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!
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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!

A sixth grade graduation

Recently, I wrote a post regarding my son’s graduation and commencement exercises, detailing how one speaker combined both Admiral Ackbar and Eminem into an address that was at once entertaining and inspiring.  Tough to do, I know, but if I’m being honest, it was one of the finest commencement addresses that I have ever heard.

But what about a sixth grade graduation?

Like many small towns and suburbs across America, we take education seriously here.  We also love our children and look for every opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and achievements whenever possible.  To that end, I recently attended the sixth grade graduation ceremonies for my youngest daughter.  Aside from the emotional aspect (which means I cried the tears of a proud papa!), the speakers had some marvelous words of wisdom for their students and for the rest of us attending.  Here’s a sample from my notes.

Keep doing hard things.  The students were reminded that they had done some very difficult things, at least difficult for sixth graders.  After all, difficult is about going to new places, doing new things, often with little evidence that you will be successful at the outset.  Doing hard things requires the use of positive imagination, facilitates the development of confidence and ultimately develops new strengths.  This is what life and growth is all about, and unless we choose to do hard things, we will not grow into better people.

Learning things matters, but learning how to be a good friend matters more.  What marvelous insight!  I know men (and some women) many times the age of the graduating sixth graders who seem not to know this remarkable piece of wisdom.  We often want our children to learn information, concepts, ideas, times tables, how to do math in their heads, how to read and evaluate and make good decisions.  But as valuable as all of that is, without the richness of relationships, life is little more than moving from one accomplished task to the next.  Machines can do that. We are raising our children to be powerful people, not simply skilled workers.

Gratitude is not optional – especially because we live in the United States.  What a wonderful life perspective.  I have spent much of my life dealing with psychology, perception and the role our mindset plays in the way that life unfolds for us.  In the vernacular, much of this study is found in the discipline called Positive Psychology, and one of the more powerful tenants is that a persons choice to be happy makes them more effective at everything we do.  In the research, one of the best ways to develop a positive outlook is to focus on the things that we are grateful for.  Amazing that a concept that is seen as revolutionary is being passed on to sixth graders upon their graduation.

Playing with the best always ups your game.  I have said on a number of occasions that a person rises to the level of the challenges that they face.  This is true in sports, its true in performance, and it is certainly true of life.  Whenever we accomplish anything we are building a kind of self-esteem or as I like to call it, a Self-Worth Account.  This thought has caused many to conclude that the best way to build an individuals recognition of self worth is to recognize and reward everything.  However, that may not unlock the power we think it should, because things to easily obtained are not valued in the same way that things difficult to obtain are.  Playing against the best is always hard, it requires the best you have to give.  And when you give the best you have to give in any contest, even if you fail, the investment in Self Worth is far superior to the outcome when you won too easily.

People who are determined to make a difference are never satisfied.  Sometimes this leads to individuals being seen as  perpetually confrontational, but this is not necessarily the case.  When you want to make a difference, you are always asking “What can be done better,” This lack of satisfaction must be tempered, in the life of a man of style and substance, with a graciousness recognizing that the reason things are currently being done the way they are is that it is the best we have found so far. This way, our dissatisfaction and questioning doesn’t come across as the more critical, “What is being done is wrong!” Gracious acknowledgement of the current good combined with a desire to see even more improvement can lead to uplifting and ennobling conversations that leave everyone committed to fine tuning the good that we have already discovered.

Small changes built up over time can change the world.  At a time in history when everyone is being told to find their passion, be a leader, and do what feels best to them, it is amazing that so many of us feel inconsequential.  No matter how good things may be, it can often seem that things aren’t good enough.  We haven’t gotten the right recognition at work, we don’t live in the right neighborhood, we haven’t been invited to the right parties, we haven’t made a difference.  I personally believe that this type of thinking, while easy and common, is the most destructive to individual and societal growth and development, largely because it is self-centered and past focused.  It is about what has been and is comparison based.  To revolutionize life, to truly be committed to style and substance, and individual should be focused on what is being done and never allow themselves to be comparison based unless that is comparison is based on how life situations have improved for someone else because the individual took action.

Hard to believe that there could be so much in a sixth grade graduation, I know, but there it is!  Hope you enjoyed it, I know I did.

 

Breaking Up Ice

Recently in Utah, like many places across the United States, we have seen some magnificent storms roll in.  Last week, as the storms began to wane, I heard a radio report indicating that we had received as much snow in the month as we normally receive throughout the entire winter season and then some.  Along with the snow came shoveling, an activity which I have come to dread.  

On one particular night, my youngest son shoveled prior to my coming home and then together we shoveled again.  Shortly after that, the plow came along our street and deposited a small snow berm between our driveway and the street.  It was late, so my son and I looked at it, mentioned how glad we were that it wasn’t as deep as it could have been, and went to bed.

The next day, instead of digging up the berm, we just drove over it, packing it down and turning previously light and fluffy snow into hard pack.  over several days, this hard pack turned into a sheet of ice.  It was then that I realized that I had made an error, and I enlisted my son’s help in correcting the problem.

We took our two sturdiest shovels and some snow melt crystals and went to work.  And bone jarring work it was.  I took time to teach him the best techniques to break apart the ice sheet, now several inches thick.  The chunks broke apart in a somewhat satisfying display of manliness and brute strength.  After nearly an hour, with the ice diminished but not completely gone, we halted our work for lunch.

Now, several days later, I can’t help but think how much that experience is like so many other things in life.  I often find myself looking at tasks that seem easy, so easy that I put them off for later, only to realize that the best time to have taken care of them was immediately.  When postponed, easy tasks somehow become harder, more challenging, often needlessly so.  By postponing 15 minutes of easy work for another time, we sometimes make for ourselves hours of backbreaking work at another.  

In physical tasks this is easy to see, but it is also true in relationships.  A word of comfort or an apology postponed because it feels awkward may wind up inadvertently communicating disdain or indifference.  And then, the chance to offer support in the future may be summarily rebuffed or ignored. 

I don’t know what my son is learning from this little exercise.  I am learning two things.  The first is that the best time to take care of a problem to advantage of an opportunity is earlier rather than later.  The second is the importance of really good ice melt.

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’s.com 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!  🙂