Pass on a Passion

We all have things that we are passionate about.
In this context I am using passion in the “strong, barely controllable emotion” sense of the word.  We  could also add “sometime irrational” in the definition, but it isn’t necessarily always the case.
For instance, I am passionate about my family, about human dignity and development, and about the Stargate SG1!  (Great show, by the way) See, sometimes irrational.
One of the other things that I am passionate about is the game of golf.  In the pantheon of my free time activities, golf ranks high on the list of activities that satisfy a deep yearning in me.  There is something magnificent about taking a swing, starting the ball in flight and watching it fly.  There is also something empowering about looking at a difficult shot or a bad lie and fiding a way to turn the situation to the good.  Golf is a wonderful game, enjoyable and empowering on many levels.
I first discovered the game when I was fourteen.  I played in a scramble with borrowed clubs.  I hit a couple of good shots. I was enamored with the combination of beauty and power, of grace and grit.  I tried to spend more time playing the game, but I couldn’t line things up very well.
I next experienced golf some 6 years later when I lived in England.  I played with borrowed clubs, but this time I played with men who had taken the time to learn about the game, to begin to uncover its secrets.  I was awed, I was inspired, but again, I had little opportunity to explore the game.
I found it again about 7 years later.  I had been looking for a sport, a game, some type of physical activity that could be useful in keeping both mind and body sharp.  A friend took me golfing.  This time, the experience changed me.  I bought some used clubs.  Then I upgraded them slightly.  Then I started playing more frequently.  Then I started to play a little better, and a little better, and a little better.
Long story short, I fell in love with the game.  I started to uncover its secrets, to discover what it could teach me, lessons not just about how to play the game better but about how the game could help me learn how to approach life better.
As they say, the rest is history.  It has become a passion.  I feel great emotion about playing the game, about making time to play the game.  Granted, sometimes it is irrational, but it is a part of who I am.
And last Saturday, I continued the act of passing it on.
I took my son with me on a scramble tournament.  He was playing with second hand clubs.  He hit some good shots, and I watched as, every once in a while, a little gleam spread across his smiling face.  He was congratulated by men, not just his dad, on choices he was making, shots he took and outcomes that he was realizing.
I think he is catching on to the passion!
As a man of style and substance, it is important that we pass on our passions.  So many of the lessons that we learn in life can be shared but not necessarily taught.  They are discovered as the experiences are shared.  And when they are discovered, sometimes the passion takes hold.  And then the lessons are alive!  They can help others be better than they would otherwise have been.
So I guess I will keep taking my son golfing.  And then, when he has started to feel it, we’ll find others to pass on the passion to.  ‘Cause that’s how you honor the lessons learned from those who have gone before.
Go forth and conquer!

