HOLIDAY GUIDE FOR A MAN OF STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

The holiday season is here, and we are bound to be flooded with articles regarding how to successfully navigate the holiday season. Most of them will center around gift giving advice, touting the latest gadgets and fashions as among the most desirable gifts of the season. No doubt, some of these articles on the internet and in magazines were prepared in part as reviews of new products and promoted advertising pieces. While there is certainly nothing wrong with all of that, this post is going to go in a decidedly different direction. Instead, this article is going to focus on how a man of style and substance might approach the holidays differently.

GIFT GIVING

Certainly, one of the unavoidable expectations of the holiday season is found in the exchanging of gifts. Many cultural traditions have grown up around this practice, and they range from sublime to utilitarian. Being one who seeks style and substance can influence the types of gifts that one gives. Consider three categories: something made, something to be shared and something permanent.

Home-made gifts are sometimes seen as an effort to be cheap. This may be true, but it need not be. Many a baker has spent countless hours preparing a treat based on a family recipe and shared it with others. If practical, presenting the item prepared in or on a special holiday keepsake may add a powerful, personal touch. I am reminded of a coworker who brought a small cake in for many coworkers, each in a small holiday loaf baking dish. I enjoyed the cake, and I still have the dish.

If you are aware of a friends interest in a particular activity, presenting an invitation to attend that activity together may present a powerful expression of friendship while also setting the stage for making memories together. And the invitation need not be for something expensive. A simple meal before an anticipated book signing, a free museum or an inexpensive showing at a community theater may all cost far less than some gadget that may be broken or lost before the end of the holiday season.

Some of the finest gifts that I have received, both practical and whimsical, have had a measure of permanence to them. Books are a favorite of mine. They influence the life of the recipient long after the actual gifting event is concluded. Some I read once, others I return to often. Sometimes they are special editions, while other times they are simply a paperback. I have even been given blank journals as a way of beginning the year, something that stays with me the whole year through.

ENTERTAINING

Holiday parties need not be a chore. Instead, they can be simple but meaningful. Most parties involve eating, and with holiday parties, this is particularly true. In that spirit, a man of style and substance may embrace the spirit by providing a simple meal that allows for more time spent talking and sharing time with friends and less on trying to impress anyone or taking too much time in cleaning up.

Additionally, the man of style and substance may opt for an activity party, like caroling, providing service or having a fire with warm beverages and donuts or muffins. For the man of style and substance, the holiday party is less a time for making a statement and more a time for connecting with friends.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS

All of the above perspectives can illuminate a man of style and substance’s approach to the tradition of greeting cards as well. Are you fond of people, but not of the tradition? Consider sending an electronic card through Hallmark or American Greetings. Both offer services where cards appropriate to the season and the disposition of the sender can be easily customized. Pictures can be attached, as can links to videos if one is so inclined.

As far as the content of the greeting, I will only suggest this: the greeting is about reaching out to others and letting them know that you care about them. While it may be appropriate to mention events that happened in the year, if they are truly a friend they probably know all about it already. But a an of style and substance will never give in to the temptation of using the holiday greeting tradition as an expanded facebook post.

Being a man of style and substance is not about the brands we wear, the restaurants we frequent or the balance in a bank account. It is about the way we handle ourselves during our various interactions with others. It is about emphasizing the positives in any interaction. It is about acknowledging that everyone encountered on a daily basis is striving for success, and that sometimes you or I may have insights to share along the way, but never in an arrogant or condescending manner. It is about savoring every good and uplifting experience available while also remembering that we cannot avoid being evaluated and judged according to the simple standard: do people feel better about life and themselves after spending time with you?

Hopefully, the answer will always be yes.

Go Forth and Conquer!

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A Thoughtless Moment

I’m big on being thoughtful.  I believe that one of the most important things that we can do to improve our satisfaction with life in all of its facets is to be thoughtful.  Being thoughtful can mean many things, like taking the time to say something nice or render a small act of service to another human being in the flow of a busy day.  It can also mean being fully aware of the present moment to the extent that choices are evaluated before being enacted.  As a Man of Style and Substance, I strive to be both.

