Today

Men model hats in Pitt Street for city hatters 1 november 1934 by Ernie Bowen
About two months ago I bought a day planner. Handheld. Old school. The calendar I was using on my smartphone failed me on a few occasions. I had missed appointments, I had appointments in my digital calendar scheduled for the wrong time, or the wrong day, and one appointment that I swore I typed into my smart phone calendar had simply vanished. I was so embarrassed by all of it. It’s one thing to make a human error, but a human error aided by a computerized device became too much to bear, so I went analog and found a terrific day planner that helps me keep track of all of my appointments, just like the old days.

You make me feel so young.
Being a retro kind of guy, I love the tactile, nostalgic nature of putting pen to paper. I love smelling the whiff of new pages. I like seeing the unexplored landscape of empty days fill with events I look forward to. Being a visual artist, I like seeing the architecture of my days and months build and grow inside this neat little book. I learned the art of keeping a calendar from my parents. My mom, to this day, charts important appointments on a wall calendar that hangs in her kitchen. My dad, the ultimate life-hacker, crafts his own day planner using a standard notebook. Since returning to the written method of scheduling, I find the act of writing down dates and appointments better ingrains the story of my life as it unfolds. I find it easier, and more fun, to keep my life productive and timely. I also experience more clarity about the things that are important to me. When I write an appointment down, there’s a level of personal commitment I’m establishing, more so than typing into my digital device with its predictive typing. Talk about living life by route; trusting the effortless ease of autopilot scheduling was the culprit in my missing those appointments. My planner engages my awareness while I’m mapping my activities, which makes me eager to greet both the far future, and the days ahead.

Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.
Believe it or not, we’re halfway through this year. Because it’s July, my day planner has a two-page exercise that asks me to reflect on the past six months. It encourages me to think about goals that were accomplished, or unaccomplished, lessons learned, and to redefine my goals for the next six months to come. Yeah. One of those kind of planners. Truth is, it’s a perfectly valid question – helpful even. How have things been going these past six months, and how do I want things to go in the future? In the digital age, time moves quickly. It feels like January was yesterday, and December feels like it will be next week. In our house, we joke around saying how in three hours we have to go out and buy a Christmas tree. Time feels that fast! So I’m taking this reflection exercise seriously. After reading this, maybe you will too.

For me, the past six months have been a hit list of highs and lows in every area of life. A career high, a health low, a family high, and romantic relationship low, a financial low, a health insurance low, a student loan low, a physical pain low, a dream deferred low, a diet low, a fitness low, low, low, low….whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! With this recent string of lows, it’s tempting to think that this low life pattern will be any different in the future. The disappointing pattern keeps me stalled when I want to be moving forward in life. If a low gets followed by another low, then followed by yet another low, isn’t it possible that a low will follow that low, and another low will follow that one too? Of course one can beat the odds and hit a high, but how many lows will that take?!

A New Thought
Years ago, a spiritual teacher shared with me a phrase that helps me ease stress when a pattern of misfortune seems set in motion: Up until now. The phrase helps me to shift my attention to thinking of misfortune as finite, as opposed to perpetual. It’s a stopgap that allows me just enough time to reframe the story of my life. Up until now, I’ve had a string of misfortune. Up until now, I’ve made lousy eating choices. Up until now, I’ve felt so trapped by the pressure of my student loan. You get the picture.

There’s an addendum to the phrase: Moving forward. Moving forward, I can be present with myself when it comes to making choices. Moving forward, I can pay attention to what my body needs, not what it craves. Moving forward, I can remind myself I’m smart enough to handle my student loan.

Today
Between the six months that have passed, and the six months ahead, I realize my planner has given me the gift of Today. Up until now, the past six months have been a roller coaster ride of twists and turns with exciting highs, utter confusions and meaningful revelations. Moving forward, I have six months worth of days, weeks, hours and minutes to learn from those twists and turns. Six months to fill with events and activities that will allow me to celebrate life, make progress on my bigger dreams, or simply spend time being a person in the world, trying to make the world a better place.