Reviews for Subscription Clubs

Last time on this blog, I talked about the idea of subscription boxes or services that are geared toward today’s gentleman. I also shared a rating system that I use in regard to some of the subscription boxes that I have used.  Today, I am sharing with you those services, their ratings, and my comments.  Let’s dive in!
Dollar Shave Club
Value 5 Service 3 Customization 4
Headline – Simple and straightforward; Recommended Ongoing
This popular shaving club is dedicated to providing good shaving products at greatly discounted prices.  While the razors aren’t brands that can be bought outside of the subscription service, they are in many ways comparable to well known brands available in various retail stores and outlets.  While the value is strong, making adjustments or discontinuing the service is not as easy as I would like.  I still have this service, and I have slowed my razors to every other month.  Interestingly enough, just this month they have begun expanding their offerings to trial sizes, free sample sets, and even a quarterly “Re-stock box.”  Talk about expanding the brand!
Bespoke Post
Value 4 Service 3 Customization 5
Headline – Ecclectic and enjoyable, easily adaptable; recommended 12 months
I have only been using this service for a short time, but I am very impressed with the service over all.  The cost is a little higher than some, at $45 per month, but this service runs a little differently.  Like most of the services, when you sign up you fill out a profile.  Each month an email is sent detailing what is scheduled to come to you based on the profile you built.  However, each month you can either opt in, opt out, or select a different box entirely from the selection that is available that month.  The products are generally grouped (pen and journal, cooking accessories and cook book, you get the idea) and some items show up as box options several months running.  This has been one of my favorites.
Value 5 Service 3 Customization 2
Headline – Details for the modern gentleman; recommended 12 months
This was the first subscription box service I used.  It was affordable, at $20 a month, and was focused on grooming and fashion products for men.  I received samples of various soaps, shampoos, colognes and hair fixatives along with socks, shirts, gloves, hats and other accessories.  It was like Christmas each month for the first 18 months.  And then the boxes started to feel somewhat repetitive.  And while there was no ability to customize the box more than filling out a profile survey, the site included a shopping option where full size items of the samples could be purchased.  All in all, it was well worth the time and the money.  Cancelling was simple, and I have to admit that some months I really miss this box.
Value 4 Service 2 Customization 2
Headline – Great gear, eventually repetitive; recommend 6-9 months
Carin was perhaps the longest subscription box (to date) that I have participated in.  The cost started around $25 and gradually increased to $35.  Even at that cost, the value of each subscription box tended to be slightly higher than the actual dollars being paid on the box.  Boxes typically shipped around the 10th of the month, arriving mid way through the month, and they all were packed according to some kind of theme.  Most boxes had a couple consumable items (gel or snack items) a durable gear piece (socks or water bottle, things like that) and some type of special gear item.  Some of them were awesome, some were not usable by me (like the sunglasses that came in one box.  I wear regular glasses, so that box was a bit of a bust).  Most months I filled out a survey, which got me point that I could use for discounts on future subscriptions or Carin branded gear.  The website didn’t have other items for purchase, but would direct the visitor to websites for suppliers of gear that had been featured.
After two years with Carin, my perception of the value started to dwindle.  After all, how many collapsible bottles do you need?
A point of note is that Cairn had a second subscription service called Obsidian.  This was a quarterly service and was much pricier, at $200 per quarter.  The gear that came in the boxes was much more substantial, with each box providing about $300 worth of gear.  I used this service for two quarters, and found the value to be stellar, but the gear that came was often not gear I would have chosen, nor did I always find it immediately useful.  I still own it all, and some of it is now in my bug out bag or my goto hiking/camping kit.  Great gear, little flexibility.
Cancelling was simple, but adjustments to my profile didn’t seem to have any impact.
So there you have my wrap up on the boxes I have used so far.  I am hoping in the near future to try a few more.  Some of the clothes services like Trunkclub, Stitchfix, Bombfell and FiveFour look interesting.  So do some of the more outdoor/survival gear clubs like Battlebox, SHTF Survival Box and the Prepper Box.  I’m also looking at some fitness boxes like Fit Lifestyle Box and Buffbox.
Sounds like there might be more of these posts coming!
Go forth and conquer!

