“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
I read this statement recently, and was equal parts repulsed and curious, until I read the text that followed. The article mentioned this is a famous Mark Twain quote, which somehow I had not heard before; it goes on to discuss how it is apropos to life in the business world. If you think of your worst task, make it your frog, and tackle it first thing in the morning, then any given day you accomplish your highest priority to-do.
While this is an inspiring thought for the workplace, it can just as easily apply to life in general. In making a commitment to do the most important thing first, before you have time to think too much, you just may accomplish it before you procrastinate. However, the idea of doing the most difficult and unappetizing task first, even before email and caffeine, seems daunting, and for people more purposeful than myself.
I recently started a bullet journal. I like having all my different to-do lists and Post-it notes organized in one place. Each morning, still lying in bed, I now ask myself what is the live frog for today? Somehow in the context of a live frog, the humor makes it a challenge I want to undertake.
Sometimes it’s a work report I can’t find the right words to finish. Other times, it is research for a disease that’s rare, lacking readily accessible information. At the end of June, it was books. Although I like running a business, I disdain accounting. It always seems to be $0.07 off here, $3.42 off there. I don’t seem to have the patience to find such a discrepancy. If there was a big Facebook dislike button, I would push it, right there over top of book keeping. But, for a whole week, I ate the live frog each morning, legs and all.
Recently, the frog is sunscreen. My kids are at summer camp where they swim each morning. I would have thought this would be welcome fun, given our recent stint of hot weather. Apparently, having to put a bathing suit on right away in the morning is akin to torture.
NOOOOOO! I want to eat my cereal first.
I don’t want to! I want to wear my monster truck T shirt!
I don’t like that sunscreen. It smells weird. I want the green one!
But, we lather on the toxic death cream in the morning, and off they go to swim lessons.
This past weekend’s frog was weeding, particularly the patio, where weeds emerge from every crook and cranny, impervious to prior weeding attempts. I should marvel at nature’s tenacity, these hardy leaves curling out of the sandy soil between the patio stones. It’s slow and tedious work. Due to the narrowness of the cavity, I’m not really getting the roots. I sigh, knowing they will grow back.
The sun is hot, already 90, though it’s morning yet. The tidewater air is heavy with humidity. Sweat beads up and tickles my skin as I move on to the next row. Frustrated, I spray vinegar and dish soap. A few days later the weeds are dead. But, although they’re brown, they’re still there, and it looks worse than before. The roots still hold fast as I try to tear them asunder, the papery thin leaves giving way under may finger tips. Eventually, it is finished, and I feel a ridiculous sense of accomplishment looking at the clean, neat bricks and mulched beds.
The thing I like best about eating the frog is the energy that inevitably follows, no matter how arduous the task. Afterwards, simpler tasks seem easy, and my to-do list shrinks as the day goes on. Given such efficiency, sometimes I find myself with free time in the afternoon.
This, along with work being lighter than usual, has me relishing my summer afternoons, after a very busy first half of the year. I take advantage of it, and go to explore some local museums.
I learn more about Frederick Douglass, who lived as a boy on a plantation just a few miles away. I visit the new Harriet Tubman museum, and read about her courage in assisting so many friends and family to freedom.
I stand on Long Wharf and gaze at the peaceful ships resting in their slips, their lines clanging in a pleasant dissonance that resembles wind chimes. It’s hard to imagine what it looked like when slave ships from Africa were docked here. Harriet Tubman herself saw two of her older sisters sold off at auction on this wharf to buyers from plantations in the south. She never saw either of them again.
It makes me feel guilty to be frustrated at weeding. For them and countless others, it must have been such difficult work, farming tobacco or other crops in the hot Maryland sun.
I wonder what their live frog was. What keeps one going in such conditions? Is it love of family? Does life still hold some sweetness? Or is it just about making it through the day, to sink into bed at night, or a straw pallet on the floor, more likely.
It is easier to have been born into it, I wonder, and never know another life? Does practiced discipline of not wanting too much ease the pain of such a life, or is it mandatory to keep on hoping? I think maybe the heart wants no matter what.
Maybe the live frog was work: keep going, biding time, always looking for an opportunity, like Harriet. She patiently waited, and then went, moving under the cover of night, no matter the weather, wading tidewater swamps, following the North Star.
The North Star is constant, always appearing in the same place in the night sky, no matter what the season. A guide, a beacon – perhaps it was a comfort to those seeking the ultimate reward: freedom.