And some days I fail.  Miserably.

Today was one of those days.

In the interest of helping you to potentially avoid repeating my failure, let me share with you how it unfolded.

Without meaning to, our family morning routine has begun to include some less than helpful elements.  My two youngest children, aged 16 and nearly 13, are slow to rise, grumpy and combative about almost everything.  Getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, grooming for the day, gathering completed homework, being ready for the carpool, almost everything has become a battle.  Some days, these battles are handled with grace and humor.  Today it was for a while.

Then I blew it.

My daughter, expressing the angsty teenage comment of “I don’t see the point,” became the recipient of a flippant and poorly thought out remark.  A remark that I instantly regretted, hastily corrected, and apologized for.  

My daughter began moving, going through the rest of the morning, as did I.  My son then became the target of my momentary thoughtlessness when I said, “Your sister is parroting your behavior; we have to change that.”  

At that point I left for work.

And then I had a moment where I thought, “I wonder, what if that was the last thing that my son or daughter heard me say?”  I then thought, “What if, at some difficult point in their lives, the thought I just gave them was the one that came back to their minds?” 

I then had a thought that pushed me over the edge: “Is it possible they are both parroting your attitude?”

And I lost it.  

I had to pull of the freeway.  I began to sob, uncontrollably.  I felt pain in my heart and mind, so deep and so crushing that I could not function.  I cried and prayed and cried some more, and yet the sorrow lingered, indicting me with a view of myself as an awful example of parenthood.  I sobbed even more, as I called my daughter to apologize.  I told her over and over that I loved her, that I was sorry for being thoughtless, and that I hoped she could forgive me.  I called my wife to apologize for allowing a moment of frustration to produce a thoughtless expression that was potentially hurtful to our lovely little girl.  I continued to feel the sorrow of that moment as I apologized to my son for trying to make him the inspiration for her bad behavior.  I apologized the the other children in the house, our adult children, who may have overheard the exchanges.  Even now, the sorrow lingers.  

If I am being honest, this type of sorrow, the sorrow of having let my guard down for a moment and, in the process, let down my wife and children by not being a man of Style and Substance, cuts deeper than any professional failures, any missed business opportunity, any lost revenue or unpurchased  doo-dad, trinket or ticket.  This hurt goes far deeper and will take me longer to recover from, I think, than almost anything else.

But luckily, it is beginning.

I am fortunate to have a loving wife who comforted me and helped me find some perspective.  She reminded me that, while the moment was hurtful, it was tiny compared to the decade-plus of support, love and laughter that my children and I have shared.  She reminded me that she sees the intention of my heart, and that a momentary loss of composure is not an invalidation of a lifetime spent showing love.

I took the time to reach out to both of my children, reminding them of my love for them, apologizing for my thoughtlessness, and asking for forgiveness; this is a strength we are hoping to help them learn, and I am not afraid to model it for them.  So far, they are willing to look past my thoughtlessness this morning.  

I made a decision, while sobbing on the side of the road, that I would examine my attitude.  I made a decision to be more thoughtful about the way I face the morning, what thoughts I express, what type of example I give to my children of how to handle the challenge of daily life.  I made a decision to be more thoughtful of my words, choosing them carefully, using words that uplift and encourage and never allowing flippant or destructive thoughts to be expressed.  I made a decision to be just as firm in my requirements of them to get ready for school, but to be much more thoughtful as I spur them on to action.

As men of Style and Substance, let us each strive to be thoughtful.  For the absence of thoughtfulness, at least in my case, was crippling sorrow.  I would spare anyone that sorrow!  Be thoughtful!

Go forth and conquer!