“Music is the space in between the notes.”    – Claude Debussy

Up until now, I felt like life was moving so fast, but moving forward, I can see how life has plenty of opportunities to experience the beauty in the journey. I’m going to take more responsibility for showing up for my life, and not rely so heavily on my smartphone to live life for me. Toting around a day planner like it’s the 1990s may not be the right fit for everyone, but it’s the right fit for me; at least right now. Who knows, maybe in six months I’ll go back to my digital ways, but today, I love how present and engaged it makes me feel, and isn’t that an important part of the journey?

*The planner I have is called Passion Planner. I researched other motivational type planners and this one suited me best in style and content. Maybe you’ll like it too. Check it out at www.PassionPlanner.com

Humor

Laughing man

Did I ever tell you about the time I taught a college course in a city outside of NYC? What I thought would be a class size of 16 to 20 students turned out to be a class size of 119 students. You read that right…119. I’ll spell it out for you, one-hundred-and-nineteen students. Yes it felt as overwhelming as it sounds. It even ballooned to 127 students, and then whittled back down to a steady one, one, nine. Listen, I’ve performed on stage in front of thousands of people, but for some reason this assignment was very intimidating. I wasn’t so worried about me standing in front of an arena of students. I was worried about how these students were expecting me to make the class experience worth their time, their money, their student loans, and relocation from families. I wanted so much to help them advance their understanding of themselves and the world we live in. I took to heart my responsibility to help them become contributing and productive members of the working world. My worries gave me enormous pressure, and fright. I didn’t help myself by making some classic rookie teaching errors, which made my situation even more overwhelming. For example, yours truly had the “genius” idea to assign them weekly writing assignments based on the reading material. Easy enough for them because it was only a 200 word written response: Difficult for me because over 100 students were handing in these 200-word response papers every week. I was constantly reading papers. My weekends were not my own. I thought I would crash and burn.

Situation Comedy
In week three of class I was on the phone telling a friend about my teaching situation. He said quite simply, “That sounds rough. Try to look at your situation with a little humor.” Those last 10 words were a lifesaver, and a game changer. When I started to look at my teaching situation from a humorous point of view, I felt tremendous relief. You know those funny movie trailers that take a horror film like ‘The Shining’ and turn it into a romantic summer comedy called ‘Shining’? That’s what it felt like. With a sense of humor, I was looking at my terrifying teaching situation with new perspective. I saw myself as the leading player in a situation comedy. (Welcome Back, Kotter Christopher?)

Leave It To Christopher
I adopted an acronym for myself: WWLBD. What would Lucille Ball do? Lucille Ball is by far the funniest person of all situation comedies. I started to approach my teaching semester like Lucy. She had this ease and confidence when stepping into a seemingly simple situation of a harebrained idea. At the ramp up, when she realized she was in way over her head, she dived in even further, getting into bigger trouble while never giving up. After a few laughs, and a return to order in either triumph or failure, it made for an entertaining story.

Lucy shows us that humor is our greatest tool to combat any downward spiral. Humor demands that we let go of our fear of expectations, and our regret about past mistakes. Anger and apathy evaporate in the face of humor. Or they exacerbate, which is kind of funny too. To cultivate a life of health and handsome, we employ a sense of humor to help perceive the light in the darkness – regardless of what shit-show stands before us just now. Because humor requires full awareness, we easily do with amusement what eventually a process of psychological analysis can help us understand.

Always Look On The Funny Side Of Life
What I learned is you can’t control life’s circumstances from making you the lead player of your worst nightmare, but when it does, trust that you’re strong enough to allow yourself to be the punch line of life’s little joke. If it helps, think of your situation in terms of the set-up of a funny story:

     “A guy walks into an argument…”
     “How many applications does it take to get into grad school?”
     “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Your credit score.”
     “Why did the ex-wife cross the road?”
     “Who’s the chucklehead who forgot to pick up dinner on the way home?
         (Thumbs pointing to self.) THIS guy!”

