What Does It Mean to Sharpen the Saw?
Every time you face an opponent, you have the opportunity to “Sharpen the saw.”
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln
In an old school model of competition, which so many in sports continue to embrace today,
Your opponent is the “enemy.” You want to crush them, to “hate, kill and destroy” them, No Matter What!
This is because, in an old school model of competition, winning is the ONLY thing that really counts and losing is humiliating.
But to a true champion, their opponent is a valued PARTNER, A “teammate” who will directly help you in your quest for improvement, excellence and peak performance. To a champion, they want tough competition. They embrace the challenge and the uncertainty of the outcome.
Every time you face your opponent in competition, it gives you the change to improve, to “sharpen the saw.” In his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey tells the story like this:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
Competition regardless of the level is NOT war! Your opponent is NOT the enemy! A game, match or race should never be so serious that the only thing you focus on is crushing and destroying your opponent or fearing failure. Understand that the better your competitor is, and the better he/she performs, then the greater chance you have of achieving true excellence as an athlete.
Keeping this in mind, true champions respect their opponent. They interact with him/her honestly with integrity. They treat their opponent with dignity. The true champion plays by the rules and treats the competition exactly the way he/she would like to be treated.
The biggest takeaway is that you remember that every opponent makes you better, makes you sharper. The better the competition, the more you improve.
Do be so busy sawing the tree that you don’t recognize the opportunity to “sharpen your saw.”