Subscription Clubs for the Man of Style and Substance

My first subscription was to Boy’s Life magazine.  I got it from the moment I was registered as a Cub Scout back in the 70’s, and I kept it active through my experience in Varsity Scouting into the 80’s.  It came month in and month out, showing me a world that I could scarce imagine, big and exciting and full of amazing things!
To that I added a youth magazine geared at helping me grow in my chosen faith and a comic book subscription to the original Star Wars comic book produced by Marvel comics and the magazine that came as part of being a member of the original Star Wars Fan Club.  (Yes, I’m one of those kind of fans!)  I loved all of those subscriptions, though if I were honest, I think I read the comic books the most devotedly.
Today there are all kinds of subscription services available to the gentleman, more than perhaps ever before.  Shaving clubs, clothing clubs, accessory clubs, grooming clubs, survivalist gear clubs, adventure gear clubs, the list goes on and on.  All of the clubs offer something interesting, sometimes important, to deepening a gentleman’s demonstration of style and substance.  And, as all things, services like these come at a price.
Like many of you, I have to be careful and responsible with my expenditures.  I have spent money frivolously in the past, and those expenditures have left me in financial difficulty.  As a result, I have learned that I must make my money work hard for me, perhaps harder than others.  I must make sure that I don’t find myself hemorrhaging cash.
Unfortunately, unwisely using subscription services is one way that any individual can find himself hemorrhaging cash in short order.
Over the years I have subscribed to many of these services.  In this post, I will share with you my standard for judging a subscription service.  Next week, I will share with you some of the boxes that I have subscribed to, my scoring on the matrix associated with each, and my overall grade for the service.  I will also mention some that I am looking at, what keeps me from joining them, and what I hope to gain from them when I take the plunge!
First, the criteria:  Value, Service and Customization.
Value – This is a perceived cost/benefit relationship.  The higher the cost, the better the value must be to be positive.  A value of 5 is the best, meaning the benefits far surpass the investment.  A Value of 1 is obviously something that should be ended or avoided.  A score of 3 means the costs and benefits are in perfect balance, based on my perception.
Service – do they communicate outside of just sending stuff?  Do they inform their users where they are going or what is coming in the future?  Is it easy to return unwanted items?  What about making it easy to discontinue the service? After all, if the subscription no longer meets the needs of the subscriber, it should be easy to discontinue, yes?  Well, some don’t see it that way.  The best service is represented by a 5, the worst by a 1.  You get the idea.
Customization – Can I tailor the subscription to what I want? Do I fill out a survey and then let a designer take over? What about additional items that can be purchased directly from the service provider?  Customization is the current gold standard of customer service and sales.  The ease of customization gets a higher score, with less customization options and a more difficult process earning a lower score.
Next week, we look at some boxes.  In the meantime, are there dimensions to my evaluation that I should add?  Let me know in the comments!
Go forth and conquer!

A Box, A Bag, and a Sharpie!

Today’s blog post is a little different.  Today’s is interactive.  Today you and I are going to work together to cut the clutter.
I know, you probably have a variety of different reasons for not wanting to engage in this activity.  “I like my knick-knacks and do-dads.”  “They have sentimental value.”  “You never know, I might need this the day after tomorrow.”  All of these are reasons (or excuses) that I have used as well.
And that’s okay!
It really is!
You don’t have to do this project with everything.  But if you are a person who still has spark plugs from your first car kicking around the garage or that t-shirt you were wearing when the high school football team won state,  I am going to encourage you to use the ideas in this little article to de-clutter one part of your living space.
You get to choose.
It could be your top drawer (where I put lots of small things that I want to hold on to but don’t really have any place to put them) your closet (where I have clothes that I bought when the second George Bush was president) or a book case (where I have the hard copies of every document I used for my M.Ed.)  You choose, pick one!  And let’s get started.
For this activity, you are going to need a box, a bag and a sharpie.
 Whatever choice you made regarding where to start, take a good hard look at the items.  There are probably some items there that you haven’t used in a year, maybe longer.  For those items, ask yourself why the item is still there.  Does it connect you with a memory of a person or an event in your life that was uplifting?  Was it a gift, or something that you picked up along the way?  Is it significant in some way?  Does looking at it or wearing it bring you joy?  If the answer to any of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” then immediately set it aside. In the effort to simplify, there is nothing wrong with holding on to things that truly bring us joy.
If the answer was “Kind of…” then set it into the box. The box is a middle ground.  It is for the things that you don’t necessarily want to get rid of, but they don’t necessarily have a place in your life anymore.  That isn’t wrong, it isn’t a reflection on you, it is just an evidence that you, like all people, change in various ways over time.  And sometimes, we aren’t ready to move on yet.
And that’s okay!
If the answer was “Not really,” it’s time to pull out the bag.
Now, because I am a big fan of the “Reduce/Reuse/Repurpose/Recycle” movement, let’s clear something up right now.  The bag is not for garbage.  If the article you are looking at is truly garbage, throw it out.  But if the item is in relatively good repair, or could be made so quickly and easily, it is ready for the bag.  Old T-shirts from movie premiers or SWAG that was given to you at a public event, old items given as white elephant gifts that you have been hanging onto “for the next time,” or clothes that just don’t fit any more are all perfect for the bag.
The bag is for all of those items that you don’t use and that don’t bring you joy.  And believe me, I know it is hard to let go of things that were gifts
Release them!  Send them on their way!   Donate them to an organization that can repurpose them in some way, shape or form, and let them bring joy to someone else.
I know, sometimes it can be hard to do this.  But your efforts to declutter are not just about getting rid of things, it is also about opening up space for new things, things that will bring you joy today!
Remember, letting something go to be repurposed is one of the best things you can do.  After all, if one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, you are sending treasure out into the world to be enjoyed by someone else!
What do you think of this list and this plan?  Try it, and leave me some comments!  Go Forth and Conquer!

