HOLIDAY GUIDE FOR A MAN OF STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

The holiday season is here, and we are bound to be flooded with articles regarding how to successfully navigate the holiday season. Most of them will center around gift giving advice, touting the latest gadgets and fashions as among the most desirable gifts of the season. No doubt, some of these articles on the internet and in magazines were prepared in part as reviews of new products and promoted advertising pieces. While there is certainly nothing wrong with all of that, this post is going to go in a decidedly different direction. Instead, this article is going to focus on how a man of style and substance might approach the holidays differently.

GIFT GIVING

Certainly, one of the unavoidable expectations of the holiday season is found in the exchanging of gifts. Many cultural traditions have grown up around this practice, and they range from sublime to utilitarian. Being one who seeks style and substance can influence the types of gifts that one gives. Consider three categories: something made, something to be shared and something permanent.

Home-made gifts are sometimes seen as an effort to be cheap. This may be true, but it need not be. Many a baker has spent countless hours preparing a treat based on a family recipe and shared it with others. If practical, presenting the item prepared in or on a special holiday keepsake may add a powerful, personal touch. I am reminded of a coworker who brought a small cake in for many coworkers, each in a small holiday loaf baking dish. I enjoyed the cake, and I still have the dish.

If you are aware of a friends interest in a particular activity, presenting an invitation to attend that activity together may present a powerful expression of friendship while also setting the stage for making memories together. And the invitation need not be for something expensive. A simple meal before an anticipated book signing, a free museum or an inexpensive showing at a community theater may all cost far less than some gadget that may be broken or lost before the end of the holiday season.

Some of the finest gifts that I have received, both practical and whimsical, have had a measure of permanence to them. Books are a favorite of mine. They influence the life of the recipient long after the actual gifting event is concluded. Some I read once, others I return to often. Sometimes they are special editions, while other times they are simply a paperback. I have even been given blank journals as a way of beginning the year, something that stays with me the whole year through.

ENTERTAINING

Holiday parties need not be a chore. Instead, they can be simple but meaningful. Most parties involve eating, and with holiday parties, this is particularly true. In that spirit, a man of style and substance may embrace the spirit by providing a simple meal that allows for more time spent talking and sharing time with friends and less on trying to impress anyone or taking too much time in cleaning up.

Additionally, the man of style and substance may opt for an activity party, like caroling, providing service or having a fire with warm beverages and donuts or muffins. For the man of style and substance, the holiday party is less a time for making a statement and more a time for connecting with friends.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS

All of the above perspectives can illuminate a man of style and substance’s approach to the tradition of greeting cards as well. Are you fond of people, but not of the tradition? Consider sending an electronic card through Hallmark or American Greetings. Both offer services where cards appropriate to the season and the disposition of the sender can be easily customized. Pictures can be attached, as can links to videos if one is so inclined.

As far as the content of the greeting, I will only suggest this: the greeting is about reaching out to others and letting them know that you care about them. While it may be appropriate to mention events that happened in the year, if they are truly a friend they probably know all about it already. But a an of style and substance will never give in to the temptation of using the holiday greeting tradition as an expanded facebook post.

Being a man of style and substance is not about the brands we wear, the restaurants we frequent or the balance in a bank account. It is about the way we handle ourselves during our various interactions with others. It is about emphasizing the positives in any interaction. It is about acknowledging that everyone encountered on a daily basis is striving for success, and that sometimes you or I may have insights to share along the way, but never in an arrogant or condescending manner. It is about savoring every good and uplifting experience available while also remembering that we cannot avoid being evaluated and judged according to the simple standard: do people feel better about life and themselves after spending time with you?

Hopefully, the answer will always be yes.

Go Forth and Conquer!

