I owe a lot to my dad. Despite his terrible jokes, which tend to grow funnier with their overuse, he has given me a lot of life lessons along the way. He may not know it, but a great deal of his advice came from the simple task of mowing the lawn.
I was not allowed to mow the lawn until I was roughly 16 years of age. Apparently, in my family, that right of passage is a well protected one. “You gotta mow the lines straight”, “Don’t cut it too low”, “Careful around the cars and windows”, “Don’t use the trimmer without pants on”. A lot of pointers given to me along the way from none other than the boss man himself. Dad. Most of the pointers were met with a quick, “Yeah Dad, I know” and the occasional eye roll. I used to think in those days, “How can something as simple as mowing the lawn come with so many directions?” Back then, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Now I know that it wasn’t just “mowing the lawn”. It was a whole host of life lessons, passed down from Dad to Son, embodying so much more than just grass. I’ll do my best to explain.
Within the simple act of mowing, I was taught to plan ahead. Plan out where you are going to mow, what tools you’ll need, how you are going to do it, how much time it will take, and what you’d like your end result to be. “Mow the outside and inside perimeters first. Then make even passes in straight lines”. It seemed simple enough, but with any yard, there are always some tricky spots that come in the form of your typical yard obstacles: trees, flowerbeds, fences, etc. Just like any job you’ll ever do, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Your lawn is going to look like shit if you don’t plan ahead and those obstacles are going to be harder to overcome. To boot, we’ve all seen the guy who mows like he’s vacuuming a rug (Truman Show? Anyone? Anyone?). I cringe at even the thought. Or those guys who go the same direction all the way around the yard. Where is the striping!? How does that look good!? Solution: Plan ahead. Know your end game. You will be much more successful. Oh-and don’t forget the gas ahead of time. Hard to mow when you haven’t enough and the can is dry.
Once you have your plan, execute it and execute it well. “Don’t half ass it”, I was always told. Pay attention to your task. Do it to the best of your ability. Line the last pass up with the next one. Go as slow as needed to get the job done right…the first time. Very important for mowing, even more important for life. I’ve tried to apply this lesson to everything I do. Ample planning and research allows me to execute well. Some tasks I don’t even start unless I know I can do them right. Feel free to ask my wife about that one. She’ll give you a whole “honey do” list of things that I haven’t yet started. But be prepared that you won’t necessarily be able to execute your task perfectly the first time. That’s where your patience comes in.
Be patient right now, this instant dammit! – the ironic statement I’m sure you’ve all heard before. Take your time and do the job right. Even if it takes a long time. Be patient. Grass takes time to grow. It needs to be fertilized and watered frequently to stay green and healthy. It may not look good the first time you mow it, or even the second. You’ll have to come back each week and do it all over again, so don’t worry if it isn’t just perfect yet. Do your best, and be patient of the fact that you, and your yard, will get better. You’ll pick up the speed as your ability grows, which only comes with practice. Your lines will be straighter and your neighbors more envious as you progress. Progress, though, takes hard work.
It was 91 degrees Fahrenheit and 80% humidity when I last mowed. I sweat my ass off. It was hard work. I have a fairly large yard and a push mower. I would love to have a 42″ zero turn commercial mower that would allow me to get the yard done in 15 minutes flat with little to no sweat off my brow. Unfortunately, affordability gets in the way of that dream. (Anyone reading this who would like to donate a used -or new- mower as described above is welcome to do so!) But what my Dad taught me was that hard work pays off. Even though I’m tired and cranky by the time I get to the back yard, I always remember that – at the very least – with my hard work I still get a good workout, but more importantly, I get a good end result.
Sense of Accomplishment
Mowing is my zen moment. I get time to myself to think about things. I actually thought about this article whilst mowing-go figure. The first thing I did when I was done mowing, was sit down and admire my work. I was proud. Mowing can be such a rewarding task. You can very easily make things neat and tidy and have a bright line indicator that the job has been done. It’s either mowed, or its not. Easy to tell. And with all of the practice I’ve had over the years, I typically like what I see when I’m done. For my own personal gratification, I play a game with the wife called, “How’s my lawn look?”. Its that simple really. I just keep asking her that question continually. Each time, I get a different answer, which are mostly encouraging; however, she has occasionally grown tired of the game and given a quip rather than a compliment. Either way, I am not swayed. I know that I have done a good job, and can admire it as something that I’ve done well.
The most important aspect of mowing is that it’s repeatable. The yard grows, you have to mow it again. And again. And again. You get to practice these life skills over and over. Each time you can assess your progress and make changes for the next time. Decide what worked well, and what didn’t. Repeat the good and omit the bad. All in all, its an easy recipe for improvement for any task. Practice makes perfect. The life lessons get ingrained into your psyche for the world ahead. The world of tasks outside of your yard.
To summarize my analogy, and bring it all home, I’ll cite a movie we are all familiar with. The Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi told Daniel-son to “Paint the Fence” ,”Paint the House”, and “Wax the Car”. Although they all seemed to be menial, unrelated tasks to the art of Karate, we all smiled when Daniel-son was first able to defend himself using those techniques. The same goes for mowing. I didn’t know it at the time, but the mere act of mowing the lawn taught me a lot about life. I can now efficiently plan out and execute a task, using a good dose of patience and hard work, in order to gain a sense of accomplishment that is something I can repeat again in the future if I need to. It as simple as mowing the lawn. Thanks Dad.