To Go Big, Go Small!

This post is a little longer than some; I make no apology.  I didn’t feel like I could break this one down to smaller sections.  But I believe you will find it worth the time.

Sometimes when we want to change we hesitate, thinking that unless we make huge changes it isn’t worth changing at all.  We buy into the myths that are sometimes told in movies and popular fiction about one man or woman single handedly (with or without superpowers) save the world.  We accept as a foundational premise that if an idea or action doesn’t take hold immediately that it won’t ever gain enough traction to make a difference.    We apply this to changes in our own lives and environments as quickly and easily as we apply it to changes in the market and politics.  We allow ourselves to be intimidated by the disparity between our vision of huge change as compared to the reality of our current state;  we allow this intimidation to fuel feelings of fear and inadequacy, which in turn solidify our current situation like an ant being frozen in amber.

If this sounds familiar to you, take heart.  You are not alone.

The reality, of course, is often much different than the myth.  While it is true that some political movements, social movements and even dance movements seem to spring upon us suddenly and completely (like Gangnam Style and the Hippie movement of the 60’s) many more grow out of a long and patient process of promotion and public awareness campaigns (like the civil rights movement, ecological conservationism and country line dancing).  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point does a wonderful job of illustrating how these things happen; I, however, want to focus on making changes of a different type.

I want to talk about making changes in our lives.

Whether it is becoming a better father or quitting smoking, most of us look at these desirable changes and say, “That’s for me!  I’ll get it or die trying!” And then, when the enormity of the task starts to set in, we withdraw to the television or to that cigarette we bummed off a friend and say, “Next time, surely next time.”  Yet, all too often, the next time never materializes.  In my own life, when I have watched these patterns occur, it was rarely because the end wasn’t truly desired, but because there was no clear map for getting there and no coach to help me fine tune my performance along the way.

Hence, today’s title.

If there is something you want to do, and it excites you, it is probably something fairly big and meaningful.  Great!  As the saying goes, Go Big or Go Home.

But don’t feel like you have to be immediately big. Recognize that all moments of big grow out of a multitude of moments of small.

Every high level athlete, musician, performer, or professional in any field will tell a similar tale; they find out what the smallest components of success are in their chosen field, they practice them until they perfect them, and then they practice them perfected until they become permanent, and then they commit themselves to continually fine tuning them to keep them sharp!

And they are patient.

I have told classes that getting to a 90% level of effectiveness in any skill generally requires only a relatively small amount of time, most often measureable in hours or days.  But 90% isn’t what most of us are after when we are trying to make significant changes in life.  So we have to commit to developing the last 10% of the skill that we are looking for.  And the way we do that is paying careful attention to our execution of the fundamental components . . . and committing to a lifetime of continual fine tuning.

Small adjustments on small components over time yield major changes!

Find something you want to do that scares you and inspires you!  Recognize that the beginning is the hardest, but commit to it, find a coach, a mentor, or someone that can help hold you accountable for the work that will be necessary.  Next, identify the smallest components, and pick one to work on until it is perfect.

Then, add to that perfected component another component, and do it again.

Before you know it, you will have an amazing journey, and the thing that inspired you and scared you will be part of you.

In that spirit, I commend to you the following poem, by Edgar A. Guest

It Couldn’t Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
      At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
      And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

What do you think?  Leave me a note below, and enjoy the unfolding journey!

Memorial Day, the Gateway to Summer!

The changing of the seasons is marked by both dates on the calendar and by events in our cultures. For those of us living in the United States, the beginning of the summer season is marked by the advent of the Memorial Day holiday.

Although Memorial Day was made a federal holiday in 1967, its origins date back to the American Civil War. It was intended to be a day to remember those who had died in service to the nation, but has since been expanded to honor all veterans of conflict and is celebrated with religious, secular and other activities. Traditionally, back yard gatherings and pot luck meals form part of the celebrations as do overt patriotic displays from cemeteries to homes.

Memorial Day has also come to include taking time to remember those in our families who have passed away. Families will often visit grave sites and decorate them with flowers or find other ways of taking care of them. All of this is done in a spirit of respect and appreciation fo the sacrifices and service rendered by those who have passed on for those of us who remain.

Which brings me to the purpose of today’s post.