With all of the styles of humor out there, there’s bound to be one that fits you and your situation. See your situation as a Carol Burnett sketch, or a Cary Grant movie, or a Pee Wee adventure, and make a vow that you are going to turn your story into one that will earn you a few laughs over a drink with friends.

As a wit once said, a good story should have a beginning, a muddle,
and an end.”  -George Will

But Seriously, Folks….
Not every situation deserves to be deflected with a joke. Some situations require the sincere reverence of gravity, and they have the right to be heard with all of the honest dread or grief that one feels. Humor doesn’t solve the crisis, but it can relieve a little pressure allowing you to see a bigger picture and think more freely in a solution-oriented manner. Have hope that there is a lighthearted, heart-affirming reason for all hurt and disappointment, and don’t let anger or fear keep you from shutting down from life. Embrace life with an open mind, a witty point of view, and a good chuckle or two. Enjoy being the star of your own real-life sitcom…. minus the multi-million dollar pay scale. (Cue sad trombone sound.) Wah, wah, wah, waaaah.

The Kicker (Alternate funny set ups that I couldn’t let go.)

     “A guy walks into an overflowing classroom….”
     “How many students does it take to screw up your grading system?”
     “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “119 students.”
     “Why did the teacher make a mad dash across the road?”
     “Who’s the chucklehead who handed out the wrong syllabus? THIS guy!”

Connection

The Reduction Belittle

What is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness? A little self-reflection revealed to me my greatest weakness is a pair of vices – my arrogance and my pride. My arrogance is a little voice within that says, “I don’t need to read the instructions; I can figure this out on my own.” My pride is a little voice that stops me from asking for help when I find myself in a sticky spot, even when help is readily available. In these moments I try to forgive myself because even though these traits are annoying, they really are well meaning. Their intention comes from the desire to express my independence and exercise personal power, yet the effect of arrogance and pride creates distance and isolation, which ultimately leads to some form of despair.

Pride & Arrogance
Between arrogance and pride, I find an arrogant mindset creates the most roadblocks on the journey of health and handsome. When we think of arrogant people, we perhaps think of a self-righteous authority figure, like some fashion diva, Wall Street bully, high achieving athlete, or real estate mogul. These are the obvious personalities. Arrogance is not always an overt display. It can be subtle erosion, separating one from others, or worse, separating one from his higher life condition. Arrogance appears in everyday guys like myself, and in the most mundane everyday situations. We experience it standing in line at the store, when it feels like everyone…is moving……so………..slowly. We experience it when we’re in transit with other commuters and everyone seems to be in the way. We experience it every time we criticize the lives of friends, co-workers and relatives, comparing who they are with who we think they could be, if only they (fill in the blank). Granted we always want the best for our loved ones, but sometimes we ignore who they really are by regretting how they don’t match up to the dream we have of them in our head. What if we accepted their weight, their timing, their level of ambition, or their business sense? What if we stopped pointing out what’s not working and kept pointing out the ways in which they are actually awesome people? (Note: I said accept who they are, not cast a blind eye.)

It’s A Tragedy
Arrogance is the expectation that everything should go my way, which when it doesn’t leads to resistance from me. It’s the condition of thinking that I know more than I actually do, or the feeling that I deserve more at no cost. It’s the opinion that I’m ahead of or above someone else. Or the opposite – I’m far below someone, more than I “deserve” to be, which creates resentment. The backlash of an arrogant attitude is basically a pessimist’s bulldozer, belittling and crushing every detail that lay in my path. The funny thing is when I’m in an arrogant mindset, I usually believe that I’m stepping into my power, expressing a thought that by all free rights is my own opinion, when actually I’m feeding the thoughts that amount to my superior uniqueness. It’s a tragic uniqueness because it holds me back from seeing what is actually beautiful in the situation as it is.

The Opposite of Arrogance
What is the opposite of arrogance? Humility? Meekness? Empathy? Service? Connection? Ah, ha! If arrogance is the mindset of my own self-importance, the opposite of an arrogant mindset is connection, the act of relating to others. If arrogance is the venom of my self-important thoughts, the antidote is in exercising compassion and care by eliminating judgments. I have so many blessings in life, and those blessings are the manifestation of the connections I was able to make, building bridges of relatability to other people, places or things. Connections bring benefit.

