This I Believe

Richard - Madison, Connecticut
Entered on October 9, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: nature, work

With the onset of autumn, my wife and I had our annual planning discussion about THE LEAVES. You see, we live in an area of Connecticut that has a lot of federally protected wetlands and are thus surrounded by deciduous trees. This makes for lots of peace and quiet, and is absolutely lovely in the Spring, Summer, and early Autumn. Come November, however, we’re hip deep in leaves, acorns, and other tree related debris.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Wife: “So what do you want to do about the leaves this year?”

Me: “I can do it”

Wife: “Are you sure? I don’t mind hiring ‘the guys’ to do it.”

Me: “No, I can do it”

Wife: “Remember last year? You didn’t think you would ever get through it!”

Me: “It’s OK, I can do it”

Wife: “What about your allergies?”

Me: “I’ll be OK.”

Wife: “Really, I don’t mind hiring ‘the guys’!”

Me: “No really, I’ll do it”

So, every year I take on the intimidating task of clearing the leaves. As the years have gone by, I have progressed from using rakes alone, then adding the leaf vacuum/mulcher, the backpack style leaf blower, and finally the 5 HP push behind monster leaf wind tunnel combined with tarpaulin. With all this technology, you’d think that the job would be pretty easy; but you’d be wrong! The fact is that those individually feather weight leaves add up to some serious mass in aggregate. In the final analysis, a ton of leaves weigh, well, a TON; and despite what you’ve heard about the power of hurricane force wind speed, leaves WILL NOT MOVE once the mass reaches a “critical mass”!

So, here I am in October looking at the beautiful colors and thinking about the trials and tribulations to come. In truth, however, I’m actually looking forward to clearing away the leaves! The reason is that I believe in the power of simple, physical, daunting tasks. Clearing leaves is one example, but there are many others; organizing the garage, and cleaning the attic easily come to mind. These tasks have very similar characteristics. They require a lot of hard work, they’re time consuming, and it feels great when they’re done. In many ways, they are akin to an idealized view of projects in the workplace.

First, they have a clear, attainable, near term goal. In many projects, and in many of life’s other endeavors, success is uncertain and takes years to achieve. In contrast, the “Leaf Project” has an obvious endpoint that is not only doable, but doable in relatively short order. The motivation of a well defined goal in plain sight has tremendous power!

Next, they have a plan. Starting at the right point in the Autumn cycle, sectioning off the yard into manageable chunks, moving the leaves downwind and downhill as much as possible, using a combination of tools, blowing just the right amount of leaves onto the tarpaulin, and allocating the right amount of time per work session are important considerations. When done well, the toil is minimized and the risk of injury is reduced. A little planning goes a long way!

Lastly, the actual work is cathartic. In the “Leaf Project”, the early despair at the magnitude of the job slowly gives way to confidence as some progress is made. There are always setbacks. Unexpected rain storms, cold snaps, and the sudden appearance of additional leaves blown in from unseen far off trees definitely take their emotional toll. Eventually, however; through sweat, muscle, persistance, and sheer determination the leaves slowly get removed. During the entire process, the evidence of progress is obvious. Section by section of space becomes devoid of the pesky tree droppings, until at last, there are no more. Ah, the joy of a job well done!

So, come November I’ll go out there and do my chore. I’ll sneeze, I’ll cough, I’ll get back aches, I’ll get dirty, I’ll get sore muscles, I’ll get frustrated from time to time, and I’ll get it done! This year, I’ll also reflect on how to make my work projects more like my “Leaf Project”. When it comes to career success, you can find the key in your own back yard!