Be Your Own Coach

Most of us get to adulthood and look back on our lives and see a series of coaches.  For myself, some of those coaches include

  • My dad, teaching me how to catch, throw and hit a ball so that I could play baseball when I was growing up in Minnesota
  • Grandpa Wente, taking the time to teach me how to shoot a .22 in the fields surrounding Hancock, the town where my dad grew up
  • My first little league coach; I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but I remember always thinking that he was the absolute coolest guy in the world cause we got root beer after every game!
  • My first professional level vocal coach who helped me learn the difference between making noise and singing
  • A beloved mentor who helped me learn how to play games like they were real and play at life like it was a game
  • An uncle who helped me learn that doing the right thing was great, but that doing the right thing for the wrong reason would only bring misery

As I started writing this list, my mind has literally been flooded with memories of other men (and women) of style and substance who became coaches for me in various things. 
All of my coaches, regardless of the area of life that they coached me in, followed a pattern.  As I have grown older, I have found that pattern to be repeated over and over as I have worked to develop new skills and improve existing ones.  And while it has not been as easy to find coaches for relationship, family and professional development, the things I learned from those early coaches have allowed me to do some personal coaching along the way.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned. 

A word of caution.  Embarking on a process of self coaching requires a level of self awareness that can be difficult.  I have found real value in finding someone to coach me, especially when I am trying to make critical improvement in critical aspects of my life.  A coach can provide an outside perspective on the activities or actions that need to be changed.  But when I am trying to make less sweeping and disruptive changes, or when there is not quite so much on the line, developing and maintaining a dispassionate view of my own performance is something that can help me make progress.  Perhaps this will help you as well.

Create a clear picture of success.  Whether it was the bulls eye on the target 25 yards out or making a perfect two handed catch so I was ready to fire the ball to a base to stop a runner, there was a clear picture of success.  My coaches took time to identify it, piece by piece, until the picture was clear in both our minds.  If you are coaching yourself, writing something out with as much detail as possible can provide that level of clarity.  Some will call this goal setting, and it might be that if the performance area that you are looking at is an athletic event or other kind of activity where simple accomplishment is what we are working for.  But if the type of development being sought is the development of a relationship or the building of a team, it may look less like clear goal setting and more like purposeful day dreaming.
For instance, one of the things that matters a great deal to me is having a happy and supportive family.  Sounds simple and clear cut, right?  But when I took the time to put into words what that looked like, a future snapshot if you will, things were very different.  I started building a picture in my mind of a family reunion where everyone wanted to be.  Food on the barbecue, games being played, laughter in the air.  The more concrete I made the picture, the more I became aware that it might never happen.  But the point of the exercise was to identify the components that would lead to success.

Capture your performance  This is where you require one of three things: strong self awareness, an impartial friend or a phone with a video camera.  Capturing perfromance, especially physical skill performance, is easier than it has ever been with the advent of cell phone technology.  Whether it is a golf swing or a dance step, flagging down an observer and having them video gives you instant feedback.

If you are looking at any other area of performance, for instance soft skills at work, an impartial observer may be more practical.  Sometimes just asking someone else to share what they see is enough to start you on the path to improvement.

Compare the performance with the picturePretty simple concept here, but sometimes a simple concept is a difficult process.  Whatever hurdles must be overcome on this point, it is immensely worth it.  For without knowing how current performance relates to the desired outcome, there is no chance for improvement.

Pick one item to improve on.  Comparing the performance is important.  And if you are like me, the comparison can sometimes be a little painful.  After all, we are talking about something important to you, we are talking about the possibility of ego being involved in the equation, and we are very likely talking about a person who is having a hard time seeing anything other than the gaps.  This is where I have found so much wisdom in the idea of attacking one thing and one thing only.  Are you seeing five different aspects of your performance that you would like to change?  Pick one.  Pick the one that will be the easiest to see improvement in.  Pick the one that most easily plays to your strengths.  Pick the one that you are confident will yield the most benefit for the time that will be invested.  You can answer these questions for yourself.

  Create a clear picture of the improvement.  Now we go back to the picture stage.  Only this time, in addition to the overall picture of what we want, we are going to include the picture of the improvement that we are hoping to see.  A little straighter drive, a little smoother jump shot, or remembering to ask one more question when working with a customer or an employee.  Create a picture of the improvement that you want to see, and let that picture be something that you put in your mind frequently.  The more you remind yourself of what you are striving to achieve, the more likely you will notice when you are making improvement in your performance.

Repeat  As often as it takes until things turn out the way you want.

