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Balancing act: Long winter of shoveling teaches work-life lessons

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 8:00 a.m. MST

The bounteous snowfall we've received this winter has provided plenty of opportunities for shoveling. And it turns out this old shovel has some work-life lessons to teach.

Greg Kratz

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A couple of years ago, my wife bought me a snowblower for Christmas.

Needless to say, I was thrilled at this gift. Shoveling has never been one of my favorite activities, and I looked forward to saving my back and blowing the snow away.

Due to the rather dry, warm winters we've had since then, I had only used the snowblower a couple of times.

Until this winter.

Thanks to the seemingly never-ending string of big storms that has come our way this year, I've had plenty of opportunities to use my excellent gift, and I have taken advantage of those chances.

However, I have found that, at times, a shovel is still the best tool for removing the snow from my driveway and sidewalks.

And when it comes to shoveling, I've got the perfect tool. It's got a big plastic scoop and a wooden handle, and I've been using it for as long as I can remember.

I don't know when my dad bought the shovel, but I remember using it (a lot) back home in South Dakota as a teenager. About the time I struck out on my own, he gave it to me to keep.

I don't think either one of us expected it to survive as long as it has, but it's been a great tool for me for more than 20 years.

Of course, I used it again several times over this past weekend. And it occurred to me that, in both my work and family life, I need to be more like that trusty shovel.

I know what you're thinking: all of this shoveling has addled my brain. Just let me explain.

First, my shovel has been completely dependable. I always know where it is and that, with it, I can finish the job for which it was designed.

I try to be the same way as a manager. I want my team members to know that I'm available for them every day and, if they need me, I can help them finish the jobs they have to do. This has been harder for me since changing to a career that is outside of my basic education and experience, but I'm trying to learn enough to be as useful as they need me to be.

At home, my wife and children have to be able to depend on me in many different ways. They need to know that I'll work hard at my job so I can provide for our family. They need to know that I'll help with chores or homework or whatever else needs to be done around the house. Most of all, they need to be able to depend on my constant love and support.

I'm trying to succeed in all of these ways, but I know I can do better.

And dependability isn't the only lesson my shovel can teach me. Over the years, the gray color of the shovel's plastic scoop has faded, the part that has been scraped over concrete hundreds of times has worn down and the brand name has faded from the handle. However, despite its age, the shovel remains sturdy and sharp enough to handle whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

How does this relate to me? Well, I think it means that, despite my ever-advancing age, I need to take care of myself both physically and mentally so that I can remain sturdy and sharp.

As I've mentioned before in this space, that means I need to make more of a commitment to exercising and managing my diet. I've tried to get on the exercise bike each morning (unless I'm out shoveling snow), and that's helped me make some progress toward my goal of getting into better shape. I also stopped drinking carbonated beverages a couple of years ago, and that's had a positive impact on my health.

Regarding my mental well-being, I try to set aside some time for myself every day to read or think or otherwise use my brain in creative ways. I've also made a conscious effort to learn new things at work. I know I need to keep exercising my brain if I want it to stay sharp as I get older, and that's what I intend to do.

(Some may say writing a column comparing myself to a shovel proves that I need to work harder in this area. They might be right.)

Finally, my shovel never complains or whines, whether it's being used twice a day, every day, for a week or hangs on a nail in the shed, unused, for months at a time.

Again, this is something I should remember both in the office and at home. I know I'm fortunate to have a job that I enjoy and that allows me to support my family, and I shouldn't take that for granted.

At home, I shouldn't give in to the temptation to whine about how tired I am or how busy life can be. Instead, I should remember that being tired and busy is directly related to the fact that I have an active, amazing wife and four smart, healthy children who always have something scheduled.

In other words, I should count my blessings and not my perceived problems.

So there you have it. Perhaps such musings prove that this winter has lasted a little too long and is affecting my mental health. But I'm glad for the lessons of the shovel, nonetheless.

Speaking of which, I see a few flakes floating down from the sky. It looks like it's time to once again put that sturdy, dependable shovel to use.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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