Sharpening Your Blade

If you don't take time to sharpen your blade, you'll become ineffective.

This is the seventh and final part of a series called “7 Habits of Highly Effective Pharmacists.”

All too often, we complain that there’s too much to do. We live busy lives and rarely allow ourselves time to sit back and enjoy life. Instead, we just move on to the next thing.

Having a crazy schedule, out-of-control family life, or tons of stressors can all lead to burnout. If you don’t take a break, bad things may start to happen. Just think of the old airplane analogy: When the air masks drop, the first thing you need to do is put yours on. If you don’t put yours on first, you can’t help anyone around you.

The final habit, “Sharpening Your Blade,” is about focusing on you and renewing the 4 dimensions of your nature: physical, spiritual, mental, and social.

It reminds me of a story about a lumberjack in the forest. A man comes across the lumberjack trying to cut down a tree. He’s hacking away, but it looks like he’s barely even broken the bark. The man asks him, “Why don't you just go to your shed and sharpen that ax so you can cut this tree down faster?” The lumberjack answers, “I can’t. I don't have time to sharpen my ax.”

If you don’t take time to sharpen your blade, you’ll become ineffective.

Invest in Yourself

Every dollar you invest in yourself—whether it’s toward education, physical health, mental training, or dinner dates with your spouse—is the best investment you can make.

When I consult about business management, the money topic often comes down to how the owner views consulting. Is it an expenditure or investment? If it’s the former, the owner is going to resent me and what I have to teach. If it’s the latter, working with the owner is joyful.

When I think about pharmacy school, it initially seemed like an expenditure because I hated class and exams. Now, it’s a joy because I use what I learned on a day-to-day basis.

However, you have to value yourself before you can sharpen your blade. If you don’t think you’re worth the time and effort, take a look at your paradigm.

Physical Renewal

I have to admit my paradigm is distorted for this realm because I often say I don’t have time to exercise. But, if you think about it, you don’t have time not to take care of your body.

Pharmacists know better than anyone that your health decisions affect where you end up later. If you skip exercise and eat chips every day, it’ll turn into obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

I try to walk every day, but I got there by creating a “mini habit”—a goal that’s laughably small, like one pushup a day. But, by doing that one pushup, a compound effect started to take hold, and eventually, I did 10, then 20, then 30.

Spiritual Renewal

This involves connecting to your inner value system and reflecting on your life’s purpose. No one else who has a purpose in life like you, and when you don’t reconnect with yourself, you end up living an unfulfilling life.

If you’re religious, praying is a good exercise, but if you aren’t, meditating, fasting, journaling, or reading spiritual books is a great way to reconnect. When I’m journaling, I ask myself questions like “What did you learn yesterday?” so I can reflect on the actions I’m taking every day.

Mental Renewal

Some spend more than 20 years educating themselves and say, “I’m never going to learn again.” I’d argue that those who don’t want to continuously improve by learning new things are at a significant disadvantage in the workplace, home, and community. Spending time to gain knowledge is one of the best things you can do to renew your mind.

Learning new skills will be more valuable to you in the workplace, but continuously learning can also help you improve your marriage, next home purchase, auto mechanic skills, or quilting abilities. Reading improves your mind by soaking up knowledge from an expert.

If you can’t sit down and read an actual book, listen to an audiobook. I recommend The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. It’s what this series is based on, so why not learn from the master himself?

Social Renewal

When we think win-win, we agree we want the best outcome for everyone in every scenario. Then, we seek to understand before being understood. Then, we synergize to produce solutions we may never have been able to come up with ourselves.

To have fulfilling, growing relationships, we first have to earn our neighbor’s love. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “A full life is not thinking only of oneself and hoping that everyone else makes your life better. True, meaningful life comes from influencing others and making the best for everyone else.”

Daily Victory

Can you spend 1 hour a day working on these things? Maybe it includes 20 minutes of journaling, 20 minutes of exercise, and 20 minutes of engaging your mental capacity.

Sharpening your blade is what Covey calls “the daily private victory.” As you grow yourself, you’ll discover unforeseen things you can do. As Phillips Brooks put it:

Someday, in years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now. Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer.

This series is just the beginning. It lessons can’t be applied all at once, because it takes time to erode the bad habits and apply the good ones. As long as you keep applying the lessons to your life, you’ll gloriously conquer.