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?


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.