5 Reasons I’m Glad I Set a Goal That Scares Me!

Several years ago, I set a goal to complete a 200 mile bicycle road race. At the time I set the goal, I hadn’t even cycled more than 100 miles in a month, but I said to myself, “Yeah, I think I could do that.” I tentatively set the goal to complete this monster event in the summer of my fiftieth year.

That’s this summer!

Now, in the back of my mind, I had been thinking about this for a long time. I have been training somewhat consistently for several years now. I am probably more fit today than I was 20 years ago. But still this monster goal seemed undoable.

But I had committed to it, right? So I started to get ready. I’m well on my way, and while there are likely going to be more posts about this event, I thought I would take a few moments to share a few insights I have had at the beginning of the process.

1 – I prioritize my time better. When I have a goal in mind, I will always find ways to work it into my daily life. The bigger the goal, the more effort and time it will take, and the more I have to be thoughtful about making time in my life to accomplish it.

2 – The goal is a puzzle to solve. When I start looking at the goal like this one, I start setting smaller goals, training objectives, and schedules. In this way, I am forced to get intentional about planning and preparing, and not just the obvious factors of training. There are logistics to be handled and planned for, travel and time off to be arranged, and all kinds of various events to be planned around. Solving puzzles like these can help keep the brain active, which is immensely valuable, especially as we age.

3 – It helps me clarify the other important things in my life. When I started thinking about all of the training that I would have to do for the event, I started to realize how much of a toll this event would take on my family and other activities as well. I have to be honest, I wanted to accomplish the goal of competing in the event, but I didn’t want to put my family on hold completely for 4-6 months. Clarifying that, I inquired with my family and some friends and found a relay option for the event. Doing it this way, I can accomplish the big goal, but I got a chance to remind myself of how important the other facets are in my life, and that I needed to find a way to balance them all.

4 – I had to be public. Small goals require small commitment and small efforts. As a result, we could complete them and sometimes no one else even knows we did anything. With this goal, especially when I decided to pursue the relay option, I had to put myself out there and try to form a team. That meant telling people, lots of people, in the hopes of finding three others who would be willing to join me. I found them, and now we are all committed in very public ways to people around us.

5 – I have something to look forward to. I remember reading an article some time ago, about the effect on people’s moods when they look forward to a vacation. Everything is handled better, life seems less depressing, and generally people are more optimistic about the difficulties they face when there is something that they are looking forward to. I am finding that the same thing is true with this bike event in my life. Having this thing to look forward to, and all of the little milestones along the way, has helped me discover new energy and enthusiasm that had been waning a bit over the last several months.

Of course, now the real work starts. We are just under four months from the big day, and I have quite a bit of training to do to make sure I am event ready. But that is a post for another day.

If you are feeling like you don’t have the energy or enthusiasm in your life that you wish you had, I suggest you find a goal that (in your opinion) scares you a little bit. Go out on a limb, commit yourself to it, be public, and see if the act of working toward something doesn’t bring you a measure of rejunivation!

Go forth and conquer!

Milestones and trail markers: 5 ways to beat the birthday blues

I began my blogging experience a few years ago around my daughter’s birthday. The post I wrote at that time was reflective, emotional and perhaps more than a little self indulgent. I was thinking about all of the things that had transpired in her young life, about the adventures we had shared and about all of the adventures I was anticipating to come.

This year, I turned 50. As I contemplated my milestone and the opportunity to commemorate it with it’s own blog post, I found myself again becoming reflective and emotional, but I was trying to avoid the self indulgence. Instead, it was a little self persecutorial.

When I was in my early 20’s, I really thought that my life would be more meteoric than mundane. I had heard people tell me that I had potential and try to encourage me to use my time and talents to further their objectives. As a result, I had a lot of mementos and accomplishments in things that mattered to others, but never really seemed to rise to the level that I had expected of myself. And now, at 50, I found myself wondering whether or not all of that was time wasted.

Needless to say, the birthday was a mixed bag.

