Carry Water, Chop Wood!

This was part of one of those old wise sayings “Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.” You’ll need to forgive me if I did not get it quite right. I think that what it was trying to convey was that no matter what major things may be going on in your life, you still have to get on with the ordinary, mundane daily chores and routines.

So, it may be that you have had a moment of enlightenment when the fog has parted, and you suddenly see things with a previously unknown clarity. But you still need to eat, brush your teeth, go to Tesco, etc. On the other hand, it may be that you are going through a crisis or have just come through a crisis in your life. You get through it but you still need to eat, sleep, and all the rest.

In various things I have read over the years, they seem to gloss over the fact that all great men and women all through history, got up, ate meals, cut their toenails, had arguments with their partner, got frustrated, got annoyed, had good laughs, even went to an occasional party of two. Instead, you get the picture of someone studiously contemplating some noble concept or plan without any of the trappings of ordinary life. But it just cannot happen.

It can happen at any time. Your life is going along beautifully, with not a cloud in the sky. Then, out of the blue, something happens, generally triggered by someone else, and you are left shocked and stunned and wondering where to go next. But you still need to get on with the mundane. And sometimes it can be just that, the getting on with the mundane, those seemingly trivial things that we all do, that actually keeps you sane. Getting on with the ordinary, allows you to get through extraordinary times.

I sometimes wonder why it is when things are happening to or around you, that we often feel a need to put on the kettle. You get yourself a simple cup of tea or coffee and that seems to give your mind space to think.

We all have our routines. They can be pretty boring, but we still need to do them. It is those boring mundane things that can actually fill the majority of your life. But, the ordinary keeps you grounded and sane. Then you can deal with the extraordinary and whatever ups or downs come your way.

I have not sat an exam for a lot of years. At one time they were just a part of everyday life. First at school, then at university, then in my professional training. And having done one professional qualification, and all the stress of exams I then went on to do another. T was just what you did. I have no great desire to sit another exam now. However, I vividly remember thinking, before an exam, that in 3 hours, 24 hours, a week, or however long, it would be over. There was always that exhilaration when you left the exam hall because it was all over. Mind you, I was never one to stand outside discussing the questions. I would rather not know that I had misread the question, or just plain got the answer wrong.

When I was doing exams I had my routines. I had set times when I would study. I had a coffee routine associated with my pattern of work. I did all sorts of regular, routine things that kept my mind clear and sane. Seemed to work because I got through.

These days, 2 or 3 days every week can be like dealing with an exam question – “Discuss the tax implications of the change in the basis periods for self-assessment”. The difference now is that I don’t submit my answers for marking although I do need to justify them to you and given that we are dealing with real people and actual payments of tax, that in itself can be quite stressful. But we have our regular routine, boring activities that keep us right.

Several years ago I came across a blog called “Between the Spreadsheets”. It was fascinating because it was all about other couples who were in business together. As you probably know I am married to an accountant. I was speaking to a dentist recently who is married to a dentist. When it works it can be incredibly rewarding. However, I have met countless people (usually men) who say that there is no way they could work with their spouse. Personally, I would not want anything else. But it can mean you discuss balance sheets over dinner and a bottle of wine. But it works for us!

Having said that we have our boring regular routines which keep us sane and our ways of getting away from the stresses and strains of running a professional practice. You have to have these things otherwise you can’t function at that level over a long period of time. And the occasional holiday!

Now, where did I put that corkscrew?


Alan E Long

The Long Partnership

07770 738770



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