What’s So Special About You?
Sometimes when I’m feeling a wave of arrogance coming on, I’ll think to myself, in a very haughty tone, “What’s so special about you?” I use it as a tool of humor, to level the playing field, sweep the deck clean, then take an approach that’s more understanding and less critical. What else can I do to combat my arrogant mindset when it arises? When I’m feeling self-important, I can remind myself that I share this world with others. When it creates apathy, I can exercise care. When it creates a division I can seek similarities between others and myself. When it creates distance, I can contribute to my community and the world, thinking more about how I can be a pleasure to others, and less about how people, places and things are meant to please me. I can keep my mind open and curious, and seek ways to relate and connect to the world around me.

I am no better or worse than anyone. I am no better or worse than anything.
I am no better or worse than any place on earth.

 

Simple Plan

liturgical-calendar

For the past few years I’ve thrown out the traditional concept of a New Year’s resolution and developed a simple plan for new habits. It’s an awareness tool for encouraging mindful choices that month-by-month, over the course of the year, help me move the needle of joy in significant and sometimes surprising ways.

My simple plan for last year looked like this:

The Simple Plan for New Habits, 2015
January: Action
February: Availability
March: Reduce Debt
April: Plan Weekly and Daily
May: Self-Compassion
June: Healthier Food Options
July: Meditation
August: Fitness
September: Excellence
October: Unclutter
November: Contentment
December: Appreciation

A simple list indeed with rather run-of-the-mill ideals. However, as I review my intention for each habit, I can see where I had to do what I call “heavy lifting.” For instance, in the month of February I wanted to focus on Availability. A simple enough concept: reflect on how, and if, I make myself available for the people and things that mean the most to me. But boy, oh, boy, I wasn’t prepared for the secondary discovery of the ways I make myself too available for that which I have little to no passion. I made many tough decisions about letting go that month.

Measure of Success
Overall I was successful in finding growth each month in each habit. Am I perfect in these habits? Heck, no! But I keep improving on these habits by giving them some routine attention.

Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.
-Émile Coué

A Plan Is Just A Beginning
We usually think of a plan as having every detail spelled out, like a map depicting the beginning, middle and end of a journey. Yet when following a map you can only travel one street at a time, and you never know the detours or roadblocks lurking ahead on your real-time journey. A plan can be a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. A plan is also an intention about what one is going to do. The jumping off point, the directive, and a call to action that gets the show on the road.

This week I made a list of habits I want to practice throughout this year. I assigned one habit to each month, so my new list looks like this:

The Simple Plan For New Habits, 2016
January:         Gym Time
February:       Optimism
March:            Sleep
April:               Reduce Debt
May:                Personal Style
June:              Concentration
July:                Drink Water
August:           Eat Healthy
September:   Spend Time Outdoors
October:         Declutter
November:     Commitment
December:     Appreciation

I have other habits that I want to focus on like Resilience, Forgiveness, and Presence, but my new list is more than enough. I will grow in 12 different ways which makes me very excited about this year!

Here are short descriptions of my monthly intentions:

January: Gym Time
A traditional start to a new year, I know. In the past I’ve focused on Fitness or Physical Health, but this year I’m being super specific by writing Gym Time because I want to pay attention to strength training. Sweat today, smile tomorrow.

February: Optimism
I’m a New Yorker living in New York City with other New Yorkers; consistent Optimism is a daily challenge.

March: Sleep
So much physical healing, mental healing, and even weight loss happens while sleeping, and so many unhealthy habits are fostered with lack of sleep, like poor eating habits and spending choices.

April: Reduce Debt
Since I’ll be thinking about finances during tax season, I’m giving myself the additional task of reviewing where I shepherd my money, and strategize how to chip away at some residual debt.

May: Personal Style
No, this doesn’t mean a month of clothes shopping! This requires some soul searching for the genuine true expression of my self, versus a trend, mask or copycat of someone else’s sense of expression. What’s the barometer of my taste? How do I express myself in life and work? What’s my style of executing ideas and solving problems?

