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 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!

Rituals for Style and Substance

Rituals are interesting.  Rituals are often highly stylized interactions, with particular requirements of participants.  They are often used to help mark a passage of events in life, imbuing them with a significance that might be missed were it not for the attention that the ritual draws to it.  In times both past and present rituals were and are often linked with religious observance or with rites of passage from childhood into adulthood.  They are often subtle, sometimes well rehearsed and anticipated, but always of particular value to repeated participants.  These are the things that many of us think of when the word “ritual” is invoked.

But what if rituals are simpler than that?

This month I have been practicing a new ritual.  Be warned, it isn’t a brand new activity.  It isn’t strange or unusual.  It is in fact familiar and, for some, a necessary evil.  For others, it is an annoyance.  For still others, it is an occasional inconvenience associated with unpleasant conformity.

This month, I have turned my morning shave into a ritual.

Now before I go on, let me make a few things perfectly clear.  First, I did not include any chanting or burning of incense in my shaving.  Second, I did not use this experiment as an excuse to buy a new and expensive razor or other shaving materials.  Finally, I didn’t create an elaborate system of shaving activities.  Instead, I used three guiding ideas in my ritual experiment.

1 – Rituals are designed to make the participant think more deeply and purposefully.

2 – Rituals are designed to imbue significance to an activity or a moment in time

3 – Rituals are well rehearsed and specific.

Why a Shaving Ritual?

I selected shaving as my opportunity to practice ritual for a few reasons.  First, I was all over the board in the way that I approach this grooming process.  Sometimes I shaved with an electric, sometimes a safety razor, sometimes a cartridge system, sometimes not at all.   I wondered if creating a small ritual would change the way I approach the activity and give me a better result in this aspect of my personal grooming.

Second, I wanted to find something that I could do every day, home or away, that would help to center me on the work of the day, on the priorities of my life.  This ritualization of shaving was intended to help me in the Mental/Emotional facet of life, which helps balance out the frantic pace of my sometimes hectic day to day responsibilities.

Finally, the ritual needed to be something simple and not too terribly long.  Like I mentioned above, my life can be somewhat frantic.

The Ritual 

I decided that, for this ritual, I would shave with my bladed cartridge razor that I received from Harry’ through Birchbox.  I figured it was a nice place to draw a line in the sand and use a new razor.  I also decided that I would try shaving with only shave oil, not a foam or cream or soap; I had heard that this could be as beneficial alone as other products, and I wanted to find out for myself.  Finally, I decided that I would follow the same process each and every time: warm water on face (even after a shower), shave oil, two times through the shave, cold water on face.

Each time that i went through the ritual, I tried to visualize myself preparing for a successful day of meetings, documentation and research.  I tried to visualize myself completing projects, not just continuing them.  I tried to visualize myself handling relationships with the kind of thoughtfulness and kindness that I believed was the mark of a man of Substance, thus connecting it to my efforts to refine my style.  The beginning of warm water was preparation.  The shave was transformation from the world of  relaxation to the world of work.  The cool water was the sealing of the change and the “armoring up” for the days “battles.”

The Result

I’m not sure that the results would work for everyone, but with my quick growing whiskers, this was a good one for me.  I found myself actually looking forward to shaving.  I approached this first part of my day thoughtfully, which set the stage for other parts of the day to be approached thoughtfully as well.  I think I was more calm and collected throughout the day.  In short, I think that this ritual worked for me, and I will be keeping it.

What rituals are part of your regular practice as a Man of Style and Substance?


Give Me Fifteen Minutes

By this point in the year, many of us have completely abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions in favor for a previous status quo.   The enthusiasm was there for the first few days, maybe even weeks, but the  hopefulness of  new results in life may have been overcome by any of a multitude of negative influences. Maybe friends gave us a bad time about the drastic nature of the changes.  Maybe the lack of observable results was disheartening.  Maybe we just underestimated the amount of energy the changes would require.  Whatever the reason, it is all too common that resolutions have been abandoned by this point.

Allow me, for a few minutes, to encourage you, as a man of substance, to not be common.

Instead of allowing the resolutions to fade, use the month of March as a time of re-commitment.  Don’t change the resolutions, don’t change the hopes for the future, and if you had money riding on the outcome, don’t ask to be let off the hook.

Instead, ask yourself, “What can I get done in fifteen minutes?”