What have you been given? What gifts are you the recipient of, either as a direct result of the actions and sacrifices of others, or as part of the collective citizens of the United States? What freedoms do you enjoy as a result of the efforts of others? Can you name some of them easily? The freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, and the freedom to worship are a few that spring to mind quickly. And while it is true that all of us have inherited these freedoms as a result of birth or naturalization, what are we doing with them?

As an aspiring Gentleman of Substance, I strongly encourage you to think carefully on the way that you use these precious gifts. Think carefully on the way that you have fostered these freedoms in your life and your activities. Consider thoughtfully how you might do a more effective job of encouraging these freedoms in the lives of others. And when you have done that, craft a plan of simple activities that you can take during the ensuing season to do just that.

Summer is a wonderful time to connect, to engage, to participate with others. Take the time to do that. Volunteer for a cause that you believe in, go out of your way to thank those who serve, both in our armed forces and in our local civil services, for the actions they take to protect you and your freedoms. Become involved in causes that are bigger than you, donate your money and other materials to alleviate the suffering and difficulties of others, to the extent that you are able, because this is the kind of behavior that befits a Gentleman.

Happy Memorial Day! May it be a wonderful springboard for a busy and Substance filled summer.

The Foundations of Style

 

Clothes make the man.  All of us have heard this once or twice throughout our lives, and while none of us wants to admit its truthfulness, many of us spend significant amounts of disposable income on the off chance that it just might work in our favor.  Think of the times when, as a young man, you spent more than your parents or friends thought was wise, on that special jacket or cool pair of jeans.  Or maybe you saved for a while to buy a nice suit or an expensive pair of shoes, secretly hoping that someone would notice and applaud the suave sophisticaion of your choice.

 

Well, gentlemen, that is what the entire fashion industry is banking on.

 

The fashion industry and the designers that fuel it are constantly inventing new interpretations on existing pieces, adding details, adjusting lengths of hems and sleeves, adding more fabric here and taking some out from there, all in the interest of getting you to buy a new this or that.

 

But just because they make something new doesn’t mean we need to buy it.

 

And, believe it or not, the corollary to that is also true: just because something isn’t worn out yet doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about replacing it.

 

Over the next few posts, I am going to be addressing the elements of individual style.  There are only three of them, as I see it, though I am sure that designers may say that there are more.  Additionally, I think that they are fairly simple to understand and apply, contrary to what many of the more trendy magazines may want to suggest.

 

With just a little information and a little thought, there is no reason that every gentleman now reading this short little post can’t create for himself a reliable wardrobe of basics and accent pieces, accessories and well worn reliables that stand the test of time and give an individual style that is at once recognizable and comfortable.

 

I’m going to introduce the first of the factors, and we will save the other two for an upcoming post.  The first element that helps you in creating your own individual style is your body type.

 

There are websites and programs galore to give you insight into what your basic body type is, but most of us men know what our body type is without thinking much about it.  It breaks down into three basic types, all of which are basic geometric forms:  inverted triangle, rectangle, and diamond.  None of them is necessarily better than another, and all of them have clothing that is built to flatter each style.  It is also worth mentioning that each body type can be changed over time.  A man who is unhappy being a diamond (think baseball diamond) may work very hard to change to being a rectangle or even an inverted triangle, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t develop a style that stays with him throughout the change.  In fact, part of this post is to talk about elements of style that can stay with a man throughout all the changes that the body will go through during a lifetime.

 

Back to creating the style, by knowing your body type, you can make some choices that flater that type.  (By the way, skinny jeans don’t flatter anyone’s type.  If you aspire to be a man of style and substance,   NEVER wear skinny jeans)  If you are a rectangle or a diamond, wearing tight fitting shirts is not a great idea, while if you are an inverted triangle you may be better off investing in sport coats and slacks rather than suits.  It’s all about what flatters your body type, and generally you will know it the moment you try it on.

 

One word of advice when assessing body type in the conversation of style; it is only one piece of the puzzle.  When put with the other pieces, style becomes easier to select and maintain over time. Additionally, it is important to remember that there are designers who take into account every body type when they create their clothes.  If you find that one label doesn’t work so well when looking at suits, find one who does.  Don’t assume that your body type rlegates you to a type of clothing that doesn’t appeal to you.

 

Well, that’s enough for today.  Next post we will address the other two facets of slecting an individual style.