5 ways to bring civility back into civil discourse

In the past several years, I have watched and noticed how polarized we have become. I originally thought it was just the population of my town. But then I saw this polarization happening in my county, in my state, in my country and eventually across the world. I don’t know where it started, or how it became so prevalent. Quite frankly, knowing that would likely not change the situation anyway. It’s just part of the reality of living in a 24 hour news cycle/instant communication of the most sensationalized information world.
We live in a time of immense polarization.

This polarization is particularly easy to see in the arena of politics. Conservatives and progressives, right and left, Republican and Democrat, Socialist or Capitalist, labels come easy. With the labels come a whole host of other factors that follow our polarized mindset. Our opponents are deceived or misled at best, while we ourselves, and those who fall into a similar category, alone claim enlightened thinking and clarity of perception. Of course, the opposition sees the situation completely differently.

As I said, we live in a time of immense polarization.

I don’t mind polarization, per se. I am glad when I see people becoming passionate about issues, about problems they see and actions that they believe contain solutions. Unfortunately, with the polarization often comes an unwillingness to listen, a complete lack of civility. We tend to behave as if our conviction of opinion allows no room for dialogue and discussion. As a result, labels give way to slurs, and slurs to mudslinging and mudslinging to even more destructive and disruptive behaviors.

As a man of Style and Substance, I have been working very hard to be different in the way that I approach the subject of beliefs and the polarization that can occur. I have found 5 practices that have helped to restore some measure of civility in the dialogue I have had with others. I offer them here for your consideration.

1. Never use a term you wouldn’t use to address your Grandmother. If you are like me, you revere your grandmothers. Even when they were difficult to talk to, maybe even difficult to understand, set in their ways and feisty when encouraged to consider a different point of view, you would still be gentle and respectful. No cross words, no name calling, and certainly no effort to degrade her. She was your Grandma, after all, and whether you win an argument or not, nothing would be worth hurting her. Consider that the next time you are tempted to hurl some pithy quote about someone’s mental stature or their level of intellectual strength.

2. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a parent about their newborn baby?” Is your comment or criticism going to help bring more civility to the conversation? A sure way to tell is to replace the reference to the other individuals opinion or position with the phrase, “your baby.” Do you think that someone could hear you say what you are about to say about their child without being hurt or angry? Then you might be on the right track. If not, then perhaps rethinking the comment is in order.

