What it means to be AWESOME!

Words are tools. Like all tools, when used correctly they are extremely useful. When used incorrectly, they can inadvertently cause considerable damage.

Why am I starting with this? Because I want to talk about the word Awesome and, more specifically, what it means to be awesome.

Earlier today I sent a text to my son. He had not been having a great morning, and going to school for him has been difficult, even on the best days. I wanted to insert a small moment of hope and happiness into his day. As part of the text, I told him “I hope you have an awesome day” It took a while for him to respond, and when he did, I gave him an additional note of “You are awesome.”

As I contemplated the exchange, and the lack of communication back to me (typical of teenagers in high school, on lots of levels) I wondered if he and I see the term in the same light?

Awesome is defined by the online dictionary as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear,” and “Informally, extremely good; excellent.” I think my son and, coincidentally, much of the population at large use the term in its informal sense. We use awesome to describe things that are extremely good. They aren’t singular, they are extremely good. They aren’t earth shattering, they are excellent. In fact, based on popular usage, they might be just extremely good in the moment. It is not unusual to hear that a band or a performer has an awesome video or that they did an awesome job on a particular song, or even a part of a song. It is not unusual to hear someone say that a meal is awesome, even if it is just a burger or a chicken sandwich.

Because of the frequent use of the term awesome we may, as one of my friends recently put it, diluted to impact and meaning of the word.

This may all be true, and may also help to inform my sons silence when I sent him a text saying he was awesome.

But I believe he is.

I believe that his capacity for growth is “inspiring of admiration.” He is “excellent” at whatever he puts his mind to. He overcomes things that, perhaps, may be considered to be “daunting.” He approaches things that sometimes make him “fearful or apprehensive” and he meets them head on, making progress toward handling those situations.

Doing all of that makes him awesome.

I believe that part of being a man of style and substance is using words thoughtfully. I am not encouraging the use of the word awesome in place of all the other words or phrases that can be used. I am not saying that the only adjective that we should employ in our conversation is awesome.

I am suggesting that being thoughtful about the word awesome may come in one of two ways.

First, we may choose to adopt the informal use of the word as a focused word of encouragement.

Second, we may choose to use the word more judiciously, saving it for a moment of significant effort and progress.

However, in either case, I am trying to remember that the word awesome can be used to describe the inner progress that one is making or is striving to make as much as it may be more frequently used to describe the outer results that occur.

Going back to the conversation that I was having with my son. He is struggling. But he is awesome!

Every day he faces a highly competitive, results driven situation, the likes of which can feel exceptionally daunting . Like many, he is struggling to keep moving forward in spite of apprehension and fear that is somewhat inextricably connected to living in a fast paced community with constantly changing guidelines and expectations. And in spite of all of this, he is really good at finding humor all around us, at finding things to laugh at all the time.

That makes him awesome.

I hope I can be awesome like him.

Compassion, a mark of a substance

Recently, I participated in a ritual of the American Public Education System known as Parent Teacher Conferences. In this ritual, parents who have had to take off from work meet for a brief few minutes with a teacher who is anxiously waiting for the time to expire so they can go home. Most of the time, the parents participating in the ritual are only doing so because their child (my youngest son, in this case) are struggling in school.

For the most part, this ritual went fairly well for us. My wife and I met with all of our sons teachers. All of them said roughly the same things: smart kid, quiet, participates when asked, stares off and easily distracted, just needs to make up missing work and all will be well.

All of them, that is, save one. That one said similar things, but not the same. He complimented us on the work that we were obviously doing to help our son, complimented us on being at the conference. He did acknowledge that making up the missing work could help his grade, but rather than talk about how we could all work to help our son see the value of the process, he spoke without compassion, defending his position of punishing our sons poor performance in his class.

As I said, all the teachers acknowledge (as did we) that our son is having problems with school right now. We didn’t justify those, nor did we ask any of the teachers to make special arrangements to allow our son to answer to a different set of rules. My wife and I have both been educators, and we know how challenging it is. We know our son is not making things easier.

But all the other teachers spoke with compassion for our son, and for our predicament.

Compassion is characterized by a sympathetic demeanor for the challenges of others. Most of the teachers that have been watching our son struggled had compassion for our situation, and they also manifested compassion for our sons. They acknowledged that the classes are difficult, that not every child does well, that many are struggling, and that this time of transition is a challenge for even the best and brightest students. They acknowledged that the diversity of information being covered, the breadth and depth, can feel overwhelming. And they acknowledged that, because of high stakes testing, it is unfortunate that some students get steamrolled in the need to cover information for the majority.

They had compassion for us and for our son.

In turn, we had compassion for those good teachers, trying to help open our sons awareness to the fact that he can accomplish more than he knows if he will just apply himself. We had compassion for them in the fact that our son is just one of many students that are likely having similar struggles and that not all parents are as involved in trying to help their child figure things out and master the process.

All but this one teacher.

To be fair, perhaps he has been burned by trying to act with compassion in the past.

Perhaps he is just tired of feeling like he needs to be the one to adapt.

Perhaps he feels like every time he acts with compassion he is taken advantage of, or the lesson is not learned, or some other negative outcome is foisted upon both the student and society as a result.


I’m trying very hard to not hold against him his inability to show compassion for my child. (I couldn’t care less whether he has compassion for me or my wife). And I am also trying to learn the lesson of compassion anew in this situation.

As a man of substance, compassion should be part of my stock in trade, a primary tool in my conceptual EDC.