Fifteen minutes.  A quarter of an hour.  Barely enough time to make a bowl of cereal or a cup of coffee in the morning and enjoy it before running out the door, even if you do have a Keurig brewer.  Fifteen minutes, the time it takes to shower and dress for the day, including a quick touch up on the polish of your favorite shoes.

What else can you do in fifteen minutes?

Can you read a portion of a chapter from a book?

Can you take a quick walk around the parking lot where you work or the neighborhood?

Can you send a quick note to a spouse or a child?

Can you refocus yourself to a project for an extra burst of work toward completion?

Can you tidy up a cluttered corner of your desk, your home or your office?

Can you make a healthy snack, or walk somewhere to get one, instead of grabbing the nearest junk food?

Can you scribble down some ideas for that book or article you’ve always wanted to write?

Can you play a quick game with your kids?

Can you make the time really count?

Sometimes, all it takes is a willingness to be focused, unrelenting and enthusiastic . . . for fifteen minutes!

Have a magnificent day!

ps – this post took approximately fifteen minutes!  🙂

From Tears to Resolute

This weekend I went with my son and the local scout troop on a winter camp out. Living in Utah, this camp out was destined to include some cold, some sledding, and lots of snow. We had been talking about this camp out for several weeks, so when the day finally arrived, I figured we would be ready. With duffles packed and a quick kiss to mom for a goodbye, we were off.

Not everyone enjoys camping. My youngest son is one who doesn’t enjoy the experience as much as I do, particularly if the weather is less than perfect. This night was one of those. It was a little breezy, and wind is my son’s kryptonite. As soon as we arrived at the drop off point and started to prepare for the 3 mile hike to the cabin we would spend the night at, his pleas began. “Take me home! Don’t make me do this! Call someone to get me!”. And with these pleas, real tears of sadness flowed down his cheeks.

I tried to help him understand that the wind comes and goes, that it never blows for long, and that most of the time moving a little way along the trail puts us in a place where we won’t feel the breeze, that helped a little, but not much. His progress was still slow, and his pleas to take him home continued.

At one point, about halfway through the hike, he asked me if I would have taken him home if I had been one of the leaders who drove. When I told him, “No,” I thought my heart would break, as new tears welled up in his eyes. He asked why we were out there, and I told him that these experiences were part of moving from boy to man, that we learned lessons out in nature, away from the distractions of civilization, that can’t be learned anywhere else. He didn’t seem pleased with the answer, but after a short rest he began to trudge on.

When the journey was nearly through and the breeze had almost completely disappeared, he told me that he couldn’t cry anymore, that his tears were all gone. When I said, “I’m glad! Now you can move past the tears,” I could see confusion in his eyes.

I told him of a time, also on a scout camp out, that I had cried and wanted to be allowed to bail on the experience. I told him how I had cried until the tears dried up. And I told him that when the tears were done, I was no further along to solving my problem. That was where I discovered the power of resolve.

I told him that resolve is what gets us to take action when we know we are in a situation that we are not pleased with and we know we have to take action but we wish we didn’t have to. We talked about it for a while, and then we were at the cabin. And he was fine.

As a man of substance, we must become familiar with resolve. Resolve is what allows us to keep going when things look grim and help seems a long way away. Resolve is what handles a job loss with grace, even when the awfully uncomfortable work of finding a new job looms ominously. Resolve is what allows us to stick to principles when it would be easy to abandon them for temporary gain. Resolve is part of what keeps us grounded to the nobility of being a faithful husband and father when the reality of daily life and its minutiae crowd into the mind.

My son and I wound up having a wonderful trip. He told me on the way back to the cars, after several hours of sledding in beautiful mountains under bright sunshine in a vibrant blue sky, that he was glad that I had not given in to his request to take him home. He was glad that he had been able to turn a difficult start into a good experience. I told him that I was glad too, especially because he has started learning the power that comes when we move from tears to resolute.

Where has Todd Been

Sometimes when we take on projects, we find that what we thought it would be and what it would require of us are far in excess of what we had planned. Such has been the case for me. I was offered a project, a chance to do something that I have always dreamed of doing, and I took it. I knew it would be demanding, and I knew it would challenge me in new and interesting ways. What I didn’t realize is just how draining the experience would be.

