Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the “wood”

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One of the hardest things for some of us to learn is when enough is enough. We put in so much effort to accomplish goals, and it can be frustrating when we feel that we aren’t making progress as quickly as we would like. We work and work until exhaustion, and still, when we don’t see results we assume we haven’t worked hard enough. Because we are trying to live life with accountability and responsibility, we know the outcome we want is achievable if only we commit to the process, whatever it takes. But what about those times we give it our all, commit fully, and still don’t see results?

Well….sometimes, it’s not you.

Sometimes, you really are doing everything “right”, but something else is inhibiting your progress. It’s probably something you haven’t thought of, and it might very well be something you aren’t even in control of.

I learned this the hard way. Being an over achiever and a person with healthy self-confidence, I generally feel excited by learning new things and sure that I can achieve a decent level of mastery with a bit of practice. When I moved into a small home on a homestead in Michigan, I was not daunted in the slightest by the wood-burning iron stove. In fact, this piece was my favorite in the whole house. It would be a source of warmth for me on cold winter nights. The flames would mesmerize me as I contemplated the Universe. My appreciation for natural resources would deepen, as I expressed gratitude for this gift.

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Of course, this was all dependent on my learning how to start a fire in the first place.

I had stacks of wood just outside the house, and began learning how best to start a fire. Winters are cold in Michigan, and I wanted to learn how to quickly and proficiently get a roaring fire going to warm my house. I learned what kindling was best, and what type of arrangement of the logs would provide the most oxygen to keep the flames fed. But I struggled. I would wake up in the morning to a cold house, because despite my best efforts the night before, the fire had gone out while I slept. I changed the vent settings, I even stayed up as late as I could to throw an extra couple logs on the fire. But no matter what I did, short of waking up in the middle of the night to keep the fire going, the fire would go out. It was even worse during the work day. Even when I managed to get a roaring fire going in the morning before work (which if I am being honest, was rarely “roaring” and more like “purring”), I would rush home after nine hours only to find not a single ember left and a chill permeating the air. I would then spend an hour in the evenings, struggling to get a fire going while also making dinner and tending my pets. I couldn’t understand it. It must be me, I thought. So I persevered, and kept telling myself I would get the hang of it eventually. But after a few weeks, my enthusiasm died out like every fire I started. The beautiful iron stove became synonymous with my failure. I started to feel helpless, because here was something as simple and fundamental as burning wood to heat my home, and I couldn’t do it. The only heat I felt was from my tears sliding down my cheeks in frustration

After three solid weeks of this effort, I was talking to a friend who had tried to walk me through the process several times. When he came over for a visit, he offered to get the fire started for me. It was hard to accept, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it on my own, especially as a woman (a silly qualifier my mind adds to things sometimes). But I did accept his offer, knowing I could learn something from him. And indeed I did! As soon as he saw the logs I was using for my fires, he looked at me with a raised eyebrow and informed me they were significantly rotted. Rotted wood is hard to burn, and doesn’t provide as much warmth as dry, seasoned wood. Because this was my first winter using wood for heat, and the shipment of wood had been delivered to me by the homestead, I had assumed the wood was fine. It wasn’t me after all….it was the wood, all along.

As soon as I got another shipment of wood, I could immediately see the difference. The new logs caught aflame right away, and not only that, I was able to pack the stove tightly so that I could easily get eight to ten hours of heat. I thought of how many hours I had spent trying to burn rotted wood. I thought of the effort I put into that task, again and again, without recognizing its futility. Of course, I couldn’t have known the problem was the wood because of my lack of experience, but I wonder sometimes how long I would have struggled under the belief that I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I know myself. I know that I am a hard worker, that I am bright, and pick up new skills quickly. I know that when I put my effort into things, I see results. But for some reason, I am quick to shift into a mindset that if something isn’t producing results despite my best efforts and trouble shooting, I am inadequately performing the job. I try harder and harder, losing my ability to see the situation clearly. I often think I am the problem when I perceive myself as failing.

So for all of you out there who know you are putting forth your best, committed effort: pause for a second, and think, what else could be inhibiting the results you seek.

Are you trying to start a fire with rotted wood?

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the “wood””

    1. You’re welcome! Sometimes we put way too much pressure on ourselves because we care so much. I’m glad this post reached you when you really needed it.

  1. Thanks for the good parable. I would submit that sometimes a goal is beyond our reach. How we react when we fail is important. Usually it ain’t the end of the world.

    1. How we react is very important! In coaching, instead of “trial and error” we call it “trial and correction”, with the idea that sometimes when we try and fail, we can make adjustments and move on.

  2. That stove does look awesome. Glad you could get it to work! Since moving and starting my new job I have been looking over a lot of people’s shoulders and popping by to ask questions because I’m pretty sure they not only know what they’re doing but also have some tricks to make all kinds of tasks easier…

    1. Yeah, I have learned that the internet and youtube are no replacement for real live help! I had those firestarter sticks and everything and couldn’t figure it out. My biggest insight was how automatic my sense of personal failure was for this task that meant a lot to me.

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