3. Try this phrase – While I disagree, I genuinely appreciate you sharing your insight. You aren’t agreeing with them. However, you aren’t fighting either. No effort is being made to tear someone else down, nor to convince them of the necessity of changing their current opinion. It is a statement of respectful fact.
4. How about this phrase – What changes would you like to see on a personal or local level? Often we are content talking about big concepts and global situations that we really can’t impact. However, these same ideas have local impacts and consequences as well. Bringing the conversation back to how this might change things locally may bring some perspective to the conversation of what can be changed and what can’t, at least by the two people having the conversation
5. Finally, this phrase might be useful – Have you considered. . . This phrase is not about trying to convince someone to a particular way of thinking. Instead, it is about opening the door to sharing a different perspective. However, it is also far less controversial than starting with phrases like, “I can’t believe how stupid you are,” or some other phrase.
Ultimately, life will be measured by the other lives you and I touch. Whether we touch them in a positive way or a negative way is up to us. And while those touched in a negative way are often more vocal in their opposition and hostility toward us, those we touch in a positive way are likely to remember the touch longer. It’s something to think about. And if you disagree, maybe you can share your thoughts in the comments.
Go forth and conquer!

Six Ways “Sweating the Small Stuff” pays off!

Do you remember the day you first heard the phrase, “Stop sweating the small stuff?” Me neither, but I remember that it didn’t happen just once. It became something of a refrain during the middle 90’s and into the beginning of the 21st century. All of this seemed to coincide with the publishing of a self-help book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (And it’s all small stuff).”
Personally, I have nothing against self-help books. In fact, I think they are magnificent! Used wisely, this segment of the publishing world is useful to maintaining healthy psychological balance in the same way that OTC medicines are good for helping a person get through a cold or deal with a headache. I have read both the first of the series and one that was specifically targeted for use by professionals who have difficulty keeping things in perspective at work. What I read of the book series was great! I really enjoyed them, and found the insights generally useful and sometimes downright profound.
But I have struggled with this “Small Stuff/Big Stuff” analogy. Part of that may be from a competing perspective that has been a big part of my life for years. That competing perspective is best summed up as follows: By small and simple things, great things come to pass.

These concepts might be easily portrayed as competing ideas, presenting exactly opposite perspectives on the way of handling life. Small stuff holds the key to big stuff! Don’t sweat the small stuff! One seems to be rooted in the past, hearkening to the organic processes of growth and finding examples in building walls, bridges, homes and great buildings. The other appears connected to our present, finding corollaries in our use and understanding of big data, socio-economic trends and population analysis.

Is there a way for these two ideas to both be beneficial without throwing one or the other out? I believe there is! It comes from understanding how small stuff and big stuff are related.

The big stuff in our lives are the long term outcomes, the things that are not transitory, things like family, careers and significant friendships. Frequently in this blog and in the many presentations I have given, I have referred to these as the Facets of Life. It has always been my contention that in order to live a life of style and substance a man must be vigilant regarding the health of each facet. I also contend that the best way to ensure that the Facets of Life remain healthy is by “sweating the small stuff” in each Facets.

Given this, let me share six ways I try to Sweat the Small Stuff in the Facets of Life.
Think in blocks of 15 minutes. When we talk about small stuff, it should really start with the block of time that we talk about. 15 minutes is just enough time to get something done, regardless of the facet being discussed, but not so much that it feels like the entire day has to be dedicated to it.

Think in terms of routines. Trying to make sure that you get some physical activity in, but can’t go to the gym? Try doing some push ups and squats every time you stand up from your desk at work! Not connecting with your family to the degree you would like? Start a group chat and share a text with a positive, uplifting idea first thing in the morning (maybe before you even get out of bed) and then watch the conversation thread grow and look at it when you can.

Think about technology. Reading is key for most of us who want to improve how we handle life, but when do we have the time? Most of us can find small blocks of time (see above) but don’t have a book with us all the time, unless you have kindle or another e-reader. Consider keeping that app filled and ready for a sliver of time to open and be filled with a good book. Also, you might want to consider a subscription to audible, or finding other ways to get books on CD or audio file.

