Accountability to a Mentor

Years ago, I happened upon a powerful relationship. It was somewhat accidental, yet it has also been one of the most powerful relationships that I have experienced in my life. In some ways, it has been a more powerful relationship for me than my relationship with my wife, but in other ways the relationship with my wife might not have been possible without this preceding relationship. It is a relationship marked by sometimes casual, often infrequent contact, but a commitment to each other that has been more powerful than any other friendship. I am writing about the relationship that I have, and have had, with my first Mentor.
The word mentor means experienced teacher and adviser. It has its roots in Homer’s Odyssey, referring to the teacher of Telemachus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan war, he knew that he would.lilely not return until at least some of his son’s education would.need to be handled, so he entrusted Mentor with that responsibility. In our day, the name has come to take on a much more dynamic title, fitting with the breadth of education that Mentor passed on to young Telemachus.
My own mentor has advised me on a variety of things, from handling difficulties with my parents, teachers and friends during my growing up years to discussions of politics, finance, professional and Civic responsibilities and duties to home and family. I have relied on his friendship and his wisdom to carry me through many challenges. However, I have not done a very good job of being accountable to him.
Why would I choose to be accountable to a mentor, especially in a non work setting? Well, think about what happens when we are accountable, when we choose to give an accounting of what we have done and the results. At those times, there is no ambiguity. Clarity is the name of the game; we are clear on our actions and the outcomes. The impending clarity also brings with it an urgency and an intentionality in those actions.
Perhaps if he, my mentor, and I could find ways to create authentic accountability I could see even greater gains in my progress in all facets of my life. How might we go about this? I’m not sure of the specifics, but I’m sure it really only requires two things. The first is time. Time spent together, communicating, sharing what is going on, what is going well, what is going poorly, and what improvements I wish to see. Remember, it is the mentors job to provide counsel, but my job to select and guide the process in the directions I wish to go.
The second ingredient is honesty. It will do bo good to be in a mentoring relationship and be anything less than transparent. If I am willing tomeet my mentorat that level, there is a chance that the power of accountability can start to be unleashed in my life.
It’s certainly something to think about.

If you have a mentor in your life, consider unleashing the power of accountability in your relationship. If you don’t yet have a mentor, consider finding one and taking advantage of that powerful relationship to aid you in your quest to become a man of style and substance.

Go forth and conquer!

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Simplicity: The Soul of Substance and Style

Years ago, while attending a course on career development, one of the attendees glibly mentioned that they had heard the phrase, “If you can’t put your idea on a business card, you don’t have a clear idea!”  I remember thinking to myself, “That is both profound and improbable!”  Some ideas are really complex, and sometimes a business card is a little too small.  Could something of any real value be communicated on the back of a business card?

I’ve wondered that many times in my life.  Beyond a website address, a phone number (for texting of course) and an address (for use with google maps for directions) the back of a business card seems pretty insufficient.

I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the statement, and about the size of a business card.  For a while, my solution was to get a bigger business card, specifically having 3×5 cards printed with my name and relevant contact information.  I thought that, with this, I could give myself a larger amount of space on which to write my ideas.

However, as time has progressed, I have come to think differently on this statement.  I have come to see this statement as an invitation to simplicity.  

Life is funny.  It starts simple, becomes complex and, I’m told, becomes simple again.  It’s simple when we are developing the fundamental skills of being a person, of learning to exist with our fellow human beings; simplicity is a hallmark of innocence and childhood.  As we grow, we learn about complexity and compromise.  We learn that maintaining simplicity is challenging at best.  But if we are very, very fortunate, we can hold on to some simple things throughout our lives.

My livelihood has been built around taking complex ideas and finding ways to simplify them so that others can absorb them more easily and quickly.  Complexity enters quickly enough, but when the simplicity can be remembered, problems and challenges can be seen in a different light.  They become more solvable, more approachable.  Like knowledge and wisdom, complexity and simplicity are two sides of the same coin.

