Sharpening Your Ax

Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”


Preparation is the key to career success


In order to do anything well, you have to prepare. I doubt reading that statement will create an “Aha moment” for anyone; however, when we think about preparation in terms of our careers, we often think that the majority of the preparation is done in college. Then, following college, we navigate the maze of our career, advancing as the opportunities present themselves to us.

This is not managing your career – this is more reactive. Individuals that wish to advance their career and achieve their career goals must take a more proactive approach.

Most people probably think they do not have time to work on their career goals in addition to their day job and all the other things going on in their life, but I think we can all find 3 or 4 hours a week by either cutting out 30 minutes a day on something that has little value or getting up 30 minutes earlier every day. It is really not that difficult.

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.                 –Confucius

So what does this look like? It depends on where you are in your career. For example, a new college grad might not know exactly what their career end-goal might be. Or, they might know what the end-goal is but have no idea of the steps that are between where they are today and where they would like to be in 30 years. A recent college graduate could spend a few minutes a day reading and developing their leadership skills (e.g., problem solving) or building their network. Find people who are in the type position that you want to be in one day and network with them – this is one of the best ways to learn what it takes to succeed.

Those in mid-career very likely have an understanding of their career goal and what it will take to get there. It is just as important to build your network at this career-stage and keep it alive and active. Also, understand the things that will make someone indispensable in your industry and work on those areas.

No matter what career stage you are in, continually update your resume with notes about accomplishments, certifications, etc. Capture these notes as they occur and when the time comes to use your resume it will be much easier to craft a compelling resume because you will have good notes about your accomplishments that you can craft into powerful statements.

If you are an entrepreneur, spend some time the first part of the day, before you have to start putting out fires, thinking about your big idea and your strategy for getting there.


Preparation sharpens the brain to be more acutely aware of opportunities when they present themselves. Your business intuition becomes more developed and sensitive. Preparation is the essential part of getting where you want to be.

Now go sharpen your ax!