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!  🙂

Resolutions or Goals?

The sounds of fireworks and celebrations are fading, and I am getting ready to close out the night and the year that was 2013, and I hear one of my children starting to talk about New Year’s Resolutions. His resolutions revolve around spending more time playing video games, which annoys my wife just a little bit.

I find it interesting that, even at the tender ages of nine and twelve, my youngest children have already begun the time honored tradition of setting resolutions for the new year. I wonder, though, if they really understand what this tradition is all about.

I’m not going to make this post about the history of New Year’s Resolutions; that is for minds far more ambitious than mine. But I do think that it is worthwhile to take a few minutes to talk about how to wisely set resolutions, and how to set the stage for keeping them beyond the 21st of January.

it might be a good idea to draw a distinction between resolutions and goals. Goals are specific, they are measurable and timed, and it is easy to tell whether or not one has reached them. Resolutions, however, are different. Resolutions, when made wisely, are more about the way we live. Rather than setting the goal to weigh a particular poundage, we often set resolutions to exercise more or eat more sensibly. Sometimes well meaning people encourage us to eschew these weak sounding resolutions for their more recognizable cousin, the goal. Personally, I think they both serve a purpose, and I am fond of setting resolutions as a means of attaining my goals. Let me give an example.

I have a goal this year of bringing my A1c, a blood sugar measurement key in treating diabetes, down to a level below 7%. This is a specific, measurable, timed goal. But one of the resolutions that I am setting that will help me realize this goal is eating breakfast at home every day. The resolution may not be specific, but it does set the stage for realizing the goal.

This entire discussion begs for a more expanded treatment, but I am tired and have resolved to be both more productive and to be more aggressive about getting enough sleep in the new year. With that said, I will promise to provide the full treatment later, wish you all a happy new year, and get some off that highly prized sleep.

Be magnificent in 2014!

TJW

Fitness for a Full Life

One of the most interesting things that I have watched during the past several years has been the rise of the health and wellness industry. Grossing in the hundreds of billions of dollars, even during the recent recession, it is easily one of the juggernauts of our current economy. Several pundits have connected the baby boomer generation’s desire to stay young and enjoy a full and rich retirement to this segment of the economy. Whether or not that is true, a gentleman of style and substance does well to remember these five things regarding a lifestyle of health and fitness.

Your health is in your hands. While it is true that none of us can predict whether or not we will be afflicted with a significant disease such as a form of cancer or involved in a life changing accident, everything outside of that is in our control. What we eat, when we eat it, how frequently we exercise, all of these things are well within our immediate control. And each of these things has a dramatic impact on the quality of life that we live.

What we put in impacts how we look. By that, I mean far more than the obvious implications of how we look when wearing a bathing suit or how our favorite suit hangs on us. What we eat and drink also impact things like our skin, hair and nails. Just because a man is no longer in the throes of puberty doesn’t mean that his complexion is no longer impacted by the pizza he had earlier that week. And the liquids we choose impact our smile, our skin and our voices, all aspects of how we are perceived by the world around us.

With that in mind, let me say something about supplements. Supplements have been part of my life ever since I had my first Flintstones chewable vitamin when I was five years old. Chances are the same may be said for many of us. But in today’s world it is wise for us to remember that supplements are supposed to be an addition to food, not a replacement for food. Too many people seem to be adopting the idea that they can eat all the junk they want at mealtime and undo the damage with a pill or five later in the day. This just isn’t wise.

Select a supplement that compliments the way that you currently eat, but remember to keep your eating habits sensible in both content and quality.

Exercise impacts the way we think and feel. When we are moving regularly, our blood flows more freely through our veins and makes it to the brain more easily. Several studies have been performed that demonstrate a correlation between exercise and learning, but a man of substance need only conduct his own test to see the value. Before the big meeting, go for a short walk, and maybe even include some push ups or other standard exercise. See for yourself if that simple test doesn’t aid you in being more successful in the meeting. Additionally when you take the time to work out, you will find yourself feeling more calm and confident around your peers, to say nothing of how you feel when confronting challenging situations, like a friendly game of pickup basketball or a quick football scrimmage in the back yard.

Get some sleep. Few things impact every facet of our lives as much as the sleep we get. When we were young, we were constantly being reminded that bedtime was important, and that 8 hours of sleep were necessary for a successful day. As we grew older, a badge of manhood became a shrinking need for sleep. It was nit uncommon for my friends and I to try to see how little sleep we could get by on. My record was 3 hours for 8 days straight.

What a foolish plan.

Sleep is critical if we desire to thrive. It allows the body to recover from the exertions of the day. Current research indicates that during sleep our bodies secrete human growth hormone, essential to the repair of damaged tissue. Weightlifting and other workout regimens are focused on breaking down muscle so that it can be rebuilt larger and stronger. There is also a growing body of evidence that indicates that during sleep our brains construct new neural pathways, making events and information learned during the day more permanent. As part of a fitness regimen, don’t forget to factor in time for sleep.

Play! Most of the fitness plans that I have seen have emphasized the importance of selecting activities that you enjoy. For instance, if you really hate running, setting a goal of running a marathon may be a tad unwise. And while I totally agree with the advice of selecting something that you enjoy for your fitness activity, can I add one extra thought to it? Focus on play.

Activities that burn calories and involve others can easily be found. And what better others to involve than your children. Play catch in the back yard, set up some small nets for soccer goals, let them come with you for a run or a ride, whatever you like, but give some serious thought to consider adding your children to the mix. They will love spending time with you, develop habits and appreciations that may last well into their adult years and, most importantly of all, form connections with you that will become bridges for future involvement in their lives. After all, no matter how old we get, we all need Dad sometimes.

So there you go. Five things to think about when it comes to a lifetime of health and fitness. I hope you have enjoyed this, and I hope you will find ways to implement these suggestions I your life.

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.