The Tyranny of Comparisons

This morning, as my son was getting ready for school, he flopped down on the couch and said something like, “I’m not going to school anymore, I’m not smart enough.” Why would he say that, I wondered.  He’s a smart, funny, talented kid.  I should know, I’m his dad!
But then I looked at him on the couch, covering his head with a pillow, solidly convinced of his inadequacy.
Does this sound familiar?
I know in my life, it happens all the time.
20 years ago, I gave my first presentation on the tyranny of comparisons.  In it, I addressed the idea that, as children, all that matters to us is what our parents think of us.  If they say we’re pretty, or handsome, or talented, or smart, well then, we accept that.  But gradually, over time, our parents become less and less important to our perception of ourselves.  We become more and more influenced by the opinions of peers and, eventually, by the inevitable comparisons to the world around us.  We compare ourselves to star athletes, celebrities, professors, business people, and even our neighbor down the street.  We become embroiled in the game of comparisons.  And inevitably, we lose.
We lose for the simple fact that our comparisons are always unfair.  They are unfair in two ways.
In the first way, we compare ourselves with an ideal, whether imagined or real.  We see the image of a celebrity on the cover of a magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store, with a perfectly prepared hair style, carefully selected clothing provided by a designer specifically for the cover shoot, and flawless skin.  Before we even get to the sneakiness of photoshop, used to make the person even more unbelievably perfect, he or she is well on their way to being a paragon of desirability, superior in every way to us.  This is the ideal human, screams the cover of the magazine.  Behold and be driven to acknowledge your unworthiness.
And its a lie.  Oh, certainly ideal, but none of it is real.  It is all made up, fantasy, carefully prepared for a snapshot at false reality with one purpose and one purpose only: to make you buy the magazine so you can learn (and buy) the secret stuff that made the person on the cover this magnificent ideal.
There is a thing called the Johari window  which gives a way of illustrating the second way that comparisons are unfair.  It is that, in the case of others, we see what is open or known to all.  We see their car, clothes, job, house, family, toys, and any other aspect that might be easily changed into a post on Facebook or Instagram.  These are obvious, tactile and tangible.  They cannot be avoided.  But when we begin the comparison to ourselves, we also include the hidden area, or those things that are only known to us.  We may include things that are in the open area, like our job, but we include the difficulties and stresses that we feel at the job.  In this way, the comparison is completely unfair, because we have no clear idea of the hidden area of another.
Comparisons are patently unfair.  And a man of style and substance must call it for what it is.  It is unfair, and should be dismissed.
Knowing all of this, I looked at my son.  “Why do you say you aren’t smart enough?  Compared to whom?”  I asked, smiling.  He looked at me and was silent.  I had a feeling that he was doing the comparison thing, thinking of kids that seemed to have all the answers in classes, getting all the homework turned in perfectly, etc.  And in that moment I shared with him that hard fought wisdom that I gained all those years ago.
“Son, never compare yourself to anyone else.  If you want to compare yourself with anyone, compare yourself with the person you used to be.  And while you are at it, don’t shy away from action because of your past or your present.  Instead, act with confidence based on your potential.”  I said it all softly.  Gently.  I smiled the entire time.
And then we heard a horn honk, and he got up and finished getting ready for school.
I don’t know if he understood what I was trying to tell him.  I don’t know if he fully understood that I was trying to tell him that he had accomplished many amazing things in his short life, and that he was going to be able to accomplish many more amazing things.  I don’t know if he believed it.  But he took action.  And so did I.  I reminded both him and myself that comparisons, no matter how accurate we may believe we make them, can never be fair and always result in a lower perception of our value and worth.
And I found myself renewing a silent vow that, as a man of style and substance, I would stop comparing myself to anyone except myself five years ago.
I hope you can make the same vow.

Fall Wardrobe Upgrades

With the advent of fall, I start looking at my wardrobe.  Away go my shorts and out come flannel lined jeans.  Sweatshirts and sweaters  come out and linens and short sleeves start going to the back of the closet.  This is a time of rotation, and I love it!  It is a chance to rediscover old favorites and begin ramping up for chillier days and cozier nights.    

As a man of style, it is worth thinking about some things that can be done to spruce up the fall wardrobe in preparation for the onslaught of darker, colder days.  Permit me to mention five.