Think about others. Does it take long to smile? No, not really. Try it right now! Smiling is perhaps one of the easiest things to do in the world, but few of us take time to do it. We generally wait for someone around us to smile first, and since they are often doing the same, we pass the vast majority of human kind without so much as a cheerful greeting. That is unfortunate, because I have noticed in my own life that when someone greets me with a smile, my whole day is better. Perhaps it would be best to remember to do that for others.

Think about your wardrobe. As a man of style and substance, the wardrobe should be well taken care of. That isn’t to say that everything you wear needs to be trendy and expensive. However, when the clothes you wear are clean and well taken care of, interesting things happen. For instance, your confidence goes up. After all, if you know that you are wearing clothes that fit and don’t smell like they have been sitting in a locker, who wouldn’t be confident!

Think about thinking. Throughout the day, stray thoughts are likely to wander into your mind. Being aware of them can help us take control of the outcomes that follow us. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to stay cheerful when you are thinking about good things happening? Conversely, have you noticed how easy it is to lose that cheerful feeling when your focus is taken to something going wrong? In that case, I choose to try to keep my thoughts on the good that is happening around me!

There you go! six things to help you “Sweat the small stuff!” And by doing so, consistently, success in the big things in life is sure to be more pronounced, more frequent, and more likely to be permanent!

5 ideas for an awesome Stay-cation

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am very much in favor of frugality.  In my mind, style and substance should be pursued intelligently, not in a way that can handicap a budget or put a family deeper in debt.  Thinking like that flies in the face of substance!  However, going the entire summer without some type of adventure for the family doesn’t really make sense either. The stay-cation becomes a wonderful way to do both.
But when children (and some adults) hear the word “stay-cation” they often immediately connect it with another word … BORING!
So how do we dissociate stay-cations from boring and connect them with more exciting adjectives?  Here are some ideas to start with!
A map and a pencil!  Granted, this might be easier said in terms of google maps, but the principle is pretty easy.  gather the family and ask them how long they are willing to ride in a car, one way, for a good adventure.  For every hour the mention, draw a line showing a radius of 50 miles from where you live.  50 miles allows for traffic, surface street speeds and potty breaks (as necessary).  Now, you have your planned vacation area!
Jump on the web!  Most states and many cities and counties have websites that list recreation and entertainment activities.  In our area for last year, my wife found a museum that we drove past almost every week for fourteen years.  When we went, we were the only people there, and we not only had the run of the place, but asked all kids of questions that we might never have been able to ask had it been a more “well known” museum. Additionally, many museums offer summer engagement activities for children of various ages, so check websites and ask around.
Change the eating routine!  We make a promise when we travel; limit the fast food chains!  Instead, explore local dining options.  It can be fun to do the same thing in your own neighborhood.  How many places do you drive by and say, “We ought to try that place one day?”  A stay-cation is a perfect excuse to get to those new places.  Not only that, but within the circle you have drawn, if you are visiting someplace away from home, this is a perfect time to try a mom-and-pop diner or hamburger joint.  Who knows, you might find an awesome place!
Unplug!  With this I am not just talking about unplugging from electronics and social media, except of course for posting to Instagram.  No, what we are talking about here is staying away from all forms of electronics as much as possible.  Video Games? unless it is one that the whole family can play together, leave it!  It will still be there when the stay-cation is over.  Tempted to binge the latest on Netflix?  Instead, negotiate a board game or a card game and play something old-fashioned for a while.
Consider Service!  At least for part of the stay-cation, give some thought to finding a service project.  The app, JustServe, (and its sister website, gives some options based on selectable criteria.  You simply input your zip code, select the radius that you are looking at (here’s that map and pencil again!) and you can see different types of service opportunities.  Depending on the age and experience level of your family, you may just be looking for something that can be completed in an hour or two, but the experience is sure to set your stay-cation apart in their minds for the rest of their lives.
Being a man of style and substance is an all-the-time kind of thing.  Hopefully these ideas give you some ways to inject both style and substance into your summer.
Go forth and conquer!