Sharpening the saw — off to D.C., then Toronto

By Caitlin Kelly

Time for refreshment!

OK, laugh…but I do, occasionally, read self-help books, especially those focused on business.

I’ve been working full-time freelance, alone at home, since 2005, and have done so several times in my career. Which means I have no boss or manager to, ideally, train and guide me, or mentor me or help me get better at what I do.

And being a freelance writer is — very rarely — about the quality of your actual writing, but about your ability to sell, close deals, hustle, to create and sustain profitable new relationships.

So I need to seek, and to find, people and ways to help me stay fresh, smart and sharp.

New horizons!

A classic of the business self-help genre is Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, originally published on August 15, 1989, which I read and enjoyed.

Here’s the seventh one, which he calls sharpening the saw:

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Here are some examples of activities:
Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
Social/Emotional: Making social and meaningful connections with others
Mental: Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spiritual: Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.


Those of you who read this blog regularly know how deeply I believe in and evangelize for a life filled with joy and connection and rest, not just a hard charge from cradle to grave.


In that spirit, I’m heading to D.C. this weekend for a firehose of data on writing about retirement. I’ve been writing often for Reuters Money on a variety of personal finance topics, from taxes to how to establish a scholarship. This three-day D.C. fellowship, offered to 20 journalists from across the country, will, I hope, better prepare me to pitch and write smart, incisive stories.

Lincoln Center, New York City — where my friend invited me, as a young journalist, to perform as an extra in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada. I did eight shows, terrifying fun, and wrote about it for the Globe and Mail.

While in Washington, I’m also meeting editors at two major publications and hoping for new work from each of them.

I’ll take three days to rest, recharge and enjoy the city, which I’ve visited many times; favorite spots include the Old Ebbitt Grill and the Sackler Museum, the elegant, serene Asian art wing of the Smithsonian.

I’ll get home, have a day to unpack and repack, then fly to Toronto, my hometown, to attend the wedding reception and brunch of one of my dearest and oldest friends, a woman marrying after decades of independence and financial success running her own business.

I’m super excited for her and her fiance, a distinguished author and professor, and thrilled to be there to share their joy; she spoke at my second wedding, in September 2011 in a small church on an island in the Toronto harbor.

She has known me, and nurtured me, from the very start of my journalism career, when I — a wildly ambitious writer in Toronto — apparently (!?) pestered her for free tickets to the ballet, which she represented for years as their press officer.

We quickly became good friends, and she has welcomed me into her home many, many times. I later wrote several times about the National Ballet, and had some great adventures as a result; I was honored to write an essay for their 35th anniversary souvenir program as well.

She is more family to me than anyone to whom I’m related.

It’s also been a busy spring with no out-of-state travel since early January, so I’m really ready for a break, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

How have you been “sharpening the saw?”


20 thoughts on “Sharpening the saw — off to D.C., then Toronto

  1. I always love visiting DC! The Sackler Gallery is one of my favorite museums too. Have you ever gone to one of the daily concerts at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage? There is a different concert every day of the year – if I remember correctly, at 6:00 pm. And they are free! I always try to go at least once every time I am in DC.

  2. I’m jealous! I want to go to DC and Toronto! Have fun!
    I’m definitely working on my saw. I’ve definitely been exercising and eating better, and nobody can accuse me of bad resting. I’ve recently moved into a new apartment, so I’m in a new environment that’s definitely allowed me personal freedom I haven’t had since the college dorms, and I’m being as much a social butterfly as possible. Along with publishing a new book and working on a bunch of stories, old and new, I start a new job on Monday, so there’s the mental part. And considering daily prayer, meditating as often as possible, and always looking into new experiences of the spiritual realm, I think I’m good on that last one.

      1. Awesome. So many new grads don’t have work. You and your parents must be very proud.

        To think…we’ve “known” one another all through your college years. 🙂

      2. Yeah, my folks are very happy for me. Especially my dad: a job means I don’t have to live with him anymore (thank God!).
        Yeah, I can’t believe how long we’ve known each other either. Like, four or five years! Where does the time go?

  3. This post has inspired me!
    I also admire that you’ve been freelancing successfully for so long. I’d wanted to be a writer when I was young, but I know hard it is; I’m not sure I have the perseverance and tenaciousness that you obviously have.
    I’m off to plan how to sharpen my saw now!

    1. Yay!

      Freelancing is harder than ever before if you work (as I do) primarily in journalism. But it’s what I enjoy and our costs are manageable and my husband is doing well 100% freelance as well.

      Keep that saw sharp. 🙂

  4. a great reminder. i’m working on trying to do the basics again – sleep, eat, and move, all in a thoughtful manner. also heading to ireland this summer, to have some time in a place that is different and full of the promise of adventure and new experiences for me ) enjoy your d.c. and toronto trips –

  5. I hope you enjoy your travels! The fellowship in D.C. sounds great.

    I’m doing some travelling myself this summer: Madrid and Scotland. Two very different places: one where I don’t have to worry about packing anything other than light summer clothes, and the other where I have to be prepared for all seasons!

    1. I’d rather do Madrid and Scotland…:-)

      I was very much hoping to get to the Hebrides but this year is not agreeing with me financially… Sounds lovely. The Prado is AMAZING (check out the pietra dura tables, the Goyas and Velazquez and [OMG] the Bosch painting of hell.) Have a GREAT time!!

      But I know I’ll enjoy DC and the fellowship.

  6. I haven’t been sharpening my saw as well as I should. I love when you mentioned about the travel piece, and a way of recharging yourself. I have not been doing that lately, and I need to get back at it. Thank you for reminding me to take the opportunity to do that, I am going to act on it right now.

    1. Good for you!

      I am very lucky to have been offered this break (albeit work focused for 3 days) and a chance to head to Toronto. It’s so easy to just KEEP WORKING and we get tired. 🙂

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