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Chop Wood, Carry Water: The Zen of Business Breakthroughs

Ever think about rowing across the Atlantic ocean? Me neither.

But a crazy Irishman named Damian Browne did. And it’s a masterclass in focus. 🇮🇪

Let’s dive in:

In 2022, Damian Browne, a former professional rugby player, set out on a journey that required physical endurance and tapping into the depths of the human spirit.

His mission?

To be the first person to row from across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York City to Galway, Ireland. A distance of over 3,000 nautical miles lay ahead. This challenge would test not only his physical strength but also his mental resilience.

Damian spent an epic 112 days battling the elements, all powered by sheer grit and an unwavering focus.

Damian’s rowing partner had to abandon ship early in the journey, leaving him to face the Atlantic’s solitude head-on. But Damian grabbed his oars and kept rowing. He was alone on a tiny rowing boat, being hit by relentless winds, unpredictable currents, and the emptiness of the open sea.

He kept rowing.

He battled storms and 20 foot (6 metre) waves. His boat, the Cushlamachree (Gaelic meaning “beat of my heart”), capsized at least 5 times. He ate frozen & dried tasteless food, faced isolation, extreme weather, and the constant threat of failure.

The easier choice would have been to give up.

But he didn’t.

To keep himself motivated during this solitary confinement, Damian wrote a simple but powerful phrase above his cramped sleeping quarters in the boat:

“Chop wood, carry water.”

This might seem like an odd choice for a such a high stakes adventure. But there’s a deeper meaning. It’s a shortened version of a Zen proverb: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

The full proverb captures the essence of true focus.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or a novice rower at the beginning of your journey. The core tasks, the fundamental actions — chopping wood, carrying water, or in Damian’s case, rowing — remain constant.

Sentence by sentence, newsletter by newsletter, chapter by chapter. That’s how books are written and dreams are achieved.

When you have mastered something, the buzz can wear off. It becomes more automatic than exciting. But success — whether at sea or in the startup world, is about sticking to the basics, day in and day out.

Damian kindly simplified this for you. “It means just do the fucking work”.

Start chopping and carrying

  1. Embrace the Grind: Like Damian, founders face storms — market volatility, setbacks, and moments of solitude. Embrace the grind. Chop wood (execute your tasks) and carry water (stay nourished with knowledge and gratitude).
  2. Resilience is Key: Damian’s ability to persevere through countless setbacks and challenges demonstrates the importance of resilience. As founders, there will be times when you feel isolated or unsupported. Building mental and emotional resilience will help you weather the storms and come out stronger on the other side.
  3. Basics Before and After: No matter how far you go, the basics never change. The discipline of “chop wood, carry water” applies whether you’re grinding at the start or scaling on your success. It’s a universal truth for business athletes.

So, the next time you find yourself struggling to focus on a seemingly boring or repetitive task, remember Damian battling the waves.

Great achievements are not all flashing lights and excitement. They are usually the result of a lot of simple repetition. Stay focused on the present. Remain committed to your purpose. And trust that each small action you take is bringing you closer to your ultimate goal.

“Chop wood, carry water.” It’s not just about rowing across oceans; it’s about rowing toward your own enlightenment. It’s about continuing to row after enlightenment.

Keep chopping. Keep carrying. Keep focusing.​

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