The Chop Wood Carry Water Method For Getting Clients

You’ve probably heard the saying about “before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water – after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

That’s what I do in my business. I chop wood, I carry water.

Today, I’d like to tell you the story of how that came about and why it’s become such a valuable business building tool for me.

It all started back during my time as a music student in college.

Year one was inspiring. I was a talented musician who ended up studying in the studio of one of the best organists in the world. During that entire first year, I was drinking from the firehose.

From the weekly four hour performance classes, to the academic work, to all of the hours in the practice room—it was all work, all the time. (Side note: I also had a full-time “second job” while all of this learning was going on. I had to get on the radar of my future wife. At the time, she had no idea that I existed, and I was clueless about how to fix that.)

Year two was different. Things started to fall apart. All of the “new stuff” I had learned now had to be assimilated and worked through. This created a huge amount of stress, angst and all around discomfort.

I got through with lots of coffee and lots of wine (red please).

Near the end of year two, things started to come together. I won a national music competition (my teacher had only ever placed 2nd 🙂 and my “voice,” my unique value, started to become clear to me and those around me.

During year three, the momentum picked up. I started to pull free from doing what I was told to do and started to think and make music on my own terms.

During year four, I won a job (paying a whopping $31,500!) that included other applicants way older with advanced degrees. Me, the little punk, got the job.

So why am I telling you this?

Through struggle we grow. In fact, it is through struggle that we grow most.

No matter what you’re going through right now, you are prepaying for the future.

Everyone has to pay. You either pay now or you pay later.

What’s the currency?


My recommendation is to do that work, not to “get” somewhere, because the destination will most always disappoint.

Do the work because it’s worth doing.

Because not much will change at your destination. Even after you become “successful.” Whatever that word means to you.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life than over the past few months.

And yet, when I wake up each day, I’m more energized than ever.

But I’m energized by the quality of my work more than by what the work is “getting me.”    I guess it’s the artist thing coming out.

What’s weird is that what I thought I wanted most (success) suddenly takes a back seat to something I value even more.

I thought I would value the results. It’s clear now that the work is what is most valuable.

It reminds me of the expression, “before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”

I’m a wee bit shy of enlightenment, mind you, but I’m happier now to chop the wood and carry the water than I’ve ever been.

I realize now that the goal isn’t to finish chopping or to finish carrying. The goal is to deepen the value I get and give in that action.

How Chopping Wood and Carrying Water Can Attract Clients

The best part is, “chopping wood and carrying water” can actually become an excellent way to attract clients and business.

Back in my music days, I wasn’t exactly the world’s most disciplined when it came to practice.

We were supposed to practice four hours a day. Luckily I had talent, which apparently got me through. I just imagine what I would have done if I had really put in the time.

But I was too busy wanting to “get” somewhere to just sit in one place for too long and focus my attention on doing something truly great.

I only learned later in life that my apparent inability to just chill out and sit there for four hours was the sign of a person who, on the inside, was completely overwhelmed. Too much nervous energy and no idea about how to focus it.

It made slowing down a challenge I wasn’t prepared to overcome at the time.

I’m getting better at it. But only because I practice it. Every day, actually.

My process for “getting clients,” “getting customers,” “attracting opportunity” is probably the slowest method in the world. If there was an award for it, I’d probably win first prize.

There are no fireworks, no loud bangs, no amazing displays of dazzling achievement.

Instead, I attract through demonstration. I chop the wood and carry the water out in the open. People see it. Things happen.

It takes time. But when it works, the level of trust on which that relationship is built is a very beautiful thing.

Every so often I meet upon a stranger who says something like, “Hey, I heard you are great at ‘chopping wood and carrying water,’ could you help me?”

If you think about it, I get paid to practice what I love to do. It’s magic.

What’s your “chop wood, carry water” work? How do you demonstrate who you are and what you do on a consistent basis? What are you doing to develop that attractive force towards you? Let us know. We’d like to hear from you.

[Ed. Note. Jason Leister is a direct response copywriter, internet entrepreneur and editor of the daily e-letter, The Client Letter, where he empowers independent professionals who work with clients. He has six kids and lives and works in the mountains of Arizona.]
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  • Kim Chernecki

    Your article couldn’t have come to me at a better time – thank you! It is my first year building my own solo entrepreneur business and I’m both excited beyond my dreams and overwhelmed and thinking wow I forgot how hard this is! My “chop wood and carry water” is helping aspiring solopreneurs clarify their life purpose and translate that into a strategic and tactical plan to make it happen. It is what I am meant to do… after 30 years of searching and experience. But wow talk about personal growth and patience and it’s a slow road to make it happen – like rocket ship taking 90% of the fuel for lift off 🙂
    – so I hear you… just keep chopping wood and carrying water – thank you again!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Stay strong Kim, keep pushing!


  • Gene

    Funny how things hit you where you live. Years ago, my wife, kids and I lived on an 8-acre plot in the Seattle area with no utilities or any way to get them where we were (the nearest neighbor was 3 football fields away, the rest over a mile). On that piece of land, I LITERALLY DID CHOP WOOD (the only source of heat for us) AND CARRY WATER (no city water or well available to us there). I had already started a business I’m still doing 38 years later (age 73).

    Anyway, to make this short, I’ve been practicing the “chop and carry” method all that time, which even this bad economy has not been able to kill, in fact, last year I was busier than ever (at least as busy as I WANTED to be. This year I wanted to slow down a little more, so I took my ad out of the yellow pages and was STILL busy enough.

    I’m not exactly doing the “job I love” in this regard, but I’m definitely working on that. Thanks for the article that showed me that I’m at the very least on the right path.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks Gene!