I celebrated with friends and family, and appreciated the time I shared. It was delightful. But nagging in the back of my mind was the thought that I had missed out on things that were really important. I thought if people near my age, some younger, and couldn’t help but compare what I had done (or not done) with what those people had accomplished.

And as often happens, I came up wanting.

At least initially.

It was then that I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was measuring myself against. We’ve all done this. We compare ourselves to others, to their social media posts, to their good fortune, to their accomplishments, to all of the visible things that they choose to put on display. We do this without ever really thinking about the negative aspects of their lives that are surely there. They are there because everyone struggles with negatives. It’s just part of human life.

So I started to evaluate my birthday not so much in terms of milestones on the way to the goals that I hadn’t accomplished but according to the trailmarkers that helped me clarify the path that I was on. Here are the types of trailmarkers that I am choosing to focus on:

What is the quality of my significant relationships like? Let’s be clear, I’m not the perfect husband or father. Let’s be honest, no one can claim the title of perfect. But as a milestone, my perfection of perfect far outstripped the reality of my life in this facet. Until I asked myself, “Do my grown kids still come by the house? Do they make time to spend with me? Do my kids who are still at home actively try to avoid spending time with me? Are they willing to just go for a drive when I ask, to run errands? Does my wife welcome my company when she is just driving to the store?” The answer to all of these questions were postive! And compared to what things could be like, this was all moving in a good direction. Positive trailmarker 1, check!

What has been my experience with my career? I have to be honest, I expected to be making a lot more money by now. I expected to be in a more glamorous position, to be enjoying a level of influence within my company and within my industry that far exceeds what my reality is. But re-examining the question, I was again impressed by the positive direction that things were taking. I have remained employed in the same organization when many people were let go. I have expanded my position and my influence within the organization, helping it to continue to make strides toward achieving goals and initiatives. And in other ways, I am helping people inside and outside of my company to be more successful in their careers.

What has been my experience with my physical facet? I have never won a Super Bowl, a world championship in anything, or even anything more prestigious physically than a local bike race, and even that I have only done once. But again, a shift of focus shows a very different perspective. I have completed multiple 100 mile rides, a marathon, two half marathons, multiple 5 and 10 K races and more than a few Obstacle Course Races, like Spartan. I am controlling my diabetes wisely, and have good endurance and flexibility. I can still play golf with one of my sons, and overall, I’m in great health, something that many of my peers struggle with.

How are my hobbies? I write, I sing and perform. These are my hobbies. I also have a YouTube channel and participate as a regular contributor for a podcast. None of these are changing the world, but in all of them, I acquit myself well. I sing with a fairly well known choir, people are happy to see me at auditions. I have a few subscribers for both this blog and my channel and our podcast just won an award this past year. Overall, these may not be things that movies are made of, but I’m busy doing things I enjoy for people who enjoy what I do. I think that trailmarker is pretty clearly pointing toward success and happiness.

How’s my spiritual life? I’m certainly not perfect, I’m not even sure I qualify as holy. But I am certainly striving for a measure of calm and connectedness to the universe and others that seems to bring me joy. I treat people with kindness, finding things about them that I can genuinely appreciate, and I express that appreciation. I have a spiritual discipline that brings me joy and peace, and I follow it well more days than not. That is a pretty clear trailmarker toward peace and happiness.

So, after taking careful stock of what I have done, it seems that my trailmarkers are indicating that I’m heading in a pretty good direction.

I wish the same for you! Go forth and conquer!

So, you want to date my daughter?

