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.

Five Things You Don’t Check at the Door

Do you remember the days of the coat check?  Some places still provide them.  You arrive at a party or event and there is someone waiting to take your coat to someplace secure.  You get a tag, and on your way out you pick up your coat and provide a small gratuity for the service.  It’s a little dated, but not uncommon. 

The idea of the coat check was to leave something behind that would get in the way and be cumbersome or bulky or interfere with the event.  Useful, and in cases where quarters are close, absolutely necessary.
But there are some things that should never be checked at the door.  It doesn’t matter the party, the venue, or the company, there are some things a man of style and substance should never “check at the door.”

Manners – No matter where you are, “Please” and “Thank You” should always be a basic part of your life and should never be left behind.  Ever.  These basics of society used to be fore-gone conclusions, but today it seems that manners are ever on the retreat.  Whether you are speaking with the host of the event, a fellow guest or even a member of the wait staff or the maintenance crew, treat them with courtesy.  Just because you are going to pay someone to do something for you doesn’t give you the right to be rude, abrasive or inconsiderate and discourteous about it. 

A Pen – This doesn’t need to be a flashy or showy pen; any pen will do.  I actually often carry two pens with me, one in a shirt or coat pocket and the other (a smaller one) on a keychain.  Carrying a pen is a mark of preparedness; you never know when you will have to sign something or you will want to jot down an idea.  Also, it prevents you from needing to ask to borrow a pen (and all the accumulated germs that accompany the loaner). 

A Small Wallet – Even if you are leaving the monster wallet at home, make sure that you keep something small with a few bills and one card that you know has room on it.  You never know when you will get an opportunity to pick up a round of appetizers, drinks or a desert.  Also, it is bad form to rummage through the pockets of the coat that was just returned to you for the tip for the coat check personnel.  Have it in your hand, produced from the small wallet you have kept with you, and present it with your claim check.

Your Phone – There was a time a few years ago when I would have recommended a small notebook to go along with the pen.  Jotting down ideas, names and phone numbers or email address is easier on the paper you keep with you than on a napkin at the table.  However, the phone becomes even more useful for this.  You’ve probably got an app for taking notes.  And it is very easy to send a quick text with contact information, even if you just send it to yourself.  However, remember that a man of style and substance will be conscious of the phone without letting it interfere with the evening.  If you are a heart surgeon on call, by all means, check every text coming through.  Other than bona fide emergencies from sitters, kids, and work, keep the phone in the pocket.

Your Character – This might seem like it doesn’t need to be said.  After all, a man of style and substance is all about character, right?  Yet I have seen instances where individuals have believed that the event they were attending somehow gave them leave to adjust their standards ever so slightly.  And while they were certainly small offenses, even small actions built up over time have consequences.  I try to remind myself that, no matter where I am, my actions in that moment are perhaps the only exposure that they will have to who I am and what I represent.  And a momentary lapse in character can result in a lifetime of negative consequences.

What do you think of this list?  Was there anything that I missed?  Let me know in the comments below.

Eminem, Akbar and The Graduates of 2017!

Spring brings with it one of the most treasured, and sometimes dreaded, experiences in modern civilization: commencement exercises!  These moments serve as both punctuation and milestone.  They are times for reflecting on accomplishment and opportunities for renewed goal setting.

I’ve attended many graduation exercises.  Some have been for myself, some for friends and colleagues and many for students I’ve taught.   The most touching have been for my children and other family members.  As different and varied as they have all been, they have also had many similarities.  They have been filled with celebration, shouts, dances, tears and thanks.  They have also included words of wisdom offered by students and distinguished guests.  

Much of that advice has been offered with earnestness and enthusiasm.  Sometimes the presenters took themselves very seriously, sometimes not.  In most cases, I believe the presenters were giving the informatiom that had proven to be particularly valuable to their personal success.  I believe they wished that these ideas would be treasured, though most realized that the words wold likely be forgotten before the graduates changed out of their caps and gowns and the last strains or pomp and circumstance faded away.  