Out With the Old.  There are two kinds of old things in every wardrobe.  There is “Old Reliable” and “Old and Worn Out.”  Sometimes it is easy to know which is which.  Old Reliable is typified by the following

  • The item is still in good repair
  • You look for excuses to wear it
  • You wear it as a comfort piece, especially on days you stay in
  • It still fits you in your current body shape and type 

If it is old and the opposite of these four things, it is probably getting close to Old and Worn Out.  You need not throw it away, yet.  But if you don’t look forward to wearing it, consider donating it.  If you keep it because it still has life in it (and you hate it) give it away.  Just because you don’t value it anymore doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.  Pass it on, and let someone else discover the joy of owning something new and special for them.

One New Shirt. I’m not talking about t-shirts, here.  T-shirts are something that we all wear, but they are not what I think of when I think of wardrobe for most people.  What I am talking about here is the kind of shirt that is worn for a reason.  A new shirt for the office, for church, for a special night out is what I am talking about here.  And one may be just enough, if it is the right one.  Once a wardrobe has been established, buying lots of new shirts/pants/suits should likely never be necessary.  But buying one new shirt/pants/suit may be just the thing that is necessary to put some new life in any wardrobe.  This is when I look for the best quality at the best price and often find myself looking for something classic with a slight touch of flair.  For instance, white shirts are always part of my wardrobe, but one with a subtle pattern to it might be something to splurge on.

Clean and Treat the Outerwear.  Last year, toward the end of the season, my wife and children bought me a new mid-weight car coat.  I love it.  It fits my style perfectly.  However, I know that it won’t shed water or snow yet.  Last night, I took 15 minutes and applied a high grade fabric protectant to it.  Now that it is waterproof, I am ready for any inclement weather that might arrive.  I am preparing to do the same to my overcoat.  Don’t wait for the weather to turn foul to prepare your foul weather gear.  Additionally, I have found that the first few times wearing a recently cleaned coat or jacket can be a doorway to feeling confident and prepared.

Check the shoes and socks.  One of the most neglected parts of the fall and winter seasons is the footwear.  Now, not everyone is going to feel it necessary to have summer and winter socks, but doing a quick check to make sure that they are in good repair is easily done at the start of the cooler seasons.  I do have summer and winter socks, and I have found that taking the time to bring them out early rather than late keeps my feet happy.  I do the same thing with my shoes.  I have two pair of boots that I wear throughout the cold, wet months and I have found that cleaning and treating them early leaves me ready to use them at a moments notice.  Waiting, on the other hand, has seen me wearing them and hoping that I don’t ruin them because I was too lazy to treat them earlier in the season.

Versatile Layers.  One of the things that I evaluate as I look at my wardrobe is how much versatility I have in the layers.  Can I wear a sweater with more than one shirt?  Can a vest be worn both casual and under a sportcoat?  Are my pieces flexible enough that I can make them work for multiple outfits if I decide to travel and need to travel light?  These may seem like minor things to think about, but a man of style knows that the details make and break the deal.  I have one vest that I bought last year from a major retailer on a holiday sale that is dressy enough to wear for a nice party and rugged enough that it goes with me every time I plan to spend time playing outside.  That kind of versatility is gold!

What do you think of these ideas?  Share some of your own in the comments field below.

Be Your Own Coach

Most of us get to adulthood and look back on our lives and see a series of coaches.  For myself, some of those coaches include

  • My dad, teaching me how to catch, throw and hit a ball so that I could play baseball when I was growing up in Minnesota
  • Grandpa Wente, taking the time to teach me how to shoot a .22 in the fields surrounding Hancock, the town where my dad grew up
  • My first little league coach; I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but I remember always thinking that he was the absolute coolest guy in the world cause we got root beer after every game!
  • My first professional level vocal coach who helped me learn the difference between making noise and singing
  • A beloved mentor who helped me learn how to play games like they were real and play at life like it was a game
  • An uncle who helped me learn that doing the right thing was great, but that doing the right thing for the wrong reason would only bring misery

As I started writing this list, my mind has literally been flooded with memories of other men (and women) of style and substance who became coaches for me in various things. 
All of my coaches, regardless of the area of life that they coached me in, followed a pattern.  As I have grown older, I have found that pattern to be repeated over and over as I have worked to develop new skills and improve existing ones.  And while it has not been as easy to find coaches for relationship, family and professional development, the things I learned from those early coaches have allowed me to do some personal coaching along the way.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned. 