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A Thoughtless Moment

I’m big on being thoughtful.  I believe that one of the most important things that we can do to improve our satisfaction with life in all of its facets is to be thoughtful.  Being thoughtful can mean many things, like taking the time to say something nice or render a small act of service to another human being in the flow of a busy day.  It can also mean being fully aware of the present moment to the extent that choices are evaluated before being enacted.  As a Man of Style and Substance, I strive to be both.

And some days I fail.  Miserably.

Today was one of those days.

In the interest of helping you to potentially avoid repeating my failure, let me share with you how it unfolded.

Without meaning to, our family morning routine has begun to include some less than helpful elements.  My two youngest children, aged 16 and nearly 13, are slow to rise, grumpy and combative about almost everything.  Getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, grooming for the day, gathering completed homework, being ready for the carpool, almost everything has become a battle.  Some days, these battles are handled with grace and humor.  Today it was for a while.

Then I blew it.

My daughter, expressing the angsty teenage comment of “I don’t see the point,” became the recipient of a flippant and poorly thought out remark.  A remark that I instantly regretted, hastily corrected, and apologized for.  

My daughter began moving, going through the rest of the morning, as did I.  My son then became the target of my momentary thoughtlessness when I said, “Your sister is parroting your behavior; we have to change that.”  

At that point I left for work.

And then I had a moment where I thought, “I wonder, what if that was the last thing that my son or daughter heard me say?”  I then thought, “What if, at some difficult point in their lives, the thought I just gave them was the one that came back to their minds?” 

I then had a thought that pushed me over the edge: “Is it possible they are both parroting your attitude?”

And I lost it.  

I had to pull of the freeway.  I began to sob, uncontrollably.  I felt pain in my heart and mind, so deep and so crushing that I could not function.  I cried and prayed and cried some more, and yet the sorrow lingered, indicting me with a view of myself as an awful example of parenthood.  I sobbed even more, as I called my daughter to apologize.  I told her over and over that I loved her, that I was sorry for being thoughtless, and that I hoped she could forgive me.  I called my wife to apologize for allowing a moment of frustration to produce a thoughtless expression that was potentially hurtful to our lovely little girl.  I continued to feel the sorrow of that moment as I apologized to my son for trying to make him the inspiration for her bad behavior.  I apologized the the other children in the house, our adult children, who may have overheard the exchanges.  Even now, the sorrow lingers.  

If I am being honest, this type of sorrow, the sorrow of having let my guard down for a moment and, in the process, let down my wife and children by not being a man of Style and Substance, cuts deeper than any professional failures, any missed business opportunity, any lost revenue or unpurchased  doo-dad, trinket or ticket.  This hurt goes far deeper and will take me longer to recover from, I think, than almost anything else.

But luckily, it is beginning.

I am fortunate to have a loving wife who comforted me and helped me find some perspective.  She reminded me that, while the moment was hurtful, it was tiny compared to the decade-plus of support, love and laughter that my children and I have shared.  She reminded me that she sees the intention of my heart, and that a momentary loss of composure is not an invalidation of a lifetime spent showing love.

I took the time to reach out to both of my children, reminding them of my love for them, apologizing for my thoughtlessness, and asking for forgiveness; this is a strength we are hoping to help them learn, and I am not afraid to model it for them.  So far, they are willing to look past my thoughtlessness this morning.  

I made a decision, while sobbing on the side of the road, that I would examine my attitude.  I made a decision to be more thoughtful about the way I face the morning, what thoughts I express, what type of example I give to my children of how to handle the challenge of daily life.  I made a decision to be more thoughtful of my words, choosing them carefully, using words that uplift and encourage and never allowing flippant or destructive thoughts to be expressed.  I made a decision to be just as firm in my requirements of them to get ready for school, but to be much more thoughtful as I spur them on to action.

As men of Style and Substance, let us each strive to be thoughtful.  For the absence of thoughtfulness, at least in my case, was crippling sorrow.  I would spare anyone that sorrow!  Be thoughtful!

Go forth and conquer!