That’s a shame.  To think that a lifetime of wisdom would be shared and lost within minutes.

So today I wish to share some highlights from a recent commencement that I attended at Snow College.

You can accomplish far more than you think you can if you keep your focus on the next milestone.  Jessica Guymon Cox was one of the student speakers.  She spoke of the power of concentrating on the next goal, relating her educational and life success to experiences she had climbing in the mountains of Utah with her father.

Any life experience can be related to farming, even if it is only removing rocks.  Bryce Wayne Sorenson was the other student speaker.  He spoke of how his life as a farmer prepared him to be successful at school, both in the classroom and in the dorm room prank wars.

Special thanks go to my parents, who did all the heavy lifting associated with my success.  Wayne Stoddard, one of the distinguished guests,  spoke only briefly, but appeared earnest as he credited his parents with having set the stage for the success that he has enjoyed in his life.

Learning how to learn is the most important skill to learn in today’s economy.  Lt. Governor Spencer  and Abby Cox shared the podium, and the rest of the quotes are theirs.  The Lt. Gov. began his talk saying that he was going to use a Winston Churchill quote, and then quoted “If you had one moment, one opportunity . . . ” immediately recognized as the into lines from Eminem’s Lose Yourself.  He had my undivided attention from that point on.  

Don’t buy into the idea that life is primarily about choices between polarized opposites; as Admiral Ackbar said,”It’s a trap!”

HONESTY should always rule your life and choices.

Find someone to fall in love with that makes you a better person, and thenjoy fall in love with them over and over again.

By the way, he did use a quote from Winston Churchill, closely related to the Eminem quote: To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents.  What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

The graduates who attended the commencement at Snow College may not remember thsee remarks, but I will.  Hopefully you will, as well.  And hopefully we can continue to share these through our words and our lives .

Go forth and conquer.

To my son: 5 things to remember about your first job!

Hey son.  I have been thinking about you a lot during the past few weeks, especially now that you have your first job.  This will be a powerful experience for you, and it is important to handle it wisely.  So here are 5 things that I have learned over the years that will help you do just that.

1. Take it serious.  You are being trusted with specific reaponsibilities.  Money is changing hands because of what you do.  You are representing other people in every transaction, every exchange.  Dont treat it lightly, take it seriously and recognize that what you do either helps the business or hurts it. 

2.  The business is you. Some of the people you work with won’t understand this, but whatever hurts the business ultimately hurts you.  For instance, if the business loses customers, the ability of that business to keep you employed may be impacted.  While the fate of the business may not hang on each transaction you handle, the fate of the business may be impacted by the cumulative impact of all the transactions you handle.

3. Your reputation will precede you. The way you do your work will become your reputation, and whether you want it to or not, your reputation will precede you in future efforts.  Employers talk, both inside and outside the company.  You may see this job as a low level, low importance position, but you never know where your next supervisor might come from and who he or she might have been friends with in the past.  

4.  Attitude is everything.  A huge part of your reputation is how you approach your work.  Companies are always looking for people who have positive attitudes, because those people are easier and more enjoyable to work with. When faced with a challenge, positive people say , “Let’s figure this out.”  They complain less, realizing that everyone has difficult stuff to deal with, and that complaining never helps.solve a situation. Positive people are also the ones who typically are given more opportunity and responsibility.  You probably won’t  be happy all the time, but if you can cultivate a strong sense of positivity in the face of challenges, you will be seen as an indispensable asset rather than a necessary evil.

5. Have fun!  This kind of goes along with number 4, which is true.  It may also seem like it flies in the face of number 1, which is definitely not true. Having fun is about enjoying the little things along the way.  I’ve worked some miserable jobs in the past, but I always found a way to both take my work seriously and still have fun along the way.  