A word of caution.  Embarking on a process of self coaching requires a level of self awareness that can be difficult.  I have found real value in finding someone to coach me, especially when I am trying to make critical improvement in critical aspects of my life.  A coach can provide an outside perspective on the activities or actions that need to be changed.  But when I am trying to make less sweeping and disruptive changes, or when there is not quite so much on the line, developing and maintaining a dispassionate view of my own performance is something that can help me make progress.  Perhaps this will help you as well.

Create a clear picture of success.  Whether it was the bulls eye on the target 25 yards out or making a perfect two handed catch so I was ready to fire the ball to a base to stop a runner, there was a clear picture of success.  My coaches took time to identify it, piece by piece, until the picture was clear in both our minds.  If you are coaching yourself, writing something out with as much detail as possible can provide that level of clarity.  Some will call this goal setting, and it might be that if the performance area that you are looking at is an athletic event or other kind of activity where simple accomplishment is what we are working for.  But if the type of development being sought is the development of a relationship or the building of a team, it may look less like clear goal setting and more like purposeful day dreaming.
For instance, one of the things that matters a great deal to me is having a happy and supportive family.  Sounds simple and clear cut, right?  But when I took the time to put into words what that looked like, a future snapshot if you will, things were very different.  I started building a picture in my mind of a family reunion where everyone wanted to be.  Food on the barbecue, games being played, laughter in the air.  The more concrete I made the picture, the more I became aware that it might never happen.  But the point of the exercise was to identify the components that would lead to success.

Capture your performance  This is where you require one of three things: strong self awareness, an impartial friend or a phone with a video camera.  Capturing perfromance, especially physical skill performance, is easier than it has ever been with the advent of cell phone technology.  Whether it is a golf swing or a dance step, flagging down an observer and having them video gives you instant feedback.

If you are looking at any other area of performance, for instance soft skills at work, an impartial observer may be more practical.  Sometimes just asking someone else to share what they see is enough to start you on the path to improvement.

Compare the performance with the picturePretty simple concept here, but sometimes a simple concept is a difficult process.  Whatever hurdles must be overcome on this point, it is immensely worth it.  For without knowing how current performance relates to the desired outcome, there is no chance for improvement.

Pick one item to improve on.  Comparing the performance is important.  And if you are like me, the comparison can sometimes be a little painful.  After all, we are talking about something important to you, we are talking about the possibility of ego being involved in the equation, and we are very likely talking about a person who is having a hard time seeing anything other than the gaps.  This is where I have found so much wisdom in the idea of attacking one thing and one thing only.  Are you seeing five different aspects of your performance that you would like to change?  Pick one.  Pick the one that will be the easiest to see improvement in.  Pick the one that most easily plays to your strengths.  Pick the one that you are confident will yield the most benefit for the time that will be invested.  You can answer these questions for yourself.

  Create a clear picture of the improvement.  Now we go back to the picture stage.  Only this time, in addition to the overall picture of what we want, we are going to include the picture of the improvement that we are hoping to see.  A little straighter drive, a little smoother jump shot, or remembering to ask one more question when working with a customer or an employee.  Create a picture of the improvement that you want to see, and let that picture be something that you put in your mind frequently.  The more you remind yourself of what you are striving to achieve, the more likely you will notice when you are making improvement in your performance.

Repeat  As often as it takes until things turn out the way you want.

There you go.  That’s the pattern.  Use it! 

Adding to the Wardrobe

Being a man of style and substance means many things, but two of them are relevant to today’s discussion. The first is that you understand that, while clothes do not make the man, clothes do matter. The second is recognizing that the best way to build a wardrobe is to avoid trends and clue in to classics. Today’s post has some suggestions that should help you do both. The questions that follow, and the perspective I will try to provide on each of them, is all about building a wardrobe worthy of a man of style and substance.
Before I get into the rules, i want to be clear, I’m not talking about the jeans and t-shirt portion of your wardrobe. There is nothing wrong with that part of your wardrobe. And while jeans and t-shirts are a major part of some designer’s fashion palettes, for most of us, jeans and a t-shirt are what we wear when working in the backyard or when camping or doing chores around the house or something else where the clothes are more likely to get damaged and dirty than they are to get noticed and appreciated.  