The passing of a friend

On Monday of last week, I received word if a friend’s passing.  He was a young man, not yet forty, and his passing was more than unexpected, it was tragically sudden.  No foul play, no accident, he just failed to wake up one morning.
Yesterday was his funeral.  And the time between learning if his passing and the formal event celebrating his life (that’s how I like to look at funerals) has been one of the most intense emotional roller coasters I have ever endured.  I have cried, I have been physically sick, I have been laughing uproariously and I have been number.  Sometimes all of these emotions and more tumbled upon each other so quickly that it seemed they were all happening at the same time.
Maybe they were.
Whatever the case, today I woke up and went about my day much as normal.  I have grieved, and I’m sure I will have more moments where I grieve his loss anew.  But today, I try to carry on.
I met one of our mutual friends this morning, and we talked briefly of the funeral, of his influence in our lives and, for each of us, a profound awareness that our lives are different because he was in them, and different because he is gone.
Personally, I feel left behind.  My friend and I had worked together on one life changing project, a theater production that for both him and me was a touchstone in our lives.  After that, we worked on parallel projects, never quite having our schedules synch up in a way that allowed us to work together.  I was planning on making the next opportunity the one that would.work, no matter the cost.  And now, I will never get that chance.  Like I said, I feel left behind.
My friend was a man of substance and style.  I looked up to him for finding ways to be authentic regarding who he was and what he valued.. He made others in his circle of friends feel loved, appreciated and respected.  He looked for the good that they did and inspired them to do more.  He was always accepting and, at the same time, encouraging of everyone around him to be better.  Smiles, laughter, and passionate disagreement were part of his life and our relationship at various times, but underlying it all was a sense of mutual respect, love and appreciation.
And now he is gone.
But his influence will live on.
In the spirit of my friend, allow me to encourage you to be better.  Whether you read this on the day it is first published or decades later, the encouragement to be better is fully in force.  Find something that you can do today to be a little better.  Be more thoughtful of someone’s struggles.  Be more exacting of your completion of a project.  Be more present during a moment of relaxation with family and friends.  Be more hopeful of seeing good manifest itself in the world around you.  Be more courageous in contributing to positively to those around you, whatever your relationships might be.
In doing so, your life becomes so much more than a compilation of events and memories.  You become, like my friend, a man of style and substance.  You become someone who makes a difference.
You become someone who will be missed when gone.
Go forth and conquer!

The Blueprint for Style and Substance

Years ago, while looking for a poem to memorize for a class in jr. high or high school, I came across a poem by Rudyard Kipling.  It was rather long, as I judged poems at that time in my life, and was rather intricately written, so the memorizing of it was a challenge.  Being somewhat competitive, I relished the idea of a challenge, and I took after it with some excitement.
I loved Rudyard Kipling, primarily because of the story “Rikki Tikki Tavi.”  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  Of course Kipling also wrote many other works, perhaps most notably Captain’s Courageous and The Jungle Book.
If you are familiar with Kipling, you will likely have guessed that the poem I am referring to is “If” sometimes listed as “If, for Boys.”  Nearly every young man has seen this poem, perhaps on a birthday or graduation card given from a parent, grandparent or beloved relative.  Most of us, perhaps, remembered more the money that was tucked inside the card than we did the actual words of the poem.
That description may have matched me at one point.
But over time, things have changed.
Over time, I have begun to see his poem as one of sublime insight, powerful inspiration and comforting encouragement.  At various times in my life, I have experienced all of the ups and downs that he eloquently describes, with all of the accompanying celebrations and tears.  I have read and re-read the poem at some of the darkest and most difficult times in my life, reminding myself that, while my particular circumstances may be unique, being challenged by life is nothing new.  And when the challenges have come as a result of success, as the poem counsels, I have likewise studied the poem for an indication of how to best keep moving forward while keeping myself free of the arrogance that can so easily accompany successes.
Recently, in connection with this blog, I have come to realize that the poem provides a solid foundation piece of what it means to be a man of style and substance.  A blueprint, if you will.  In that vein, I offer it here, now, for you to review and reflect upon.  I hope it helps you as much as it continues to help me.
If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Go forth and conquer!