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am a father.  I have five children, ranging in ages from 25 (as of yesterday) to 14 (turning 15 in December of this year).  Two girls bracket three boys, and while they are far from done, I have to admit that being a dad to these wonderful young people has been the most amazing opportunity of my life.  They are fun, funny, gracious, fiesty, energetic, thoughtful, frustrating, loving, supportive, challenging, and so many other things!  I cannot imagine my life without them in it, each and every one of them.
Right now, I am in that place where my daughter is becoming an independent young woman.  And she is dating young men.  And I’m trying to learn how to be cool with all of this, to be calm and accepting and trusting.
And I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job.
Take yesterday.  My daughter brought over the young man she is dating.  On her birthday.  Wow.  It was a big deal for me, much bigger than I thought it was going to be.
The whole family spent the afternoon playing some games and walking around.  Then we prepared and had a nice dinner, built a fire in the back yard, and did the cake and presents thing that is obligatory for birthdays.  And through it all, I was a little stand-offish.
Part of it probably came from not feeling well.  I had some kind of a stomach bug that was really playing havoc with me, and the week had been particularly exhausting, so I really could have used some down time.
But another part of it probably came from my realizing that I may not have many more of these events  where I am the primary man in my daughter’s life.  And that has made me a little more pensive, a little more thoughtful.
When my daughter was younger, and when boys would come by the house to take her out, I made sure to give my version of the “Dad speech.”  Somewhere I may document that later (I think the one I give is a good one!) but I have to admit, I had no desire to go through that yesterday.
Unfortunately, as a result, I didn’t say much at all.
I listened.  I watched.  I tried to be aware.
It was very hard, harder than I thought it would be.  And like I said, I don’t think I did a very good job.
I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this young man.  And it is possible that we may see other young men in the future.  With that in mind, I want to put down a couple of ideas that have been running around my head that a young man ought to know.
If you are going to date my daughter you have to know that we both feel affection for her.  However, while the affection you may feel for her is new and fresh, the affection I feel for her is old and deep and powerful beyond anything you know. As you may desire to protect her and make her happy, I feel the same things only ten times over, maybe more.  As you are fascinated by her laugh and smile, I remember them growing from year to year, becoming more and more individualized and filled with layers of subtlety and insight.
If you are going to date my daughter you should know that I am watching you.  I am watching not just how you treat her, but how you treat others.  How you treat her brothers and sisters.  How you treat her mother.  I am watching to better understand you, to get a sense of how you handle new situations and new people.  My daughter may be familiar with these things, but I’m not.  And I need to know more about you than a short first impression might offer.
If you are going to date my daughter you should know that I am trying to figure out how to balance the two people she is.  When I see her, I see my little girl who needed me to sing her to sleep and chase away the monsters in her closet at the same time that I see a young, confident woman getting ready to make her place in the world.  Seeing her this way makes me more wary, more cautious, and perhaps a little harder to get to know.  After all, you only see one part of who she is.
If you are going to date my daughter you should probably remember that it’s really hard for a daddy to let go of a daughter.  There are all kinds of reasons why.  Some of them I have shared here.  Some I probably won’t ever share.  But it’s hard.  So please forgive me if it takes me a little longer to let go than you might think it should.  You aren’t a daddy yet.
But one day, you just might be.
And then, you’ll understand what it has meant for me to watch you date my daughter.
Go forth and conquer.