There you go.  That’s the pattern.  Use it! 

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Adding to the Wardrobe

Being a man of style and substance means many things, but two of them are relevant to today’s discussion. The first is that you understand that, while clothes do not make the man, clothes do matter. The second is recognizing that the best way to build a wardrobe is to avoid trends and clue in to classics. Today’s post has some suggestions that should help you do both. The questions that follow, and the perspective I will try to provide on each of them, is all about building a wardrobe worthy of a man of style and substance.
Before I get into the rules, i want to be clear, I’m not talking about the jeans and t-shirt portion of your wardrobe. There is nothing wrong with that part of your wardrobe. And while jeans and t-shirts are a major part of some designer’s fashion palettes, for most of us, jeans and a t-shirt are what we wear when working in the backyard or when camping or doing chores around the house or something else where the clothes are more likely to get damaged and dirty than they are to get noticed and appreciated.  

Likewise, we aren’t talking just about suits. Again, a suit is a part of the wardrobe. But being a part of the wardrobe is not the whole of the wardrobe. Depending on the work you do, the profession that you have chosen, you may spend a great deal of time in a suit. You may not. Neither situation makes you a man of style and substance. That is something entirely different. But knowing how the wardrobe contributes to being a man of style and substance is worth knowing, respecting, and using for your benefit.

With that said, on to the rules.

Is it a replacement? The first reason that an individual should consider adding something to the wardrobe is that it is replacing something else. The reasons for the replacement can be many, from something being worn out to something no longer working with the other wardrobe pieces. Case in point, I had a tie that I picked up from a designer that I really enjoyed. It was a tie that I felt spoke to the interests that I had. It was like a silent statement that I was making about what I valued, who I was on the inside. It looked nice, it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the outfit (ever) and it was special. 

Until it wore out. Everything wears out. This tie was no exception. It finally got to the point that it just was becoming old, threadbare and too badly worn to continue holding onto it. So I replaced it.

Is it meaningful? This goes somewhat along with the previous story. The tie that I picked up was one of the first real well made silk woven ties I had ever purchased for myself. It was a little bit like a rite of passage, proof that I was becoming more than a trend-chasing teenager, but a man, a gentleman. That tie meant something, and even though it was a little priceier than many of the other ties I had bought up to that time, and since that time as well, it meant something. That is plenty of reason to bring something of worth into the wardrobe.

Is it quality? Sometimes the best reason to bring something into the wardrobe is that it is a quality piece of clothing. I remember when I purchased a silk blazer. It carried a designer name, which spoke to its cut and fit. I knew that this particular designer made clothes that typically flattered my body shape and size nicely. But the jacket itself was exquisite. It had a great texture, both by touch and by sight. It was a piece that was going to last for years and wear extremely well without going out of style or falling apart with a little hard use. It was certainly a quality piece, and worth every penny I paid. It is still in my wardrobe, and I wear it about once a month, even today.

Does it fit your style? Sometimes I go through a store or a mall and something catches my eye. It just speaks to me, which I know sounds a little corny, but it is true. Some things just feel right, and when they do, picking them up is perfectly fine. Recently I was on a business trip and I found a shirt at a specialty retailer. It was a casual shirt in black with some detailing. I can tell you that I don’t need another black casual shirt. Ever. But this one was perfect. It was the perfect weight, cut, and detailing. It was from both a manufacturer and promoter that I appreciate and enjoy. In the end, I thought to myself, “This just looks like me.” So it came home with me in my luggage.

Is it different? Finding something new to add to your wardrobe is tricky. It can be a risk. After all, we have just talked about recognizing things that fit your style. But sometimes, especially if you are exploring a new direction for your wardrobe, finding something totally different is appropriate too. On another business trip I found one of those pork-pie fedoras that are so popular right now. It fit well, it was inexpensive, and it seemed like a fun purchase. Typically I have bought caps and a few wide brimmed cowboy hats. That has been my style. But this item, it just seemed like something worth picking up for the sake of difference. It spoke to a part of my personality that was coming to the surface, perhaps part of my maturing. Whatever the reason, it was certainly different. And it is in my collection now.  

Approach from a standpoint of curation, not collection. This last one is a little harder for me to describe. It is about looking at the things that you are doing for patterns and departures. Do you tend to have a lot of dark colored suits? Great, now go out and find something a little lighter. Do most of your ties seem to be old rep stripe pieces? Great! Now go find one with a different theme. Curation is about deciding which of the other rules needs to be honored and which needs to be broken.  

What do you think of these ideas? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

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!