The project was concluded last night, and it was a wonderful success! The people that I worked with on it are amazingly talented, and we had a wonderful time making the project successful. I am truly indebted to them for their trust in me and their willingness to work with me. Through the process I have deepened friendships and strengthened ties that were already powerful. I feel rejuvenated and energized at a level I haven’t felt for a long time. It was demanding, it was draining, and it was wonderful.

The project was directing a show, and, as with all things, it gave me wonderful chances to learn and reflect. Allow me to share one of the insights that I gained through the experience.

Don’t underestimate the power of the right team.
A show basically has three phases, pre-production, production and performance. With that also come three teams, a production team, a cast, and a crew. In many shows the teams are completely separate, crossing paths only rarely and handling their tasks separately. This was not the case for this show. Our producer, the individual responsible for giving us the materials we needed for a good show, was also a member of the cast. Our costumer visited us regularly, consulting with the cast to ensure that they felt comfortable with all the pieces they would use. Our prop master was at nearly every meeting and every rehearsal. Our crew enthusiastically agreed to work as understudies for certain roles. And everyone worked exceptionally well with each other. Egos were always at bay, everyone was focused on the outcome of the show, on telling the story, and when questions arose contributions were made by everyone.

But it could easily have gone the other way.

I have seen shows and movies that were built not around the team but around an individual. I’m sure you have too. And like me, you have probably perceived that something was just not quite right, that something was out of synch. I have also seen shows where one or two members of the cast were holding back their best effort, for whatever reason, and it shows in an inferior result.

This lesson is critical for all of us, in every facet of our lives. We are rarely successful alone. We rely on the work of others to make everyone on the team successful. Even in individual sporting events, a team of coaches, trainers and countless support staff set the stage for individual success.

The team’s the thing!

The production team spent quite a while putting the entire team together. Decisions were carefully thought through, nothing was haphazard about the assembling of our team. Likewise, once the team was set, it was done. We committed to working through the entire process with one another. When timelines were tight and delivery was crucial, the individual members of the team worked singly and together to raise each other up to the needed level of performance. We were committed to each other, to the end goal.

And together we made it!

I wonder if we put the same thought into all of our teams, whether recreational or professional or family, what the results might be.

We’ve all been on teams where individuals lose sight of the overall objective that the team was created for. You’ve probably been on teams where egos became so inflated that working together was impossible. Maybe you’ve even been one of the egos involved. In that case, I invite you, as a man growing in style and substance, to learn to put the success of the team ahead of yourself. Learn what it means to give yourself completely and whole heartedly to the accomplishment of something so big that you cannot possibly complete it alone.

Learn to contribute gracefully, to ask for help, and to take advice and consultation as the magic ingredients that will not only lift the project but empower you to greater contributions in the future. Learn also to trust others, and encourage their part of the process in an unselfish but totally committed fashion.

Do this in all your teams and you will likely find yourself always participating in successful projects.

The team’s the thing, so be the best part of the team that you can be.

Remembering a Man of Substance

A little over a week ago, the world lost one of the wisest men of our day.  Stephen R. Covey, beloved of many, an enigma to some, and an inspiration to millions, has moved on to the next phase of life.

As I heard the news, I found myself reflecting on how my life has been influenced by this man.  I came across his work first as a young man of eighteen, through a gift of the book The Divine Center and my life was profoundly impacted.  I was confronted by the idea that what happened in one facet of my life would not only affect the other facets of my life, but that some facets were more critical than others.  This early exposure drove me to explore the importance of values, priorities and the importance of recognizing  the difference between urgent and important.

Like much of the rest of our world, I have noticed that there are aspects of my life and my outlook that are directly traceable to Stephen’s work and his passion for helping people act on their highest priorities.  Through books, seminars, speeches, interviews and articles, his influence on the modern world of business has been nothing short of pervasive, and hopefully we are all better for it.

I decided last week that I wanted to honor the man by sharing with you some of the insights that I gained from his work that have been of particular value in my efforts to become a man of both style and substance, with emphasis on the substance.

Begin with the end in mind.  This phrase has become a major part of what I teach and how I live.  Rather than just setting goals, to me this phrase has always been about thinking through a course of action not just for the consequences we desire, but to minimize the unintended consequences as well.  It is about acting with purpose, not just acting out of panic or desperation.  It has also been about faith, about staying with a course of action that we know must come to fruition even when there is no significant immediate evidence to support that faith.

