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.
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 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.
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.”
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?
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! 🙂