One day, I was walking through the woods. (Right. If you know me, you know I wasn’t walking through the woods. I’m not a walking-through-the-woods kind of guy; I’m more of a central air, good stereo speaker system, comfortable chair, glass of sherry, and good book kind of guy. But I’ve got a story to tell, and that’s a good opening, so stay with me.)
Anyway, there I was in the woods, when I came across a woodsman toiling hard – too hard, it seemed – to cut an imposingly big pile of logs with his large saw. Now, I couldn’t remember the last time I used a saw to cut anything, let along lots of logs, but I was pretty certain he wasn’t getting his work done as efficiently or quickly as he should have. Upon looking closer, I realized that his saw was rusty and dull, causing him to work hard with poor results. With a sharp saw, I reasoned, he would have cut more logs in less time.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but you seem to be working awfully hard.”
Without even stopping to look at me, he answered, “Of course I am. This isn’t easy.”
“Excuse me once again,” I continued,” but if you would stop cutting for a moment and go sharpen your saw, you’d be able to cut a lot more logs.”
Still not even turning to glance at me over his shoulder, he shot back, “I can’t stop. Look at all the logs I have to cut.” He kept cutting.
And that’s the last time I walked through the woods
This allegory – The Woodsman and the Saw – is as old as the woods themselves, but it never loses relevance. Four years into what has proven to be a strong, steady job market recovery, many of us still have big piles of logs to cut. In other words, there’s still ground to make up, losses to recover from, or opportunities to seize. Some of us have done that; some still need to. No matter: we each have a log pile.
And what that log pile is, in simple, practical, and non-metaphorical terms, is the immediate task of moving our careers forward, thankfully in a supportive and opportunity-driven market. Which brings us to this: sharpening your saw means making yourself a better candidate for more types of positions, even if it means pausing from the day-to-day routine of job search or even a job itself or, at the very least, conducting parallel initiatives, more than one iron in the fire, so to speak.
More than any other post-recession recovery that I remember – I’ve lived through four major and three minor recessions in my adult working life (going back to 1969) – this one is demanding more of us as we move forward, most directly in the educational attainment we have and in the commensurate skills that come along – or should come along – with it.
Case in point: conservatively speaking, 60 percent of jobs created in the next decade will require a college degree. Yet only 32 percent of Americans 25 years old and older have one. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau). That number is ticking slightly higher, to wit, 34 percent of Americans between 25 and 29 have the degree. OK, fine, but that’s going to put upward pressure to achieve more than that in order to best your competition. So then let’s look at the next level, the graduate degree. While 11.8 percent of Americans 25 and older have a graduate degree, only 7.6 percent between 25 and 29 do. Sure, they’re still young, but that’s the wood pile they’ll have to cut.
Before another word, let me be clear about this. I do not believe that simply having that sheepskin makes you more capable than someone who doesn’t, as evidenced by the fact that (and this has been said a million times over) the world’s richest man is a college dropout. However, that comforting thought aside, it’s the marketplace that makes the demands, and it’s demanding degrees. You can argue until you’re blue in the face, but that’s the deal: degrees.
Or, in many cases, certificates. Some sort of tangible evidence of continuing professional development is, with very few exceptions, an absolute must. It follows, then, that with that degree or certificate comes a higher-level, embellished skill set. One would hope.
If that isn’t enough to motivate us, let’s not forget that we humans are different from all other species in very few ways, and one of those ways is our innate drive for personal growth. If we aren’t fulfilling that drive, we are not just putting ourselves in a competitive hole in the job market; we are also not being as fully human as we should. That, in the long run, is an even bigger problem, but I’ll leave that discussion for the philosophy class we should be taking.
So there you have it. You’re the woodsman, the big pile of wood is in front of you, and the saw is in your hands. Before you get to the task of cutting all that wood (metaphorically, your career), sharpen your saw. You never know when you might find someone walking through the woods saying, “Excuse me…”
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