Likewise, we aren’t talking just about suits. Again, a suit is a part of the wardrobe. But being a part of the wardrobe is not the whole of the wardrobe. Depending on the work you do, the profession that you have chosen, you may spend a great deal of time in a suit. You may not. Neither situation makes you a man of style and substance. That is something entirely different. But knowing how the wardrobe contributes to being a man of style and substance is worth knowing, respecting, and using for your benefit.

With that said, on to the rules.

Is it a replacement? The first reason that an individual should consider adding something to the wardrobe is that it is replacing something else. The reasons for the replacement can be many, from something being worn out to something no longer working with the other wardrobe pieces. Case in point, I had a tie that I picked up from a designer that I really enjoyed. It was a tie that I felt spoke to the interests that I had. It was like a silent statement that I was making about what I valued, who I was on the inside. It looked nice, it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the outfit (ever) and it was special. 

Until it wore out. Everything wears out. This tie was no exception. It finally got to the point that it just was becoming old, threadbare and too badly worn to continue holding onto it. So I replaced it.

Is it meaningful? This goes somewhat along with the previous story. The tie that I picked up was one of the first real well made silk woven ties I had ever purchased for myself. It was a little bit like a rite of passage, proof that I was becoming more than a trend-chasing teenager, but a man, a gentleman. That tie meant something, and even though it was a little priceier than many of the other ties I had bought up to that time, and since that time as well, it meant something. That is plenty of reason to bring something of worth into the wardrobe.

Is it quality? Sometimes the best reason to bring something into the wardrobe is that it is a quality piece of clothing. I remember when I purchased a silk blazer. It carried a designer name, which spoke to its cut and fit. I knew that this particular designer made clothes that typically flattered my body shape and size nicely. But the jacket itself was exquisite. It had a great texture, both by touch and by sight. It was a piece that was going to last for years and wear extremely well without going out of style or falling apart with a little hard use. It was certainly a quality piece, and worth every penny I paid. It is still in my wardrobe, and I wear it about once a month, even today.

Does it fit your style? Sometimes I go through a store or a mall and something catches my eye. It just speaks to me, which I know sounds a little corny, but it is true. Some things just feel right, and when they do, picking them up is perfectly fine. Recently I was on a business trip and I found a shirt at a specialty retailer. It was a casual shirt in black with some detailing. I can tell you that I don’t need another black casual shirt. Ever. But this one was perfect. It was the perfect weight, cut, and detailing. It was from both a manufacturer and promoter that I appreciate and enjoy. In the end, I thought to myself, “This just looks like me.” So it came home with me in my luggage.

Is it different? Finding something new to add to your wardrobe is tricky. It can be a risk. After all, we have just talked about recognizing things that fit your style. But sometimes, especially if you are exploring a new direction for your wardrobe, finding something totally different is appropriate too. On another business trip I found one of those pork-pie fedoras that are so popular right now. It fit well, it was inexpensive, and it seemed like a fun purchase. Typically I have bought caps and a few wide brimmed cowboy hats. That has been my style. But this item, it just seemed like something worth picking up for the sake of difference. It spoke to a part of my personality that was coming to the surface, perhaps part of my maturing. Whatever the reason, it was certainly different. And it is in my collection now.  

Approach from a standpoint of curation, not collection. This last one is a little harder for me to describe. It is about looking at the things that you are doing for patterns and departures. Do you tend to have a lot of dark colored suits? Great, now go out and find something a little lighter. Do most of your ties seem to be old rep stripe pieces? Great! Now go find one with a different theme. Curation is about deciding which of the other rules needs to be honored and which needs to be broken.  

What do you think of these ideas? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

Living in the Sweet Spot

Being a man of style and substance does not need to be difficult or challenging.  It does not need to be time consuming or require immense mental effort.  In fact, when a man lives a life of style and substance, it should be both liberating and simplifying.  Living a life of style and substance is really about learning to live in the sweet spot.