The Five Best Pieces of Newlywed Advice

My oldest son recently got married.  It was a fun ceremony, completely representative of both my son and his new bride, filled with swords and medieval costumes and swords and Star Wars.  I loved it, and so did most of the attendees.
But now, it has been over two weeks.  They have had a honeymoon, opened presents, and begun the process of caring for one another.  They are currently living with us while they find a house to move into, so we are more than a little involved in this first phase of their lives.  And, because they are here and so are we, I have naturally been thinking about all the things that I would like to tell him about now that he is a husband.  But of course, I can’t really do that without being invited.  That would be borderline meddling.
But I can write a blog post!
What follows, then, is the advice that I feel is the most important advice that I would like to pass on to my son, and to other husbands around the world.  I doubt any of this will be particularly revolutionary; much of it has been tried and tested throughout hundreds of years and thousands of strong, resilient, happy marriages.  And that is, I think, why I feel so strong about passing it on.
Put the marriage first. In the first few months of marriage, it is fun to be thinking about your spouse, wondering what she is doing, thinking about all the things you would like to be doing with her.  It is absolutely likely that you have gone out of your way to find things and adopt activities that keep you together as much as possible.  However, as months go by, you may find yourself starting to think of what you miss.  Times going out with the guys, all night movie marathons over pizza, road trips, perhaps even career goals that are ambitious and demanding.  All of that is fine and healthy until they begin to take a primary focus in your life, away from the love, care and support of your wife.  Many husbands have learned, and some of them too late, that the marriage relationship is fragile.  If not treated with constant care, if not placed first in your priorities, you will likely find that it doesn’t matter what you replaced it with.
Combine and cleave.  This goes along with the first, but in my mind specifically deals with finances.  Finances are one of the primary things that spouses tend to quarrel over.  Sometimes the quarreling becomes so intense that it chases all of the joy out of the relationship.  The surest way I have found to head that off at the pass is to ensure that finances are combined early on.  farther you can get your minds and hearts away from the yours/mine perspective, the more fully you can see that the intertwining of your lives is what brings true joy.  In this way, you cleave to one another, you are intertwined.  In my experience, couples who did not combine finances as part of the conversation did not enjoy the same feeling of solidness and commitment in their marrriage as those who did.  It isn’t a promise of peace, but it is one of three critical issues.
Appreciate the little things as big as you can.  You’re just starting out, so you aren’t going to have a lot of resources.  But that doesn’t mean that little expressions of love and support don’t deserve the biggest expressions of appreciation that you can manage.  Make every day together a day to be celebrated.  Pull out the best dishes for a beautiful meal.  Hug her extra tight and long on a day that she does something unexpected.  Don’t let you circumstances determine the enthusiasm of your heart.
If and when you fight, fight fair.  Right now, I’m sure you can’t imagine that you and your lovely bride will fight.  Believe me when I say that it is not only likely, it is probably inevitable.  You are different people, with different ideas, histories and approaches to life.  There will be conflict along the way.  That is okay.  fighting isn’t evidence of a weak relationship, it is evidence of strong people prioritizing a relationship.  Just remember that, during the heated discussions over little things, keep the little things little.  I have learned through my own life that when I try to bring up old issues previously resolved or if I ever questioned my wife’s commitment to me and to our marriage, I regretted it.  Fight over things, but fight from a perspective of finding the best way for the two of you to move forward.  Never question motives or bring up  the past; that just isn’t fair.
Never stop trying.  Never stop trying to demonstrate your love and adoration of your lovely bride.  Never stop finding new and imaginative ways to express your feelings.  Never stop working on your own self, striving to be the best you can, because that is the greatest gift you can give her.  Becoming a better man, a man of solid substance with a style all your own will make you more able to support her during the difficult times that will certainly come to you.  If you never stop trying to be the best you can be, you will be ready for those times.
Well, there it is!  The advice that I think every young husband should get.  Do you have anything to add?  Put it in the comments below!