This first job will be full of new experiences.  Enjoy it, hold up your head and be grateful for the chance to work, to contribute, to earn your place!  And if you remember these 5 points, the experience will be a good one both now and for your future.

Empathy and Respect

In the wake of the inauguration of President Trump, I have found myself reflecting in the state of political discourse and engagement in the US, and perhaps by extrapolation, through out the world.  That reflection has lead me to a singular conclusion: we are failing.

Let me be clear.  I’m not on the bandwagon of “America is a failing nation, just look at our exporting of jobs/ increase of social ills/ widening income gap between the super rich and the middle class,” etc. No, I think we are failing in that we seem to have lost our ability to engage civilly around ideas, contradictory positions and mutual values.

Civil engagement, to me, has always meant that the issue was forefront, that the outcomes of action or the consequences of inaction were central to the discussion.  Civil engagement meant that the personal characteristics of the individual putting forth an idea were set aside so that the merits of the ideas could be discussed and debated.  In our day, this seems more of will o’the wisp of whimsy than a standard to be pursued and protected.

The latest political cycle here in the US certainly sems to show just how far we are from this goal, and I’m not talking about the sound bites from the major candidates in their various races.  No, I am referring to the way that we, the people, are using social media, particularly facebook, to belittle, demonize and dehumanize any and all who hold opinions contrary to our own.  Further, it is becoming increasingly clear that this behavior is not limited to a single party or special interest group.  This behavior seems to be much more wide spread, and name calling and vitriol seem to have become acceptable replacements for civil dialogue.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am well aware that mud slinging has always shown up in politics for as long as people have run for office.  However, it seems in recent years that it has been elevated to the primary tool of politics rather than an unfortunate aspect of politics, utilized only when one has reached a point when an impasse has been reached.

There was a time, and not so long ago, when mutual values drove politial action.  From our founding fathers attempting to wrangle a clear defining line between the role of government and the role of the individual to our modern era where energy and tax policy drove heated discussions of economics, the issues seemed to remain centered around the good of the people of the country.  And while spin doctors and community organizers might be interested in defining them in the narrowest of terms, cooler heads in times past encouraged us to think of our larger identities, not as members of political parties, but as participants in a process of governing. And, at least in my eyes, it is impossible to see clearly on an issue if the only thing we hear are words that reinforce our own biases and self-serving conclusions.

After listening to the President’s speech, I pulled up a TED talk where the speaker encouraged the audience to consider empathy and respect when engaging in political discussion.  I, for one, intend to take this advice to heart and model it, as best I can, in any engagement I find myself in.  

I plan particularly to model this when talking with my children about politics and the political process. I see that as my primary job as a family man and a man of style and substance. Empathy and respect may be the most critical tools in getting to sound fiscal, environmental and international policy and legislation.  And they are certainly vital in crafting strong and long lasting relationships.  And if I can help my family learn this lesson, perhaps we can begin to reverse the direction of political discourse away from failure and toward cooperation.

New Year, New Look, New Focus

Greetings!

I signed off from this blog around nine months ago now, and during that time, I had a chance to think about a lot of things.

I thought about the blog, its purpose in my life and in my interactions with the world.

I thought about what drove me to start this blog, and what caused me to question its veracity.

I questioned many of the motivational factors that drive my activity, both professionally and among my avocations.

I questioned whether or not the world needed this blog.

In short, I questioned everything about the wisdom of keeping this project going.  In most measures, it is easy to identify this as clearly a hobby.  I am not reaching a wide audience.  I am not being recognized as a result of these posts as any type of expert.  The time that it takes to produce a quality post takes large amounts of time away from other ventures, and I really began to wonder if it was all worth it.

During all of this time, I had several candid discussions with my family, especially my adult children, about the blog. I shared with them some of how I was feeling, some of what was making me wonder if this was worth any time.  And as we talked about things, I found myself getting some answers to my questions and concerns.  And most of those questions revolved around the focus and ease of access on this blog.