Pass on a Passion

We all have things that we are passionate about.
In this context I am using passion in the “strong, barely controllable emotion” sense of the word.  We  could also add “sometime irrational” in the definition, but it isn’t necessarily always the case.
For instance, I am passionate about my family, about human dignity and development, and about the Stargate SG1!  (Great show, by the way) See, sometimes irrational.
One of the other things that I am passionate about is the game of golf.  In the pantheon of my free time activities, golf ranks high on the list of activities that satisfy a deep yearning in me.  There is something magnificent about taking a swing, starting the ball in flight and watching it fly.  There is also something empowering about looking at a difficult shot or a bad lie and fiding a way to turn the situation to the good.  Golf is a wonderful game, enjoyable and empowering on many levels.
I first discovered the game when I was fourteen.  I played in a scramble with borrowed clubs.  I hit a couple of good shots. I was enamored with the combination of beauty and power, of grace and grit.  I tried to spend more time playing the game, but I couldn’t line things up very well.
I next experienced golf some 6 years later when I lived in England.  I played with borrowed clubs, but this time I played with men who had taken the time to learn about the game, to begin to uncover its secrets.  I was awed, I was inspired, but again, I had little opportunity to explore the game.
I found it again about 7 years later.  I had been looking for a sport, a game, some type of physical activity that could be useful in keeping both mind and body sharp.  A friend took me golfing.  This time, the experience changed me.  I bought some used clubs.  Then I upgraded them slightly.  Then I started playing more frequently.  Then I started to play a little better, and a little better, and a little better.
Long story short, I fell in love with the game.  I started to uncover its secrets, to discover what it could teach me, lessons not just about how to play the game better but about how the game could help me learn how to approach life better.
As they say, the rest is history.  It has become a passion.  I feel great emotion about playing the game, about making time to play the game.  Granted, sometimes it is irrational, but it is a part of who I am.
And last Saturday, I continued the act of passing it on.
I took my son with me on a scramble tournament.  He was playing with second hand clubs.  He hit some good shots, and I watched as, every once in a while, a little gleam spread across his smiling face.  He was congratulated by men, not just his dad, on choices he was making, shots he took and outcomes that he was realizing.
I think he is catching on to the passion!
As a man of style and substance, it is important that we pass on our passions.  So many of the lessons that we learn in life can be shared but not necessarily taught.  They are discovered as the experiences are shared.  And when they are discovered, sometimes the passion takes hold.  And then the lessons are alive!  They can help others be better than they would otherwise have been.
So I guess I will keep taking my son golfing.  And then, when he has started to feel it, we’ll find others to pass on the passion to.  ‘Cause that’s how you honor the lessons learned from those who have gone before.
Go forth and conquer!

Reviews for Subscription Clubs

Last time on this blog, I talked about the idea of subscription boxes or services that are geared toward today’s gentleman. I also shared a rating system that I use in regard to some of the subscription boxes that I have used.  Today, I am sharing with you those services, their ratings, and my comments.  Let’s dive in!
Dollar Shave Club
Value 5 Service 3 Customization 4
Headline – Simple and straightforward; Recommended Ongoing
This popular shaving club is dedicated to providing good shaving products at greatly discounted prices.  While the razors aren’t brands that can be bought outside of the subscription service, they are in many ways comparable to well known brands available in various retail stores and outlets.  While the value is strong, making adjustments or discontinuing the service is not as easy as I would like.  I still have this service, and I have slowed my razors to every other month.  Interestingly enough, just this month they have begun expanding their offerings to trial sizes, free sample sets, and even a quarterly “Re-stock box.”  Talk about expanding the brand!
Bespoke Post
Value 4 Service 3 Customization 5
Headline – Ecclectic and enjoyable, easily adaptable; recommended 12 months
I have only been using this service for a short time, but I am very impressed with the service over all.  The cost is a little higher than some, at $45 per month, but this service runs a little differently.  Like most of the services, when you sign up you fill out a profile.  Each month an email is sent detailing what is scheduled to come to you based on the profile you built.  However, each month you can either opt in, opt out, or select a different box entirely from the selection that is available that month.  The products are generally grouped (pen and journal, cooking accessories and cook book, you get the idea) and some items show up as box options several months running.  This has been one of my favorites.
Value 5 Service 3 Customization 2
Headline – Details for the modern gentleman; recommended 12 months
This was the first subscription box service I used.  It was affordable, at $20 a month, and was focused on grooming and fashion products for men.  I received samples of various soaps, shampoos, colognes and hair fixatives along with socks, shirts, gloves, hats and other accessories.  It was like Christmas each month for the first 18 months.  And then the boxes started to feel somewhat repetitive.  And while there was no ability to customize the box more than filling out a profile survey, the site included a shopping option where full size items of the samples could be purchased.  All in all, it was well worth the time and the money.  Cancelling was simple, and I have to admit that some months I really miss this box.
Value 4 Service 2 Customization 2
Headline – Great gear, eventually repetitive; recommend 6-9 months
Carin was perhaps the longest subscription box (to date) that I have participated in.  The cost started around $25 and gradually increased to $35.  Even at that cost, the value of each subscription box tended to be slightly higher than the actual dollars being paid on the box.  Boxes typically shipped around the 10th of the month, arriving mid way through the month, and they all were packed according to some kind of theme.  Most boxes had a couple consumable items (gel or snack items) a durable gear piece (socks or water bottle, things like that) and some type of special gear item.  Some of them were awesome, some were not usable by me (like the sunglasses that came in one box.  I wear regular glasses, so that box was a bit of a bust).  Most months I filled out a survey, which got me point that I could use for discounts on future subscriptions or Carin branded gear.  The website didn’t have other items for purchase, but would direct the visitor to websites for suppliers of gear that had been featured.
After two years with Carin, my perception of the value started to dwindle.  After all, how many collapsible bottles do you need?
A point of note is that Cairn had a second subscription service called Obsidian.  This was a quarterly service and was much pricier, at $200 per quarter.  The gear that came in the boxes was much more substantial, with each box providing about $300 worth of gear.  I used this service for two quarters, and found the value to be stellar, but the gear that came was often not gear I would have chosen, nor did I always find it immediately useful.  I still own it all, and some of it is now in my bug out bag or my goto hiking/camping kit.  Great gear, little flexibility.
Cancelling was simple, but adjustments to my profile didn’t seem to have any impact.
So there you have my wrap up on the boxes I have used so far.  I am hoping in the near future to try a few more.  Some of the clothes services like Trunkclub, Stitchfix, Bombfell and FiveFour look interesting.  So do some of the more outdoor/survival gear clubs like Battlebox, SHTF Survival Box and the Prepper Box.  I’m also looking at some fitness boxes like Fit Lifestyle Box and Buffbox.
Sounds like there might be more of these posts coming!
Go forth and conquer!

