“Give me a place to stand on and I can move the Earth.” – Archimedes
Once upon a time, I was young and strong.
Throughout high school, and part of college, I worked summers as a landscaper. My boss loved to give me the hardest jobs, because he knew I wanted to be challenged. Dig a hole 6 feet by six feet by six feet – with only a shovel and pickax. Move truckloads of wood mulch with a wheelbarrow. Rip out a tree stump without any power tools.
That same type of determination helped me in my military career and later as a marathoner. Seek out a challenge that would test the limits of my physical abilities and take it on. Sometimes, I’d succeed, and sometimes I’d fail. Of course, that was before my hip surgery and the introduction of canes into my life.
Last weekend, I tackled a simple landscaping project. The rhododendron in front of our house was overgrown and needed to be removed. I cut off the branches, leaving the largest ones to help with pulling out the root ball. I dug around all sides of the plant, cutting smaller roots with my spade. After an hour of solid effort, it felt loose enough to pull out.
It wouldn’t budge. Some more digging, and I could get the plant to rock back and forth. But it wouldn’t come out of the ground. While my hip has recovered nicely, my leg just wasn’t strong enough as a base. I couldn’t get the leverage needed.
Leverage. The action of a lever. In the past few months, I’ve read several books that referenced the ancient Greeks. Including the scientist, mathematician and inventor, Archimedes – who discovered the principles of volume, spherical surface area and water displacement. And most importantly – in this case – the geometric properties of a lever.
I had the remainder of a 4-inch post in my garage. Using that as a fulcrum, my spade became a lever and I raised the rhododendron. Flipping the post, I propped up the plant, filled in the hole and moved to the other side. Repeat. Then repeat again. In short order, the plant was out of the ground and in my wheelbarrow.
No matter how we attempt to postpone the inevitabilities of aging, we will grow older. Even if we exercise regularly, we will get weaker. In the future, simple tasks will become challenges.
That’s why we must continue to strengthen our minds. My geometry class that introduced me to Archimedes was over 40 years ago. But if I hadn’t read about him recently, I may still be digging in my front yard. (Side note for parents, teachers and students: this experience answers the question, “Why do I have to study geometry?”)
We should seek out knowledge – not just in the area of our profession, but in as many subjects as possible. We should go beyond just checking out a subject on a website but also by reading articles in journals and books. If possible, engage an expert in the field, attend a workshop or listen to an interview.
Belonging to diverse groups – formal and informal – also increases our knowledge. Hearing other points of views helps us learn to adopt different perspectives. Enlarging our network creates more resources that will be available when we need assistance.
With our accumulated knowledge, we’re better prepared to face the challenges that find their way into our lives.