Back to the statement of putting an idea on the back of a business card, I have learned that there are a good many clear ideas that need more space than that allows.  But simplicity, even if it takes more space, is desirable.  Simplicity, in both Style and Substance is something that can be pursued, found and embraced.  In Substance, it might be epitomized by a quote, a saying, or a poem.  In Style, it might be found in a perfection of form and function.  Hence, my frequent searches on Pinterest, Google and through seemingly endless magazines.  I’m searching for examples of simplicity.  I’ve found many, and each time I find one that speaks to me it gets added to a list.  Some of them have survived for a very long time.  Others come and go.  But all of them help me appreciate the search for the next expression of Style and Substance in their simplest forms.

If this has been useful for you, consider sharing it.  Better yet, consider how you might summarize it on the back of a business card.  Either way, make it a magnificent day!

Go forth and conquer.

Thoughts at a funeral

I’ve been attending a lot more funerals lately.  Iguess it’s just part of growing older.  As I age, so do my compatriots, and the inevitability of death and the accompanying funerals becomes a reality.  But I’ve been surprised at something about the process;  I am really starting to like funerals!

To be fair, I don’t mean that in any kind of a macabre manner.  What I mean is, funerals have gone from being permeated by a sense of loss to being infused with a sense of joy.  Joy for the life lived, for the memories shared, and for the richness in my life that I enjoy because of the relationship shared.

To be sure, some are more difficult than others.  A dear friend who passed away suddenly while still fairly young was harder than the funeral for a mentor and hero who lived to his nineties.  And when there is pain and illness that preceded the passing, we can take solace in the alleviation if the suffering even while.dealing with the grief.

It is also worth noting that the funeral is only one day, one moment in the grieving process.  There are still lots of days of sorrow and loss that follow.  But the funeral itself, that has become more sweet than bitter.

The most recent funeral I attended was for a long time hero and inspiration for me.  Much of this srvice was centered around how this man lived his life, the legacy of love and service that he lived and left for us to remember and follow.  It brought to mind an exercise that I did last year while.working with a group of young professionals.  We spoke of identifying values to live life by, and as part of the exercise we asked them to consider the question, “What type of legacy do you wish to be remembered for?”

Some of the attendees expressed concern about whether or not they could.makr this legacy materialize.  They were so concerned with the vagaries and possibilities if life getting in the way and distracting them that they had little confidence in their chosen direction becoming a reality.

I have come to feel that a legacy is not something to be pursued as much as it is something to be allowed to develop.  It will develop from the daily, regular choices made throughout life.  Said another way, as we strive to live a life of substance, the legacy will take care of itself.

Stop. Breathe. Smile. Act

We’ve all feel it. The pace of our modern world is oppressive. We drive and are driven from place to place, from task to task, and frequently at breakneck speeds. It is not uncommon today to see job postings that announce a fast paced work environment and that the ideal candidate must be able to handle rapid and frequent change. During gatherings we may hear friends and acquaintances describing the long hours and aggressive travel schedules that have had them too busy to enjoy life.

There are two ways to look at this situation.

One is with resistance, wishing for things to slow down, to harken back to a time when communities were smaller, when people spoke to each other more, when busyness wasn’t a badge of honor. I’m not sure when that was. Perhaps 50 years ago, perhaps a hundred, perhaps more. Perhaps before the invention of the television, or talking movies, or automobiles. And if we are being honest with ourselves, this is not a promising option.

The other option is to look at the situation with a mindset of adaptation, figuring out how to work within the parameters of the system to become its master, rather than being mastered by it. This is the one that I strive to take, and I recommend it to every man of style and substance.

I’m busy. I have a full time job, am very committed to my church, I perform frequently with local theater groups, I have regularly taught at the local college or university, I have a thriving and active family including teenagers, I participate as a panelist on a podcast for which I am always reading. Oh, and I write a blog!