The Tyranny of Comparisons

This morning, as my son was getting ready for school, he flopped down on the couch and said something like, “I’m not going to school anymore, I’m not smart enough.” Why would he say that, I wondered.  He’s a smart, funny, talented kid.  I should know, I’m his dad!
But then I looked at him on the couch, covering his head with a pillow, solidly convinced of his inadequacy.
Does this sound familiar?
I know in my life, it happens all the time.
20 years ago, I gave my first presentation on the tyranny of comparisons.  In it, I addressed the idea that, as children, all that matters to us is what our parents think of us.  If they say we’re pretty, or handsome, or talented, or smart, well then, we accept that.  But gradually, over time, our parents become less and less important to our perception of ourselves.  We become more and more influenced by the opinions of peers and, eventually, by the inevitable comparisons to the world around us.  We compare ourselves to star athletes, celebrities, professors, business people, and even our neighbor down the street.  We become embroiled in the game of comparisons.  And inevitably, we lose.
We lose for the simple fact that our comparisons are always unfair.  They are unfair in two ways.
In the first way, we compare ourselves with an ideal, whether imagined or real.  We see the image of a celebrity on the cover of a magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store, with a perfectly prepared hair style, carefully selected clothing provided by a designer specifically for the cover shoot, and flawless skin.  Before we even get to the sneakiness of photoshop, used to make the person even more unbelievably perfect, he or she is well on their way to being a paragon of desirability, superior in every way to us.  This is the ideal human, screams the cover of the magazine.  Behold and be driven to acknowledge your unworthiness.
And its a lie.  Oh, certainly ideal, but none of it is real.  It is all made up, fantasy, carefully prepared for a snapshot at false reality with one purpose and one purpose only: to make you buy the magazine so you can learn (and buy) the secret stuff that made the person on the cover this magnificent ideal.
There is a thing called the Johari window  which gives a way of illustrating the second way that comparisons are unfair.  It is that, in the case of others, we see what is open or known to all.  We see their car, clothes, job, house, family, toys, and any other aspect that might be easily changed into a post on Facebook or Instagram.  These are obvious, tactile and tangible.  They cannot be avoided.  But when we begin the comparison to ourselves, we also include the hidden area, or those things that are only known to us.  We may include things that are in the open area, like our job, but we include the difficulties and stresses that we feel at the job.  In this way, the comparison is completely unfair, because we have no clear idea of the hidden area of another.
Comparisons are patently unfair.  And a man of style and substance must call it for what it is.  It is unfair, and should be dismissed.
Knowing all of this, I looked at my son.  “Why do you say you aren’t smart enough?  Compared to whom?”  I asked, smiling.  He looked at me and was silent.  I had a feeling that he was doing the comparison thing, thinking of kids that seemed to have all the answers in classes, getting all the homework turned in perfectly, etc.  And in that moment I shared with him that hard fought wisdom that I gained all those years ago.
“Son, never compare yourself to anyone else.  If you want to compare yourself with anyone, compare yourself with the person you used to be.  And while you are at it, don’t shy away from action because of your past or your present.  Instead, act with confidence based on your potential.”  I said it all softly.  Gently.  I smiled the entire time.
And then we heard a horn honk, and he got up and finished getting ready for school.
I don’t know if he understood what I was trying to tell him.  I don’t know if he fully understood that I was trying to tell him that he had accomplished many amazing things in his short life, and that he was going to be able to accomplish many more amazing things.  I don’t know if he believed it.  But he took action.  And so did I.  I reminded both him and myself that comparisons, no matter how accurate we may believe we make them, can never be fair and always result in a lower perception of our value and worth.
And I found myself renewing a silent vow that, as a man of style and substance, I would stop comparing myself to anyone except myself five years ago.
I hope you can make the same vow.