Subscription Clubs for the Man of Style and Substance

My first subscription was to Boy’s Life magazine.  I got it from the moment I was registered as a Cub Scout back in the 70’s, and I kept it active through my experience in Varsity Scouting into the 80’s.  It came month in and month out, showing me a world that I could scarce imagine, big and exciting and full of amazing things!
To that I added a youth magazine geared at helping me grow in my chosen faith and a comic book subscription to the original Star Wars comic book produced by Marvel comics and the magazine that came as part of being a member of the original Star Wars Fan Club.  (Yes, I’m one of those kind of fans!)  I loved all of those subscriptions, though if I were honest, I think I read the comic books the most devotedly.
Today there are all kinds of subscription services available to the gentleman, more than perhaps ever before.  Shaving clubs, clothing clubs, accessory clubs, grooming clubs, survivalist gear clubs, adventure gear clubs, the list goes on and on.  All of the clubs offer something interesting, sometimes important, to deepening a gentleman’s demonstration of style and substance.  And, as all things, services like these come at a price.
Like many of you, I have to be careful and responsible with my expenditures.  I have spent money frivolously in the past, and those expenditures have left me in financial difficulty.  As a result, I have learned that I must make my money work hard for me, perhaps harder than others.  I must make sure that I don’t find myself hemorrhaging cash.
Unfortunately, unwisely using subscription services is one way that any individual can find himself hemorrhaging cash in short order.
Over the years I have subscribed to many of these services.  In this post, I will share with you my standard for judging a subscription service.  Next week, I will share with you some of the boxes that I have subscribed to, my scoring on the matrix associated with each, and my overall grade for the service.  I will also mention some that I am looking at, what keeps me from joining them, and what I hope to gain from them when I take the plunge!
First, the criteria:  Value, Service and Customization.
Value – This is a perceived cost/benefit relationship.  The higher the cost, the better the value must be to be positive.  A value of 5 is the best, meaning the benefits far surpass the investment.  A Value of 1 is obviously something that should be ended or avoided.  A score of 3 means the costs and benefits are in perfect balance, based on my perception.
Service – do they communicate outside of just sending stuff?  Do they inform their users where they are going or what is coming in the future?  Is it easy to return unwanted items?  What about making it easy to discontinue the service? After all, if the subscription no longer meets the needs of the subscriber, it should be easy to discontinue, yes?  Well, some don’t see it that way.  The best service is represented by a 5, the worst by a 1.  You get the idea.
Customization – Can I tailor the subscription to what I want? Do I fill out a survey and then let a designer take over? What about additional items that can be purchased directly from the service provider?  Customization is the current gold standard of customer service and sales.  The ease of customization gets a higher score, with less customization options and a more difficult process earning a lower score.
Next week, we look at some boxes.  In the meantime, are there dimensions to my evaluation that I should add?  Let me know in the comments!
Go forth and conquer!

