Yet, this is a mark of a mature person: working when you don’t “feel like it.”
Working because the work has to get done. Doing work because if you don’t do it, no one will. Choosing work and responsibility instead of play. Making time in your schedule when there is none.
Work, exercise, meal prepping, cleaning house, etc.: all these are necessary chores, and that will never seem convenient. However, they will not just take care of themselves. Mowing has translated to these other areas of my life and has taught me we do not always have a choice in our work, at least for the time being.
5) Lend a Helping Hand
It’s rare to find a neighbor that has already learned all the above lessons and keeps a yard as spotless as yours. Sometimes life just gets away from them with kids, work, school, home life; we all know how that goes sometimes.
In high school, I had a decently busy schedule for a 17-year-old. On top of academic and athletic commitments, I had three yards I mowed every week, for no pay, mind you.
My neighbor was a middle-aged couple with an empty nest, and the husband worked in Dubai for multiple weeks at a time. However, in his absence, the grass was not waiting for him to return. It kept growing and growing, and I could feel a tug at my heart that I needed to do something.
The last thing I wanted was to add another yard to my nonpaying chosen profession. But one day I finished up my yard early and just kept going, right into their yard. I went the whole 9 yards, making sure it looked even better than my own.
While I was mowing, it hit me: I didn’t want to just do these people a favor, I wanted to do a great job for them. It should be something they would be proud of, it is their home after all.
I finished up and WOW! The only thing that looks better than one immaculate yard is two! The wife brought over baked goods in return and unfortunately, explained the husband’s absence was now a permanent fixture. I now felt an even greater sense of accomplishment by helping out someone in such need. It just felt right.
Here’s the thing: that yard only took another hour of my day. I was already out mowing my own grass. I had the proper tools with me. I had the appropriate know-how. And she had a need. In the end, it was my duty to help my neighbor out. Honestly, it never felt like work because I knew how much it meant to her.
What tools do you have? What skills are you already putting to use? Where is there a need in the world? How can you marry your skills and assets to fulfill this need?
Your answer doesn’t have to be life-changing. In fact, most of the time it won’t be, but it’s the small, good works dispensed over a lifetime that add up to a world left for the better.
It’s a little silly to think mowing could teach a person so much. Let’s just say I’ve spent a healthy amount of time behind the mower!
What’s been your teacher and what have you learned? Let me know below.