Photo of a dirty spark plug
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you lost your spark? Is it a struggle to keep your engine running?

I have long had a love/hate relationship with gas fueled lawn tools. Specifically, those that have 2-cycle engines. Leaf blowers, edge trimmers (aka weed whackers), etc.

I love these tools when they are new. They fire right up when you pull the starter cord, run smoothly, and do their jobs. It’s easy to feel like Tim the tool man Taylor as you wield these things around the property.

After a while, though, they start to bog down. It gets harder to start them. They bog down when you pull the trigger to rev the engine. They conk out mid task and refuse to restart again until they’ve sat for a while.

Do you ever feel like that?

You start a new job, or even just a new project. At the beginning, it is exciting. You are jazzed. Each day is a new thrill. You happily go about your days and power through whatever lies before you. Bring it on!

Then, after a while, you start to bog down. It gets harder to get started in the morning. Some days you give up half way through the day and just can’t get going again.

Maybe you need a tune-up. Maybe you just need some fresh fuel.

At a friend’s encouraging, I spent some time this spring doing more maintenance than usual on my collection of gas-powered lawn tools. Each one got fitted with a new spark plug, a new air filter, and a new fuel filter.

As I replaced these on each of the tools, they showed a range of wear and tear. One was clearly way overdue for this tune-up. Another could have gone another year at least. Still another was somewhere in between. I replaced the parts across the board regardless.

Oddly enough, the visible signs of wear on the tool was not a good indicator of how well it ran at the end of last season. They had all reached a pretty consistent level of (un)reliability.

I expected this maintenance work to be complicated. It wasn’t. And the parts were cheap. It didn’t even take all that long to do.

If you’ve ever dealt with 2-cycle engines, you know that these tools require a special blend of gasoline and oil. You have to get the ratio right. Some are 40:1 and some are 50:1. It’s not hard. You start with one gallon of gas and add in the appropriate container of oil, which comes pre-sized for the blend.

The biggest challenge with this blended fuel is that it has a relatively short shelf life. Most manufacturers recommend using the fuel within 1 month. I don’t know of any homeowner who goes through a full gallon of this blended fuel in that short of time. Most of us don’t go through a gallon in a whole season.

From all I have read and heard, continuing to use the blended fuel beyond its recommended shelf life causes the most issues with these tools. Check it out yourself. What you’ll find is that the very first step people recommend for getting 2-cycle engines working again is to empty out the tool’s gas tank and add fresh fuel. Actually fresh fuel that you have just mixed, not the stuff left over from last year.

The other predominant advice from people who work on small engines is that ethanol is really bad for these tools. They all recommend using gasoline that does not contain any ethanol. That is difficult to find at the pumps.

So, having made the effort to do this maintenance, I also decided to spring for fresh fuel. And not just any old gasoline, I sprang for the premixed version that is now readily available anywhere they sell these power tools. No ethanol. And a rated shelf life of two years.

The result of all of this effort? My lawn tools are running great. They fire right up and keep running.

How about you? What can you do to give yourself a spring tune-up? Maybe all you need is some fresh fuel.

Remember the joy of new school supplies? Remember the excitement that came with a fresh package of pencils and erasers, a new notebook, a brand new lunch bag?

Maintenance doesn’t need to be difficult. I was amazed how easy it was to replace the spark plugs in my tools. What are some simple things you can do to generate a fresh spark in your work and life?

Start with something easy. Start with fresh fuel.


A man’s got to know his limitations.

Harry Callahan, aka Dirty Harry, aka Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force

What are your limitations? Where do you draw the line?

Many years ago, when I was a low level executive with AOL, I had a conversation with my new boss where I laid out my limitations. I was based in Columbus, OH, with teams in both Columbus and Reston, VA. There had been increasing pressure for me to move to Reston. In my first meeting with a newly hired boss, I told him, “There’s something you need to know. I am not interested in moving. I will travel to the point of pain, but I’m not going to move.”

He reminded me of that conversation years later when I discussed taking a sabbatical (technically a leave of absence…). He asked, “What happened to traveling to the point of pain?” My response, “I’ve crossed the pain threshold.”