In my experience, most people who act in a contrary manner toward us do so because they feel they have been wronged, poorly treated, or in some other way minimized by others. When someone feels wronged, that individual has two options open to them: Be sad (which is often interpreted as weakness) or be mad (which is a show of artificial strength). Because mad (screaming, yelling, throwing things, tantrums) is not often acceptable in civilized society, a more subtle form of scorn and disdain takes its place. And when an individual is acting with scorn and disdain for others, there is no room left for change and growth.

Hence, my need for compassion.

Compassion defuses anger, in all of its forms. Compassion opens the door to change and growth. And since men of style and substance are champions of change and growth, compassion should always be found in the way we act toward others.

I am working to show this teacher compassion.

I hope he will be open to change and growth as a result, and perhaps be open to showing compassion to others in the future.

Sadly, I think it may be too late for my son.

For him, we will have to try other solutions.

Three thoughts on getting in better shape, the style and substance way!

Many people use the New Year as a time to make changes and set goals. Often those

resolutions for change and goals center around health and fitness. Typically these range from, “I will eat better,” to “I’m going to improve my PR in my next marathon by 20 minutes.” My personal experiences are not significantly different as I have made resolutions and set goals around my health and fitness as well. Mine are built around being more aware of the steps I take to foster health (eating better, drinking more water, moving more, etc) and setting a particular goal (a mileage goal for cycling).
What does being a man of style and substance mean when it comes to fitness? Does it mean having the best clothes? Does it mean attending the premier events and being ushered into the VIP tent, being showered with gifts and SWAG? Does it mean being the most fit man in the neighborhood, with the lowest body fat percentage and the most defined six pack? Does it mean being the one in the neighborhood that can be counted on to work out every day, without fail, regardless of the rain, snow, sleet, hail, temperature, natural disasters and anything else that might get in the way of ordinary humans?
I don’t think so. I think being a man of style and substance means that I remain thoughtful and intentional in my choices, and that applies just as easily to the world of fitness as it does to anything else. It is about cultivating a sense of continuity and confidence in the way that I approach every day.
When it comes to fitness, I’ve used the ideals of style and substance to help me in specific ways. I offer these thoughts in the hopes that they might help you too.
Buy apparel and gear thoughtfully. Style gurus are often involved in making us aware of the latest and greatest options available to us. Every designer is always releasing new material, new collections and new items. Ostensibly, as this applies to fitness clothing, these new items, materials and collections reflect a deepening awareness of how to get the most value from the exercise we do. In reality, new items and collections are released to drive sales increases. After all, once you have a pair of compression shorts, you don’t need to buy new ones until a) the old ones wear out or b) there is an advance in the technology that improves the workout.
When I started running a decade ago, I spent almost a year buying gear. Shoes, shirts, shorts, socks, if it was running focused I probably bought it. I bought running nutrition belts, gloves with key pockets built into the palm, jackets with removable sleeves, hats with ultra wicking headbands and cooling mesh. Some of these purchases made my running more comfortable and effective. And some of them were just purchases made because it reinforced my fascination with running.
And then, I found that I had too much stuff. I had purchased one too many sweatshirts, and I started giving things away. I had purchased one too many pairs of running tights, and two of them sit in my drawer, doing nothing. I entered races and got so many technical shirts that the ones I was wearing to run in started overwhelming my living space.
Long story short, I have made a decision to buy thoughtfully when it comes to something I need to work out in. Sweatpants may not be the most flattering, but they sure are nice to run in on cold mornings. A new sweatshirt may be nice, but if my current one isn’t worn out, could I put that money toward better socks or shoes? I’m not advocating against purchasing, I’m advocating for purposeful purchasing. When I need something, I buy it. When I see something cool, I store that information away for later, when a replacement of my current equipment is called for. And when I just want to upgrade equipment, I make a trip to the local charity donation center or to another runner beginning the fitness journey.
Share the journey, share the fun! Exercise is a dirty word. But play, now that’s supposed to be fun, right!? Well, I have tried to replace the idea of Exercise in my mindset with the word play. Running is a type of play. Cycling is play. And when I play, everything is better. But playing alone is not nearly as much fun as playing with a friend, or with family.
Currently, my wife and children do not share the same playful interests and intensities that I do, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find ways to play together. For instance, every morning, we use an app called FitDeck to guide us through a short work out. It is not so aggressive that it will make us Olympic ready, but it gets the blood moving, and we do it together.
Finding ways to play together makes everyone better, contributing to our sense of substance. And the way we do it, with fun and panache, contributes to our sense of style!
Progress, not perfection. This one is the hardest for me to remember. I started the current phase of my exercise journey 17 years ago, when I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I had to change everything about my view of what it meant to be active. Golfing included walking, not using a cart. Weight workouts needed to become consistent, not sporadic. Little adjustments, including some around diet, became the rule as I found ways to make progress a little at a time.
In the first little while, the progress was visible and quite dramatic. Then it slowed, and measures of progress became harder to find. But, with a little time and a supportive network of friends and family, I have been able to reframe my view of activity and healthy.
However, I must still remain vigilant against the unrealistic perfection that always hovers nearby. My body fat % is better, but I don’t look like the comic book idols of my youth. I run, bike hike, but I don’t compare myself to the videos that I see on YouTube. I am seeking progress, little by little, consistent and constant. And that allows me to always have more goals to hit and confidence that I can hit them.
I hope these three ideas have been helpful.
Go Forth and Conquer!