Purpose and greatness

Life is messy and complicated. When pursuing our goals and dreams, it can feel as if a high degree of stress and emotional turmoil is baked in. Anxiety, clouded thinking—these are just a natural part of the all-important daily grind. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In Chop Wood, Carry Water, author Joshua Medcalf creates a compelling portrait of the philosophy and mindset that can make you “fall in love with the process of becoming great.”

Chop Wood, Carry Water is very short and to the point. You could easily read it in an afternoon. The book is presented as a novel of sorts, where a young man, John, is training to become a samurai archer under his sensei, Akira. The plot and characters are not really developed, and serve mostly as a vehicle for Akira to dispense the self-help wisdom of the book.

As might be guessed from the basic plot, many of the ideas in the book are drawn form Eastern philosophy. The main focus is on committing fully to the process at hand, having a growth mindset, and letting go of your emotions and ambitions. The eponymous task of chopping wood and carrying water is a good example. The would be samurai, John, has to perform these menial tasks on a daily basis in order to learn humility, diligence, and focus. The book does an excellent job illustrating the importance of focusing on dedicating yourself wholly to your craft. Mastering the processes of what you do down to their most basic level brings an unmatched degree of satisfaction and mental clarity.

There is a lot of good wisdom scattered throughout the book, as well as several journaling and other self-help techniques jammed rather awkwardly into the narrative.

And that is where the major drawback of the book comes in. Simply put, Chop Wood, Carry Water is a poorly written book. The story is cheesy and forced, there is an apparent lack of editing, and the style is very childish. This can’t be simply brushed to the side either, as there are moments where stilted story genuinely distracts from the themes of the book and make it hard to take any of it seriously.

This is a shame, the philosophy of this book could be quite compelling indeed, if it was more artfully expressed and packaged. As is, you can definitely glean some wisdom from Chop Wood, Carry Water, but it will be a chore.

Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf is available for purchase here.

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