The Straight Path: advice for mowing, and more.

posted 2014-Jun-28

When I mow the lawn I strive to mow in straight, parallel lines. The pragmatic among you will say that it doesn’t matter, that as long as you cover the whole lawn the results will be the same in the end. Indeed, parallel lines might not even be the most efficient coverage for most lawns.

The thing is, the consequence of my work is not just the smooth lawn. The mower leaves tracks that last several days, evidence of my efforts. Everyone can see how I got the job done. More importantly, I see it. This matters.

When focusing on your work, people will tell you to “keep your head down”. If you do that when mowing a row, when you turn around and look back on your progress you will see some minor waverings. Maybe the lawn bumped and turned you, or you got distracted by a grasshopper, or you swerved to mow up a particularly juicy clump of grass. It happens. If you then put your head down again and just follow this path on the way back the unevenness will often get worse. Your (literal) shortsightedness repeats the mistakes of the past, and you don’t even notice it until you take time to reflect.

Instead, when you go to mow a row, pick a goal at the far end. Where do you want to end up? “I want to finish with the left wheel right next to that rose.” Keep your eye on that goal the entire way; adjust course as necessary. If you had your head down on a previous row, and you’re mowing against a wavering line, it is exceptionally tempting to follow that line. Maybe just a little. Don’t give in.

You’re following a different path this time. A straighter path. One that will get you to your goal sooner, and one that you can look back on with pride.

Gavin Kistner
10:36PM ET

When I write code on a new problem, I too often just start in without considering what I’m really trying to accomplish. When I am parenting my children, too often am I focusing on the moment. When I’m arguing with my wife, too often am I nit-picking about the last thing said.

This may not be a particularly clever metaphor. It’s probably not even original. As with horoscopes, Rorschach tests, or staring at static, we humans think that we can see patterns and correlations where none exist. Still, it occupied my mind pleasantly as I made my green masterpiece today.

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