A snapshot of the work that still needed to be done halfway through the job.

Have You Stacked Your Woodpile Today?

I recently was fortunate enough to seize an opportunity to help a friend who just started a tree-clearing business. He’s a First Sergeant for an artillery battery, a family man, and an all-around great person. I was excited to help a friend out and jumped at the offer to do the “pack mule” part of the job that would free him up to concentrate on the skilled part of the work, which I am not very familiar with. I was also trying to earn some much-needed extra money to prepare for my impending transition.

We did my first job two weekends ago, and while it almost got a bit hairy in a couple of moments, went very smoothly otherwise. Trees, chainsaws, and gravity do not always work together in a harmonious manner, so there is a definite element of danger involved. We got the job done in around four hours, which entailed cutting a huge branch from a cherry tree, chopping down a 50-someodd-foot pine, and getting the wood loaded into the trailer.

After the first cut, 25 feet up

After we loaded the trailer and headed home, I felt really proud of the work I had done that day, and was looking forward to next weekend, as my friend’s fledgling business already had a big job booked for the following week.
Fast forward to next Saturday. I was ill-prepared for the sheer volume of work that we had signed up for. I got there late in the afternoon because of a math class that I had to complete. My friend had been working all day, cutting up a HUGE Red Oak that fell on some unlucky person’s house during Hurricane Matthew. We worked hard and fast. We chopped, sawed, carried and stacked until sundown. I had only worked three hours, but I put in 150 percent effort and, as a team, we got a lot of work done. The next day would prove to be more daunting.

We left that Sunday around 7:15 AM, ate some Bojangles on the way, and got on site and started working at around 8. There was literally tons of work to do in the form of unchopped tree sections that had been sawed the previous day, and weighed close to 600 pounds a piece (estimate). There was no thought process or hack for this problem. It was brute force, and I was going to do the brunt of the “grunt” work. My buddy started splitting logs, and I started gathering them, loading the wheelbarrow, and walking them to “the pile”, where the city would be picking these log sections up at a time to be determined later.

As I wiped sweat from by brow and visualized a top-down mental picture of what needed to be done, I had an epiphany.
One of many loads I carried that day.

I stacked about five to six chopped log sections into the wheelbarrow at a time, and walked up a pretty steep incline to the pile. Rinse. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat times infinity, it seemed. As I was working in the unnaturally hot 80 degree day in March, and trying to ignore my lower back and biceps screaming for mercy, I took a quick breather. As I wiped sweat from my brow and visualized a top-down mental picture of what needed to be done, I had an epiphany.

As I visualized what needed to be done, I knew, at that moment, the effort and the perseverance that it would take to get this job done. I knew it would hurt, I knew I wasn’t in the best shape to get it done, but I knew I possessed the fire in my heart to see things through. It was the same stubbornness and same drive that made me a good Airborne Infantryman so many moons ago when I landed on a rock and my ankle swelled up to the size of a small melon. What I did in that situation, and what I have done in every challenging situation since then embodied an old Army cliché: “Suck it up and drive on.” I did just that. My friend had been called to handle a family emergency so there I was: a 41 year-old out-of-shape Paratrooper, a wheelbarrow and a ton of wood to chop and move by myself.

What I did in that situation, and what I have done in every challenging situation since then embodied an old Army cliché: “Suck it up and drive on.”
The hill.

My epiphany was this: I can do anything I set my mind to do. No matter how tough the circumstances are, how challenging the conditions are, or what odds are stacked against me, the standard never changes with the conditions. The standard always remains the same. My standard is always to use whatever resources I have available to me to get the job done, on time, and done right. The only resource I had available at this particular moment was my heart, my legs, and my pack-mule mentality. I decided to refuse to let this set of circumstances defeat me, and I pressed on, load-by-load, up the hill, until my stack was a wonder to behold by the neighborhood watchers, and the yard started looking a lot more like a yard than the lumber section at Lowe’s.

No matter how tough the circumstances are, how challenging the conditions are, or what odds are stacked against me, the standard never changes with the conditions. The standard always remains the same.

By the time my friend and foreman had come back in the late afternoon from his emergency, I had accomplished more than he expected. He took a look at my woodpile and exclaimed, “Wow!”. I was smoked, but still steadily moving towards my goal. We worked until sundown, and I took my bruised and battered exterior to my truck and headed home. I thought a little bit more about what I had accomplished that day. I saw what I thought were overwhelming odds stacked against just one man, and I overcame them. I accomplished a lot more than a man half my age would have done and I am proud of that fact.

I thought of my impending transition, and I asked myself, “Have I approached my transition like I approached this woodpile? Have I used the same guiding principles in my journey from military to civilian life? Have I given my all in this endeavor?” The answer to that was I didn’t. I mean, I didn’t skate through the process, but there are times that I haven’t gone with the extreme violence-of-action or that this dire life-changing situation demands from you at all times. There were times when I took the easy left, the family time, the “insert-something-here-that-is-more-fun-to-do”, and I resolved to focus myself to stacking my woodpile for the rest of my military transition.

The pile near the end of that day’s work.

What that woodpile did for me was this: it reignited my desire to be someone great; who can look in the mirror and be immensely proud of. It reinvigorated my efforts to stay on top of my studies and and win at all costs. I came to that job site as someone who wasn’t as focused as I needed to be, and, before I left, I took this snapshot of the woodpile that I had created and resolved to use it as motivation when my mind tells me the situation is too tough, the problem is unsolvable, or the material I am studying is too complex for a simple grunt’s understanding.

Your woodpile may be a very important mission that you and your team accomplished against insane odds. It may be overcoming a disability and still driving forward daily to be the best you can be. It could take the form of simply reworking a process that helped a lot of troopers out. It could be anything that took your entire focus, attention and drive to accomplish. I hope it becomes your effort when it becomes time for you to transition. My woodpile? Well, my woodpile is literally a pile of wood.

All kidding aside, don’t ever sell yourself short; whatever the task-at-hand happens to be, methodically and steadily work towards your desired end-state. If you put your whole heart, mind and body into achieving your goals, you will succeed at anything you want to do. What makes this hard to do sometimes are the many distractors and your own worst enemy: self-doubt. Cast that doubt aside and put your best foot forward. Believe in yourself, focus on reaching your goals and win at all costs.

I am stressed out, frightened beyond belief, and intimidated by the date that looms closer and closer every day. I am leaving behind all of my friends, my way of life for the last two decades, and an organization that I know intimately and love deeply. As I steel myself for the next interview, work on the next project that will help propel me to a job in tech, and maybe make the contact with someone who will value what I have to bring to the table enough to give this veteran a shot, I will take a look at this pile of wood and know in my heart that I can do it, and do it well. I can do anything that I set my mind to do, and so can you. Good luck in all of your endeavors, and I hope that you stack your woodpile way higher than mine when it’s time for you to transition. God bless you, and the job that you do.