Fall Wardrobe Upgrades

With the advent of fall, I start looking at my wardrobe.  Away go my shorts and out come flannel lined jeans.  Sweatshirts and sweaters  come out and linens and short sleeves start going to the back of the closet.  This is a time of rotation, and I love it!  It is a chance to rediscover old favorites and begin ramping up for chillier days and cozier nights.    

As a man of style, it is worth thinking about some things that can be done to spruce up the fall wardrobe in preparation for the onslaught of darker, colder days.  Permit me to mention five.

Out With the Old.  There are two kinds of old things in every wardrobe.  There is “Old Reliable” and “Old and Worn Out.”  Sometimes it is easy to know which is which.  Old Reliable is typified by the following

  • The item is still in good repair
  • You look for excuses to wear it
  • You wear it as a comfort piece, especially on days you stay in
  • It still fits you in your current body shape and type 

If it is old and the opposite of these four things, it is probably getting close to Old and Worn Out.  You need not throw it away, yet.  But if you don’t look forward to wearing it, consider donating it.  If you keep it because it still has life in it (and you hate it) give it away.  Just because you don’t value it anymore doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.  Pass it on, and let someone else discover the joy of owning something new and special for them.

One New Shirt. I’m not talking about t-shirts, here.  T-shirts are something that we all wear, but they are not what I think of when I think of wardrobe for most people.  What I am talking about here is the kind of shirt that is worn for a reason.  A new shirt for the office, for church, for a special night out is what I am talking about here.  And one may be just enough, if it is the right one.  Once a wardrobe has been established, buying lots of new shirts/pants/suits should likely never be necessary.  But buying one new shirt/pants/suit may be just the thing that is necessary to put some new life in any wardrobe.  This is when I look for the best quality at the best price and often find myself looking for something classic with a slight touch of flair.  For instance, white shirts are always part of my wardrobe, but one with a subtle pattern to it might be something to splurge on.

Clean and Treat the Outerwear.  Last year, toward the end of the season, my wife and children bought me a new mid-weight car coat.  I love it.  It fits my style perfectly.  However, I know that it won’t shed water or snow yet.  Last night, I took 15 minutes and applied a high grade fabric protectant to it.  Now that it is waterproof, I am ready for any inclement weather that might arrive.  I am preparing to do the same to my overcoat.  Don’t wait for the weather to turn foul to prepare your foul weather gear.  Additionally, I have found that the first few times wearing a recently cleaned coat or jacket can be a doorway to feeling confident and prepared.

Check the shoes and socks.  One of the most neglected parts of the fall and winter seasons is the footwear.  Now, not everyone is going to feel it necessary to have summer and winter socks, but doing a quick check to make sure that they are in good repair is easily done at the start of the cooler seasons.  I do have summer and winter socks, and I have found that taking the time to bring them out early rather than late keeps my feet happy.  I do the same thing with my shoes.  I have two pair of boots that I wear throughout the cold, wet months and I have found that cleaning and treating them early leaves me ready to use them at a moments notice.  Waiting, on the other hand, has seen me wearing them and hoping that I don’t ruin them because I was too lazy to treat them earlier in the season.

Versatile Layers.  One of the things that I evaluate as I look at my wardrobe is how much versatility I have in the layers.  Can I wear a sweater with more than one shirt?  Can a vest be worn both casual and under a sportcoat?  Are my pieces flexible enough that I can make them work for multiple outfits if I decide to travel and need to travel light?  These may seem like minor things to think about, but a man of style knows that the details make and break the deal.  I have one vest that I bought last year from a major retailer on a holiday sale that is dressy enough to wear for a nice party and rugged enough that it goes with me every time I plan to spend time playing outside.  That kind of versatility is gold!

What do you think of these ideas?  Share some of your own in the comments field below.