Side note: This second conversation is a great example of what made this particular boss one of the best I have had. He remembered things in great detail and did his best to accommodate his people’s needs, while still meeting the needs of the organization. The fact that he recalled my exact words from years before spoke volumes. Can your boss do that? Can you?

Business travel is one of those things I no longer enjoy. At least not if it involves airports. I’ll gladly drive 8 hours one way to avoid the hassles of air travel. This past January I drove to Olewein, IA, for a gig. That trip was 10 hours of drive time each way. Even in the middle of January, driving it was preferable to air travel.

That is my limitation. What’s yours?

It wasn’t always like this. I used to enjoy business travel. I enjoyed flying to San Jose’ every couple months to meet with the staff there who reported to me. I enjoyed the almost weekly trips to Virginia. It was exciting. I traveled so often I was on a first name basis with the woman in the Avis rental car booth at Dulles airport. (Hi, Marlena! How are you?)

Now? I get anxious just opening the airline ticketing web site. Ugh.

How about you? Is there something that you used to enjoy, but now dread? Has your line moved? Do you have different limitations than you once did?

Be aware of your limitations.

Feeling stressed? Maybe you’re bumping up against one of your limits. Maybe it’s a limit you didn’t know was there. Step back. Look around. Give it some thought.

If you’ve discovered a limitation, whether it is new or longstanding, what can you do to deal with it? Is there an alternative?

Sometimes all we need is a break. In my case, when I returned after my sabbatical, the pain of air travel had receded. It took years for it to return to its current level of abhorrence. And it is only when traveling for business. Vacation? Sure! Let’s go! Business? No thanks. I’d rather drive.

Take the time to look at your stress levels. Dig in. Look for the cause. It’s probably not what you think. You might think your boss is being a jerk. More likely they are asking you to cross one of your limit lines.

Know your limitations. Find a way to break through them, or a way around. Step one is the same: identification.

Today Is The Day

Image of guy holding a trophy.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

I am coming up on another anniversary.

12 years ago, I walked away from my day job for the first time.

In the summer of 2007, I walked away from a corporate job. It was a good job. Corner office. Ridiculous salary. Great people.

Why? I couldn’t take it anymore.

Every day I went to work thinking, “This is it. This is the day they figure out I’m not worthy. This is the day they tell me they’re on to me. A big faker. Your services are no longer required. Pack your boxes. You’re done here.”

That feeling had been building for a long time. It was a slowly festering anxiety that continued to build day after day after day.

I now know it to have a name: Imposter Syndrome.

And like many who suffer from it, it was untrue.

It wasn’t until I started conversations with my boss about leaving that I recognized the falsehood. To paraphrase the conversation with my boss…

Me: It’s time for me to go.

Boss: Only if you let us take you out to dinner and celebrate all that you have done here.

It didn’t matter that I got great reviews every year during the annual performance evaluations. It didn’t matter that I was continuously given more responsibility and a steady stream of promotions. It didn’t matter that I always got my bonus. Always. Every day I walked in expecting to get the proverbial pink slip.

Can you relate?

Do you feel like you are faking it, hoping someday you’ll make it? Do you feel like you’ve built a fragile house of cards that is going to collapse at any moment?

It’s a horrible way to go through life.

Even stars are prone to this inner turmoil. In her iconic Oscar acceptance speech, Sally Field said, “You like me. Right now, you like me!”

This is often misquoted as, “You like me! You really like me!”

Ah, if only she had actually said that.

The misquoted version implies closure, a sense of finally achieving a sense of belonging, reaching a point of no return, knowing that you have finally made it and it can’t be taken away.

Instead, the actual quote captures the ongoing struggle.

“Right now, you like me.”

These words capture the still lingering angst that it is a temporary victory.

Right now you like me, but tomorrow I’m going to do something to screw it all up and we’ll go back to you not really liking me after all.

I wish I had great words of wisdom that would quell those inner doubts. I wish I could close out this post with a pithy phrase that would make it all go away.

All I can offer is that you are not alone. Hang in there. Keep going.

Chances are good that your fears are unfounded. Odds are that you really are worthy. People do like you. They really like you. Just as you are. You don’t need a trophy on the shelf to make that a reality.