Living in the Sweet Spot

Being a man of style and substance does not need to be difficult or challenging.  It does not need to be time consuming or require immense mental effort.  In fact, when a man lives a life of style and substance, it should be both liberating and simplifying.  Living a life of style and substance is really about learning to live in the sweet spot.

Have you heard of the sweet spot before?  Most likely, you have.  However, you have probably heard about it in terms of sports.  Tennis, golf, baseball, football, even cycling and auto racing might be places where the term sweet spot is used.  Regardless of the arena of activity, the sweet spot refers to a particular point where maximum results are achieved for the effort expended.  Those results often take the form of distance, control or some other measure of performance. 

Life has a sweet spot too.  And living a life of style and substance, I believe, is all about finding it.

After much study and reflection, it seems to me that satisfaction in life has much to do with our relationships with other people, having things that we passionately work towards and pursue and, finally, the degree to which we are able to live authentically and in harmony with our highest values.  To make these easy to remember (cause I’m a fairly simple guy, after all) I refer to these three areas as People, Plans and Promises.  I know, that sounds awfully folksy, like an old John Denver song.  But just because it sounds fairly simple doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some insight that could be beneficial.  Let me share what each of these areas has come to mean to me.

People refers to relationships.  And not just the significant relationships, but the every-day and casual ones as well.  Most of us try to take great care with some of our relationships while being quite careless with others.  Interestingly enough, there is evidence to suggest that often we are kinder to strangers than we are with the people we care most about.  Further, when in tense situations, I have found that, like many others, I have been guilty of being more thoughtful and measured with my responses to work colleagues than I am to my spouse and children.  While this may be understandable (after all, family can’t fire you as easily as a boss can) it is certainly counter-productive.

What I am suggesting is that, if we are determined to live in the sweet spot of life, all of our relationships deserve equal care and concern.  From your spouse to your right hand person at work to the janitor who empties your trash to the young person who bags your groceries to the person who opens a door for you out of the blue, every relationship deserves equal care and concern.  That doesn’t mean you need to get everyone’s life story, but it does mean that thoughtfulness in how we treat and react to others should be consistent, not conditional. 

Plans refers to the goals and systems of goals that we build to accomplish the things that are meaningful to us.  I’m not talking about bucket lists, nor am I necessarily talking about engaging in a goal setting session where you plan out every detail of a project that saves the world from starvation.  What I’m talking about here is a little more mundane, but perhaps more crucial.  Plans, in this context, refers to the wisdom that “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/planning)  There is a time for wishes, no doubt about it, but bringing them into the world of reality requires some kind of plan.

Setting huge goals to change the world will certainly require plans and planning to make it all come about.  But making small improvements requires some planning as well.  I remember a time in my life when I could scarcely get out of bed in the morning.  Between injury and depression, all I wanted to do was sleep and hide from the world.  But gradually, by setting small objectives and thinking through what was required to make those objectives achievable, I was able to overcome the inertia that threatened my entire life at that time.  

Big or small, world changing or life changing, plans are required if one is going to live in the sweet spot. 

Promises refer to both the spoken commitments we make to others and the unspoken commitments we make to ourselves.  The promises here are often made in relation to the plans that are set in the previous step.  They are almost always made to a person who is going to hold us accountable for our work or lack there of.  If you want to live in the sweet spot, you have to keep promises.  Big ones and little ones.  This isn’t to say that others won’t understand when things are out of your control, or when you have done everything you can and things are just not coming together.  People will understand.  Some of the time.  But if you develop a habit of not keeping promises, eventually it will become ugly.  You can’t live in the sweet spot if you aren’t keeping promises.

In the overlap is the sweet spot.  This is where great things really happen, and when it feels like they happen almost effortlessly.  This is where you begin to notice momentum beginning to catch up with you, when it seems that things just fall into place.  This is the place when you begin to reap the rewards of all the hard work put in along the way.  This is where life becomes fun.

But you must remember, the sweet spot is dynamic.  You don’t stay in the sweet spot on yesterday’s effort.  You have to earn it daily.  You have to be on guard.  If you want to live in the sweet spot, you have to commit to doing these things every day, all the time.  Yes, it sounds tiring, and it requires energy and commitment.  But there is nothing better than living life in the sweet spot. And for a man of style and substance, there is no better place to live.

The Life Calendar

Have you seen Tim Urban’s Ted Talk about Procrastination?  Click the link if you haven’t.  It is amazing.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Good stuff, right?  Monkeys, Monsters and YouTube, Oh My!  Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
I first found that delightful little gem about 3 years ago.  I have shared it almost everywhere ever since.  I have shared it with the people I supervise, with co-workers, with students, with friends, with family.  It has given a common vernacular with which to approach the question of activity and time.   “Are you in control, or is the monkey?”  “Do I need to poke the Panic Monster to get him moving right now?”  “Are you in the dark playground at the moment?”  All of these questions have been cool conversation starters, especially with my kids.  It has helped to remove much of the shaming, blaming and yelling in our house, especially in regards to chores and homework.  Not all of it, mind you, but much of it.  It has allowed our conversations to be more civil, more proactive, and more about priorities than about guilt.
And if that was all I had gotten out of it, that would be awesome.
But lately, as I have rewatched it (almost once a month) for the past 3 years, something has become much more powerful for me.
At the end of the video he talked about a life calendar.  Remember, the big slide he showed toward the end of his talk where he displayed a box for every week of a 90 year life?  And the importance of considering that many of those boxes are already filled in?  They’re already gone?  Remember that.
Boy, I just watched it about a week ago, and it hit me hard.
I’ve got more than half of those boxes filled in.
And that was when I realized that he was talking to me.  Directly to me.
Not my children.  Not my employees.  Not my wife.  ME!
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been just sitting around doing nothing.  I’ve been anxiously engaged a good many causes, many of them noble and all about helping others be better people as well.  But there are a lot of things that I have been saying to myself, “I’ll get around to that a little later.”
Well, that has to stop.
It has to stop for anyone who claims to be a man of style and substance.  We have to be more than busy, we have to be moving things forward.  That’s one of the hallmarks of a man of substance.  Men of substance are more than busy, they are passionately improving the world.
So that’s my challenge to you, and of course to me.  Get busy passionately improving the world.  Wake up your own panic monster.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start measuring our lives and accomplishments not by years, but by weeks well used!