I began this as an exercise in writing about finding adventure in everyday life.  I believed then, and I still believe today, that while journeying far beyond the boundaries of home can lead to amazing and once in a lifetime adventures, one can find adventures close to home.

I later began to wonder at the number of men’s magazines that were directed at helping men enjoy nice things, enjoy the good life, but few about how to enjoy nice things while living wisely and on a budget.

Still later, I began to take notice of how many parenting magazines seemed to be focused on helping mothers be better homemakers but few were dedicated to helping father’s be better heads of households.

All of these realizations drove me to change the direction of the blog.

But they also caused me to wonder how to respect and represent them all in my posts.

I have come to the conclusion that all of these ideas, from intelligent adventuring to being a wise head of household, are wound up in what I am calling The Everyday Dad.

Everyday dads have to put on their best every day and go to work, giving their best in pursuit of goals and objectives that are often not their own, in order to provide income and stability for a family.  Often they do this in partnership with a spouse who also needs to work and toil outside the home just to make ends meet.  When the work day is done, the everyday dad comes home and works to handle some projects around the house, like painting or car repairs or home maintenance.  He often tries to play with his kids and share with them some of the appreciation that he has developed for a sports team or a particular performer or the lessons that he has learned along the way ofhis experience in daily life.  Finally when the kids are asleep, he strives to be a lover to dedicated spouse, often also exhausted from the second shift of shared househould duties.  In some cases, the everyday dad works a second job (as I have through much of my married life), an experience which makes all of the other activities that much more stressful and precious and precarious.

But everyday dads are also funny, and passionate, and dedicated, and want to give their family nice things, pleasant memories and a bedrock of values to guide them through the difficult times that are sure to come into their lives.

My children helped me discover this about myself.  And that is the journey that I want to now share with anyone who wants to read.  Likely it will be a small audience.  But small or large, antagonistic or supportive, share I will.

I will share the mundane, the practical, the exciting and the transcendent.  I will share the funny and heartbreaking and the inspiring and the melancholy.  I will share the things that make me a better everyday dad and the ways in which I fall short.

I’m going to add some pages to this blog, hopefully in a way to combine some of the other blogs that I have been working with in the past.  Perhaps one day i can manage several blogs, but right now, managing one is plenty difficult for me!

I hope you enjoy the new journey.  I’m grateful to have you along!

Changes come to all

Over the last while, I have been struggling somewhat with this site, the purpose behind it and my reasons for writing.

The idea for this blog grew out of a response to the number of men’s magazines that talked about style, fashion and issues that matter to men, like career and fatherhood from a perspective that I felt was flawed.  While all magazines in this category are designed around advertising and marketing the latest trends and designs in fashion, I felt too little time was spent talking about things that most everyday father’s were concerned about.  Namely, stretching a budget by making lasting purchases rather than blowing it on trendy purchases, trying to pass on values and wisdom to children and learning to appreciate the world as a fine and beautiful thing rather than chasing around for what civilization has deemed to be “the finer things.”

I have enjoyed this journey, and I think these issues are still relevant, but my focus has changed somewhat, and I think it only fair to be clear about it, even if it will only be for my own benefit.

I have realized that I want to blog about more things than the original narrowly defined topics.  I want to explore ideas about sustainability, cycling, music, art, family, adventuring, travel, and so many more topics as they appear.  I want to begin playing again with other writing forms, like the ocasional haiku or lyric poem.  I want to write about the rugged and the refined and not feel like I have to figure out whether it is an issue of style or substance.

So that’s what I intend to do.  If you have followed this because you loved my articles on  building a wardrobe, they will still appear.  If you have been intrigued about my perspectives on teaching values to my children, those will show up too.  But so will a myriad of different things, things that I value, things that are part of my personal journey through life as I struggle to become a man my children can be proud of, my wife can be fond of and my friends can enjoy spending time with.

And I think that is what being a man of style and substance is all about.