Life Lessons From a Sharpened Pencil

Have you ever been trying so hard to make a change that you feel blocked on every hand?

Over the past few weeks, I have felt nagged at ever turn, one stumbling block after another and wasn’t quite sure whether I was really going in the right direction or if this was just something I need to brush off and move past.

But then school started back. And you know, things get pushed to the back burner.

Working in a public school it’s not uncommon that things get moved around from year to year and so it wasn’t too much of a surprise that I would be moving this year. When I moved into my new office, one of the things I noticed was a pencil sharpener still attached to the wall. Not one of those new fangled electric ones that seems to reduce a pencil by half by the time it’s adequately sharpened, but the old kind with the crank. I remember having one of those as a kid.

As I sharpened a stack of pencils, I was struck by how nice and evenly the pencils had been sharpened and it dawned on me that I couldn’t think of a good reason why the electric ones were even necessary. Besides the fact that they were a little quicker, the old fashioned version seemed to have done a better job. Then I did a little of that mindfulness stuff that seems to be all the rage and I felt the pencil, really FELT the pencil as it was in my hand. I noticed the smoothness of it, the minor angles and I felt the pencil literally changing within the sharpener. As the pencil enters the sharpener, it is initially only moderately engaged by the blades. As it begins to get sharper, the grinding of the blades is tougher, and tougher and there is more energy exerted by my arm as I twist the handle, then just before the pencil is perfectly sharp it gets as tough as it can be and then almost in an instant it loosens and the pencil is perfectly sharp.

At home, my family generally uses handheld pencil sharpeners. The slowness of the manual pencil sharpener doesn’t give the same effect. The rapid blades of the electronic version make the change in tension unnoticeable. But there’s something about the manual sharpener that allowed me to notice every change.

And then I made the connection.

The connection that happens when we slow down and actually experience the life that we are living rather than going through the motions. I made the connection that in my life right now, I am the pencil.

One of my favorite ice breaker questions is, “Are you the hammer, or the nail?” It’s a bit of a metaphor, but it also says a lot about how you look at things. Are you a hammer because you are hard and destroy things are because you like to create? It’s all about perspective.

Perhaps I’m more alert these days. Making monumental changes in your life often make you more aware. This time last year, I left what was a seemingly cushy job where I was well respected, and appreciated, working full time and making a decent salary. I had a dream of building my own business. One that would help weary parents and educators alike, by supporting them as a parent coach so that they could support the children that they love and care for. Literally almost to the day, I am one year from the biggest move of my life and it’s making a little more reflective than even usual.

I’ve never really been one for gambling, but this was a gamble if I do say so myself, and it’s normal to wonder if it’s one that will pay off. Moving in the direction of entrepreneurship as a mother of 4, then soon to be grandmother of one, with student loan debt, credit cards and just life to live is a scary notion. But I guess it wasn’t quite as scary for me, because like that pencil, there wasn’t too much resistance right at the beginning. I knew I would give up a long drive and gain more time with my kids, so in some ways that was removing a little bit of the sting.

But now, as I juggle contract work, awaiting the time when my business supports me full time, I feel like blades are really grinding away on me. Managing multiple schedules, navigating the world of independent business ownership and handling the mommy guilt that comes from having to sacrifice time and treasure with my kids as duty calls, is challenging to say the least. In fact, if I’m being truthful, which I do try to be, it’s one of the main reasons I avoided starting a business all along. Even if you hate your job, knowing that each day you walk in, do what you do and leave, plus have a paycheck at the end of the week, has a little bit of comfort to it. When you are building a business, you literally have to build it, so they will come.

But today, partly due to the time I have to be more present, something about that pencil sharpener is giving me hope. It’s letting me know that the old saying about it always being darkest before the dawn might just actually be true. There’s something in business, and really even in life if you believe in that, called the tipping point. It comes when you’ve made enough small, sometimes seemingly inconsequential, efforts for a period of time and once you have done enough it all falls into place. Sometimes I think of it as a steady drip in a bucket, it may takes days, weeks or even months, but every single drop adds to that water, and eventually the bucket will not only be full, but it will be overflowing. If you stop too soon, you’ll never see that bucket full. Just like that bucket, If you don’t keep advertising and honing your skills your business won’t take off. If you give up on that new diet or discipline plan with the kids, life will go right back to the way it was. But if you keep at it, just like that pencil, change will come.

You may be reading this and feeling overwhelmed or ready to toss in the towel, but today, remember the pencil and know that your just before you are as sharp as you need to be the pressure will be at its greatest. Keep plugging on and take peace in knowing that your time will come.

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