A Box, A Bag, and a Sharpie!

Today’s blog post is a little different.  Today’s is interactive.  Today you and I are going to work together to cut the clutter.
I know, you probably have a variety of different reasons for not wanting to engage in this activity.  “I like my knick-knacks and do-dads.”  “They have sentimental value.”  “You never know, I might need this the day after tomorrow.”  All of these are reasons (or excuses) that I have used as well.
And that’s okay!
It really is!
You don’t have to do this project with everything.  But if you are a person who still has spark plugs from your first car kicking around the garage or that t-shirt you were wearing when the high school football team won state,  I am going to encourage you to use the ideas in this little article to de-clutter one part of your living space.
You get to choose.
It could be your top drawer (where I put lots of small things that I want to hold on to but don’t really have any place to put them) your closet (where I have clothes that I bought when the second George Bush was president) or a book case (where I have the hard copies of every document I used for my M.Ed.)  You choose, pick one!  And let’s get started.
For this activity, you are going to need a box, a bag and a sharpie.
 Whatever choice you made regarding where to start, take a good hard look at the items.  There are probably some items there that you haven’t used in a year, maybe longer.  For those items, ask yourself why the item is still there.  Does it connect you with a memory of a person or an event in your life that was uplifting?  Was it a gift, or something that you picked up along the way?  Is it significant in some way?  Does looking at it or wearing it bring you joy?  If the answer to any of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” then immediately set it aside. In the effort to simplify, there is nothing wrong with holding on to things that truly bring us joy.
If the answer was “Kind of…” then set it into the box. The box is a middle ground.  It is for the things that you don’t necessarily want to get rid of, but they don’t necessarily have a place in your life anymore.  That isn’t wrong, it isn’t a reflection on you, it is just an evidence that you, like all people, change in various ways over time.  And sometimes, we aren’t ready to move on yet.
And that’s okay!
If the answer was “Not really,” it’s time to pull out the bag.
Now, because I am a big fan of the “Reduce/Reuse/Repurpose/Recycle” movement, let’s clear something up right now.  The bag is not for garbage.  If the article you are looking at is truly garbage, throw it out.  But if the item is in relatively good repair, or could be made so quickly and easily, it is ready for the bag.  Old T-shirts from movie premiers or SWAG that was given to you at a public event, old items given as white elephant gifts that you have been hanging onto “for the next time,” or clothes that just don’t fit any more are all perfect for the bag.
The bag is for all of those items that you don’t use and that don’t bring you joy.  And believe me, I know it is hard to let go of things that were gifts
Release them!  Send them on their way!   Donate them to an organization that can repurpose them in some way, shape or form, and let them bring joy to someone else.
I know, sometimes it can be hard to do this.  But your efforts to declutter are not just about getting rid of things, it is also about opening up space for new things, things that will bring you joy today!
Remember, letting something go to be repurposed is one of the best things you can do.  After all, if one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, you are sending treasure out into the world to be enjoyed by someone else!
What do you think of this list and this plan?  Try it, and leave me some comments!  Go Forth and Conquer!