Seek first to understand.  Those of you who know Covey’s work well will know the rest of the phrase.  This is one that I am constantly working to improve on.  Whether I am functioning in my role as a teacher, a parent, a spouse, a trainer or a consultant, seeking first to understand has been one of my most valuable keys.  If I understand, truly understand, the person that I am speaking with, rapport comes easier, faster and more completely.  I am more helpful at those times, and I am also more honest about the times that I cannot help, when I am working to understand first.

Win win.  I don’t know if Stephen was the first to  coin the phrase, but in my world he was the first to introduce it.  So much of our world is zero sum, winning and losing, with nothing reserved for the loser but ignominy and scorn.  The idea of win/win liberates me from all that, and allows me to find new and creative ways to pursue the end I have in mind in a way that supports the other person I have been working to understand.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Instead, I commend to us all the legacy Mr. Covey left us, regardless of the baggage of its execution by individuals and companies along the way, and find ways to integrate his insights into our daily lives.  Mine has been much improved by it, as I’m sure yours will be.

Grooming 101 – The Shave

In times past, learning to shave was more than just a rite of passage or a chore to be done occasionally.  Certainly it was those things, but it was also a mark of distinction and an opportunity to set the stage for the passing on of wisdom garnered by one generation to the eager minds of the next.  Today, shaving is little more than a daily hassle, and while this post is not meant to be a call back to the straight razor, I have found that, by giving just a little more thought to the act, I have found it becoming a wonderful centering and grounding moment in the beginning moments of my day.

I use both an electric razor (rotary) and a blade, depending on the day of the week.   For this post, I will focus my reflections on the blade shaving I do.

It begins, for me, with warm water.  Not hot, mind you, because hot water can scald the skin and make it more sensitive than it normally is.  If the water is warm enough to leave the skin feeling slightly warmer than the air, that is probably enough.  After all, the purpose of the water is to soften the whiskers.

From there, I select my beard prep.  I have used all kinds, from foams to gels to oils, and I have found that a good old fashioned cream or shaving soap and a shaving brush are best for working up a gentle lather.  Ideally, the lather will aid the razor in gliding smoothly across your skin while also softening up the beard.  Some foams and gels develop a lather far too full and actually obscure the beard, not wiping away clean and leading you to shave over the same surface too many times.  This damages the skin quite quickly, so the lather should be the perfect balance.  The shaving brush allows me to reach this happy balance between coverage and visibiltiy.

Next, obviously, comes the razor.  There are so many to choose from today, and while each man should try various ones to find the razor best suited for his individual face and budget, I have found that the Gilette Mach 3, if you can find it, was wonderful.  It has since been replaced quite aggressively by the Fusion, also a Gilette razor.  why these two?  They certainly didn’t pay me for the endorsement!  However, i have found that with blades numbering more than 2, I can take a single stroke over a section of my face and have it be reasonably whisker free.  Additionally, they’re shape and open back design mean cleaning them is easy and they nicely in the hand.

The first stroke is down the cheeks, toward the navel, and I do the entire upper portion of the face this way.  I use almost no pressure, preferring instead to let the blades do all the work.  then, I will start at the neck and move up toward the chin.  I don’t move over the chin (the way you do in so many commercials) because I tend to cut myself there.  Instead, I shave just up to the chin, and the start at the back of the jaw and shave to the middle.  I get far fewer nicks and cuts that way.

Next, I will move back to the cheeks and face and shave, very lightly, toward the center.  The lighter the hand, the less likely I nick and cut.  Typically, I only do this on the face, as the neck is far to difficult to accomplish this with.

Having shaved the entire face, i now move to the neck.  I use a finger to hold my hair up slightly, move the razor so it just touches underneath the finger holding the hair out of the way, and shave down to just below my collar line.  Cleaning this area adds a touch of class and distinction to your look.

once the shaving is done, I will finish with either cold water splashed on my face and my neck or I will use a light skin cream, formulated for men’s skin.  Common aftershaves often have alcohol which will burn and dry out the skin, so the cream is a better option.  Lately I have been using Vaseline for Men, as it is unscented and absorbs quickly and with almost no greasiness.

When you get a chance, try these steps, and see if they don’t give you a chance to slow down and be thoughtful and grateful for little things in your life.