Yup, I’m busy. And yet I find time to get things done, to be useful and responsible to all of these different areas and their expectations.

I have learned to adapt.

Allow me to share part of my strategy for adapting to the press of busyness. It’s really a simple four step process, and it works particularly well when I find myself on the verge of feeling overwhelmed.

Step 1 – Stop! I allow myself to stop for a moment. I assess what is happening. I try to listen to the messages that are being sent by my body. Am I feeling hurried, rushed, anxious? I listen to the feelings for a moment, resisting the urge to brush them away. Just feel them, for a moment.

Step 2 – Breathe. While I am feeling all of the feelings that come with the busyness of your life, I take in a breath. I hold it for just a moment, and relish in the feeling of absolute control. I control how long I hold my breath! That is wonderful. It is me, being in complete control of one aspect of my life, complete control for that one moment in time. Then I breathe out, recognizing and thinking on the fact that being busy is a gift. It means that my contribution is valued, that I am making a difference in the lives of others. I sometimes take in a second and even a third breath, holding it for just a moment, and as I release each breath I take time to think of all the things in my life for which I am grateful, like a family, friends, employment.

Step 3 – Smile! I have found in my life that there are few things that make me feel positive as quickly as intentionally smiling. Smile is a simple act of muscle control. Again, it is me being in complete control of an aspect of my life. I can exert complete control over my facial expression. And I can choose to make that expression a confident, inviting one! Confident for my place in the world, inviting of others and their positive influence in my life.

Step 4 – ACT! Once I have regained my center, I am ready to take action again, ready to meet the challenges of a busy day, a busy week, a busy life head on!

This little series of steps is something that I perform, intentionally, several times a day, more frequently when I am feeling anxious or inadequate. It is a chance for me to re-affirm that I can control one thing. And if I can control one, I can influence others. And that, after all, is what being a man of style and substance is all about.

What do you think of this little plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Go Forth and Conquer!

Extending the Holiday Season

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “The Secret of Christmas.” Are you familiar with it?

The little gift you send, on Christmas Day

Will not bring back the friend, you turned away

So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas

It’s not the things you do, at Christmas time

But the Christmas things you do all year through

I think for me that sums up how I feel about the season. We’ve all experienced it. During the holiday season, the people you wait in line with aren’t nearly as aggravating. Total strangers will open doors and smile and give you a pleasant greeting. When you drop items people are right there ready to help you pick them up. It seems that, no matter the setting, people are kinder, more patient and more pleasant during Christmas time.

And then most of us go back to being solidly within our own little world as soon as New Year’s has come. Why is that? If we appreciate the little kindnesses and graciousness of people during the Christmas season, why can’t we keep it with us any longer than one month out of the year.

This year I think I’m going to try something different. I’m going to try to extend the Christmas season and little bit. I’m not going to do anything particularly grand, like leave the tree and decorations up (though I think there’s nothing wrong with that) I’m just going to do two things to try to stretch out the season.

First, I’m going to keep candy canes around. If there is a more universal symbol of the holidays, I’m not sure what it might be. The candy cane is recognizable, consumable, and eminently affordable. It is symbolic on many levels and, perhaps most important, it is almost impossible to eat one without smiling! In my mind, candy canes are an easy way to extend the season.

The second is likely to draw a little more attention.

Like many people, I have a collection of hat and lapel pins. I started collecting them years ago around special occasions and activities. One of the pins that I have been given is of a Santa hat. It is a hat pin, but could easily be worn on a lapel for a suit or on a pocket of a dress shirt. It can be worn on a jacket, sweater or vest without seeming out of place. It is a little thing, but it is an intentional thing. I’m going to wear that Santa hat pin as often as I reasonably can. And when people ask me about it, I will simply share with them that line from “The Secret of Christmas,” and let them know that I am trying to do Christmas things all year through. And then I will wish them a Merry Christmas.

