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  • Chad Kanyer

What I Learned From Lawn-Mowing

If you're a guy who has never mowed the lawn, I feel sorry for you.

Growing up, this was always one of my standard chores. No, I didn't get paid for it -- it was just something I handled for the family. Every other Saturday or so, it was my job to get out there with our old Toro mower for a couple hours and get it done.

I still remember my dad "selling" the assignment to me..."Man, I just love that feeling of accomplishment when the lawn is looking nice and clean when I'm done? Gosh, I love that."

Always selling, always teaching. I'm grateful. And the knowledge of being worked by obvious dad didn't block me from being ... worked by obvious dad.

Color me sold: The end result was always a beauty, and honestly, the activity itself wasn't so bad, either. I was outside, I was alone (though an extrovert, I need my along time), and I was making things better (both the lawn and myself).

Looking back, my enjoyment of mowing the lawn truly baffles me. Delayed gratification has never been my thing (can anyone relate?), and even when "life was slower" (you know, when the coolest online gathering place was MySpace), I could never sit still for more than five minutes.

How could such a methodical, unchanging activity produce a sense of joy and purpose to a young, ADD-plagued kid?

As I ruminated on that question, I unearthed a few similarities between mowing the lawn and just generally getting things done in life.

Here they are:

[1] Fulfilling your responsibilities fulfills you.

Thomas Jefferson's quote “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it" reigns true for me.

Great things might fall into your lap for a season, but even then, hard work is needed to keep them there.

Sometimes, staying consistent, keeping focused, and working hard is a complete pain -- even if you love the activity most of the time.

That is how I feel about writing and podcasting (less about podcasting, to be honest) -- sometimes I really don't want to do it.

But I try to remind myself in those moments that pushing through those little obstacles gets me one step closer to the next reward, windfall, or session in which I genuinely just enjoy doing it.

The delayed gratification is nice, but there is even a payoff when you complete a task you didn't want to do -- the triumph of overcoming.

That feeling of victory satisfies more than avoiding the task.

[2] Strong understanding leads to stronger innovation.

So many of us try to create earth-shattering innovations before fully understanding the realm in which we're trying to innovate.

Mowing the law reminds us that before we can come up with the most efficient, enjoyable, and self-propelled route around the lawn, we will have to get out there and mow the lawn "the traditional way" a few times, or maybe a few hundred.

This is the 10,000 hours rule that Malcolm Gladwell writes about. You can't become truly visionary unless you fully grasp the traditional way for a while.

Reminder: Tesla was Edison's understudy for years. How would he have ever appreciated the opportunity that alternating current gave us without thoroughly understanding the advantages and limitations of direct current?

[3] Wet days damper pace, but not progress.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” [Confucius]

I used to hate rainy days, but they are forced reminders that not every day is meant to be used for world domination.

I think that the "rain" in our lives restricts our activities for a purpose -- for our health.

After all, burnout is real, and many of us are so locked in on achieving our goals that we can easily neglect opportunities to unplug, breathe, and maybe cozy up on the couch with our loved ones.

We do not truly "lose" a day of progress, but simply gain progress in a different dimension, and we always come out hungrier than ever the next bright morning.


Some questions for you:

When is the last time you mowed the lawn, or did something similar. Perhaps it's washing your car by hand -- the old school way -- or writing a long-form journal entry. Something slow, inefficient, and kinda hum-drum. These activities enlighten us and force us to breathe. Could you benefit from that?

Do you have a big dream? If yes, what must you understand in order to innovate in that space? What could be the tedious, less-exciting rites of passage necessary for you to fully grasp what needs to change, and how it could be changed?


When I post, you'll know.

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