Have you heard of the sweet spot before?  Most likely, you have.  However, you have probably heard about it in terms of sports.  Tennis, golf, baseball, football, even cycling and auto racing might be places where the term sweet spot is used.  Regardless of the arena of activity, the sweet spot refers to a particular point where maximum results are achieved for the effort expended.  Those results often take the form of distance, control or some other measure of performance. 

Life has a sweet spot too.  And living a life of style and substance, I believe, is all about finding it.

After much study and reflection, it seems to me that satisfaction in life has much to do with our relationships with other people, having things that we passionately work towards and pursue and, finally, the degree to which we are able to live authentically and in harmony with our highest values.  To make these easy to remember (cause I’m a fairly simple guy, after all) I refer to these three areas as People, Plans and Promises.  I know, that sounds awfully folksy, like an old John Denver song.  But just because it sounds fairly simple doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some insight that could be beneficial.  Let me share what each of these areas has come to mean to me.

People refers to relationships.  And not just the significant relationships, but the every-day and casual ones as well.  Most of us try to take great care with some of our relationships while being quite careless with others.  Interestingly enough, there is evidence to suggest that often we are kinder to strangers than we are with the people we care most about.  Further, when in tense situations, I have found that, like many others, I have been guilty of being more thoughtful and measured with my responses to work colleagues than I am to my spouse and children.  While this may be understandable (after all, family can’t fire you as easily as a boss can) it is certainly counter-productive.

What I am suggesting is that, if we are determined to live in the sweet spot of life, all of our relationships deserve equal care and concern.  From your spouse to your right hand person at work to the janitor who empties your trash to the young person who bags your groceries to the person who opens a door for you out of the blue, every relationship deserves equal care and concern.  That doesn’t mean you need to get everyone’s life story, but it does mean that thoughtfulness in how we treat and react to others should be consistent, not conditional. 

Plans refers to the goals and systems of goals that we build to accomplish the things that are meaningful to us.  I’m not talking about bucket lists, nor am I necessarily talking about engaging in a goal setting session where you plan out every detail of a project that saves the world from starvation.  What I’m talking about here is a little more mundane, but perhaps more crucial.  Plans, in this context, refers to the wisdom that “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/planning)  There is a time for wishes, no doubt about it, but bringing them into the world of reality requires some kind of plan.

Setting huge goals to change the world will certainly require plans and planning to make it all come about.  But making small improvements requires some planning as well.  I remember a time in my life when I could scarcely get out of bed in the morning.  Between injury and depression, all I wanted to do was sleep and hide from the world.  But gradually, by setting small objectives and thinking through what was required to make those objectives achievable, I was able to overcome the inertia that threatened my entire life at that time.  

Big or small, world changing or life changing, plans are required if one is going to live in the sweet spot. 

Promises refer to both the spoken commitments we make to others and the unspoken commitments we make to ourselves.  The promises here are often made in relation to the plans that are set in the previous step.  They are almost always made to a person who is going to hold us accountable for our work or lack there of.  If you want to live in the sweet spot, you have to keep promises.  Big ones and little ones.  This isn’t to say that others won’t understand when things are out of your control, or when you have done everything you can and things are just not coming together.  People will understand.  Some of the time.  But if you develop a habit of not keeping promises, eventually it will become ugly.  You can’t live in the sweet spot if you aren’t keeping promises.

In the overlap is the sweet spot.  This is where great things really happen, and when it feels like they happen almost effortlessly.  This is where you begin to notice momentum beginning to catch up with you, when it seems that things just fall into place.  This is the place when you begin to reap the rewards of all the hard work put in along the way.  This is where life becomes fun.

But you must remember, the sweet spot is dynamic.  You don’t stay in the sweet spot on yesterday’s effort.  You have to earn it daily.  You have to be on guard.  If you want to live in the sweet spot, you have to commit to doing these things every day, all the time.  Yes, it sounds tiring, and it requires energy and commitment.  But there is nothing better than living life in the sweet spot. And for a man of style and substance, there is no better place to live.