I think some people will be taken aback by my plan. I think I will find some people choosing to take offense at my actions. I think some will wonder if I have taken leave of my senses. But if I can keep myself in the holiday spirit, perhaps I can be an influence for kindness and patience in the lives of those around me. And that is certainly worth any little efforts that I might have to make.

What do you think of my plan? Feel free to leave comments below.

Go Forth and Conquer!

Creating substance through traditions

Are you looking to bring some more substance to your holiday observance?  Consider the traditions that you observe.  

Like many other people that I know, I observe a lot of traditions with the advent of the holiday season.  My family and I celebrate Christmas and the New Year with fervor and gusto!  The season begins the day after Thanksgiving and goes until about a week into the new year.  Some of the traditions that we enjoy are shared with multitudes of people around the world, such as decorations, carols and the exchanging of gifts.  Some of them are a little more selective and specific to our family, such as watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and the annual “No-Lip-Sync-Christmas-Song” that we do for our family party.

A tradition can be defined as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  Looked at in this way, a man of style and substance might ask, “What customs or beliefs am I passing on?  What values are being encouraged and preserved in the activities and choices that are repeated from year to year?”  

For myself, I have been asking that question a lot this year.  I’ve been wondering about the gifts we give.  Like many families, Santa was a vigorous part of our Christmas celebrations while the children were little.  And while he continues to be present, he has begun to take a back seat in our observance.  However, his penchant for delivering toys, entertainments and amusements has not diminished in the slightest.  Toys, Games, Electronics, DVD’s and CD’s have been staple fare for our family for some time.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of these things.  They are a part of the holiday make up.  And I am not campaigning for their removal from the holiday pantheon.  However, I have found myself asking the question, “Is there something I can do to pass on a more thoughtful disposition?  Is the holiday of peace best celebrated by a first-person-shooter video game?”  I’m not the first to raise these questions, and I am sure I won’t be the last.  

I have, however, found an answer.  

This year, I will be giving books.

Oh, there will still be a Nintendo Switch under the tree, some headphones, a couple of DVD cases and the rest.  But the gifts that I am giving to my children will be books.  Not ebooks, valuable as they may be, convenient as they may be, but books.  Real books.  Books bought at a bookstore, selected from shelves full of options all positioned for my attention, purchased from a cashier at a sales register after standing in line with other shoppers.  Allow me to share with you the values that I feel this has helped me appreciate.

The first is gratitude, an appreciation of my place in history.  Less than 500 years ago, a book store like I enjoyed would be impossible of.  Even 100 years ago, finding a place full of books might require a journey to a large population center.  But this week, I simply drove a few miles from my house.  From the invention of the printing press to the evolution of modern transportation technologies, this is a magnificent time to live.  Climate control allows me to move among the shelves in comfort and ease,  and my purchases are brought home and ready to be wrapped.

The second is permanence, an appreciation for things that last.  A book represents an investment, a purchase in something that is not going to be consumed and forgotten.  A book is also something that requires space and time, not just to read, but to keep.  It becomes a physical reminder of the change that we undergo when we read.  A book is far more substantial than a plastic disk, and far more robust in many ways. Truly a book is a symbol of permanence.

The third is legacy, an appreciation for wisdom obtained and passed on.  Books are a wonderful source of entertainment.  I  have read hundreds for just that reason!  However, I have noticed that when I think on the books that I prize, the books that I recommend, the books that I quote from, I notice that they did more than just entertain me.  Books that make me think, that challenge my assumptions, that elegantly discuss the struggles of the human condition become something more than entertainment.  They become art!  They become a source of inspiration to me, helping me in my efforts to become more thoughtful, more compassionate, more patient with myself and with others.  In short, they help me in my quest to become a man of style and substance.

Traditions are a part of life on many levels.  During the holidays, some traditions ennoble and some entertain.  Perhaps in starting a tradition of giving books, I can start a tradition that does both.  Perhaps you will join me.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.  

Go forth and … Celebrate!

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!