June: Concentration
Concentration is the most important tool I discovered during 2015, and I want to dive further into this skill and its power.

July: Drink Water
For seven years my doctor has scolded me about being dehydrated. I’m determined to understand why I’m not drinking enough water.

August: Eat Healthy
Of course this is something I want to think about all year, but during this month I will give extra focus on what I choose to put in my mouth and in my body. Like, real food, not processed food.

September: Spend Time Outdoors
Sometimes I want to dump my laptop into the East River. Sure, it’s a tool for productivity, but it can also be a distraction. When I think about the pre-computer age ways I would educate and entertain myself…. sigh… so much tactile and imaginative stimulation unengaged. I want to tip the scales from computer screen time to either spending time in nature’s scenery or seeing city sites.

October: Declutter
Every year in October I participate in a decluttering game by letting go of belongings that I’ve outgrown, out-loved, or outstayed their value and purpose.

November: Commitment
This month I will think about what I’m committing to, and to what extent. How I honor my commitments and where I’m overcommitting. (I predict this will be a heavy lifting month.)

December: Appreciation
This is a month to reflect on the year 2016, and demonstrate thankfulness for the people, places and things that have benefited my life.

One Month At A Time
I’m constantly surprised how much ground I can cover by focusing on one theme at a time. The-clock-is-ticking factor infuses a sense of urgency in the effort knowing I have limited days to give each theme some thought. And, after being so focused on one theme I find I look forward to a new month and diving into the next area of growth. It may seem all planned out, but remember, a plan is just a jumping off point. After that come the discoveries.

Make Your Own Kind Of Plan
You can create your own simple plan of new habits to focus on in 2016. Here’s how I created mine:

1. Brain Dump.
The purpose of a brain dump is to get your thoughts onto a piece of paper. It’s like emptying your pockets at the end of the day and looking at what you’ve been carrying around. Write down, or type up a list of habits you would like to focus on. Don’t think about it too much. Give yourself a time limit, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes at the most. The list may be long, like four year’s worth of habits to consider, but get them all on paper. Make the list a mix of ideals: health, education, social, personality traits, financial ideals, virtues, vices, temptations, goals and gains. This is my favorite part of the process!

2. Choose the top 12 habits for the year.
Again, don’t overthink it. The purpose of a simple plan is to get started, not to find perfection. Either the perfect 12 habits will reveal themselves very easily, or the 12 habits you pick will become the perfect things to focus on. Regardless, on December 31st, 2016, you’ll have no regrets. I promise.

3. Assign a habit to each month.
You can be strategic by assigning particular habits to particular months, i.e., Relationships in February. Choose a few months to match with specific habits but don’t overthink it.

4. Design your blueprint.
I type my list then print it out on a 4×6 note card. I tape the list on the wall above my desk so I can remember each month’s habit. I also keep the list on my mobile phone so it’s handy and nearby. You can write yours into your wall calendar, day planner, or whatever system you think would work best for you while keeping the process fun.

5. Measure your growth.
A word of advice; concentrate on your successes. First, and foremost, focus on where you improved in your habit over the course of the month. Pat yourself on the back. Do an end zone dance. Give yourself a mental high five, and then move on to the next habit. Make note of how you dropped the ball only to identify your pitfalls. The only way to fail the Simple Plan is if you don’t try at all.

6. Have fun with it.
When you look at your list it should excite you, causing you to say, I like the person I will become through developing these habits! Be creative with the process. Keep it simple. Keep inspiring yourself to aspire to new growth.

Share Your Inspiration
When we share our intentions to improve our habits, the accountability factor is high. It’s what I call getting on the high wire. Everyone is watching you do the derring-do. How deeply can we mine our intentions? How high can we elevate our awareness of our personal habits? What is the wealth of information we can learn about ourselves month to month?

I’m curious to know what your goals for 2016 will be. If you create a Simple Plan for New Habits, please share it with me. I will be part of your “rah, rah” cheerleading squad!

I’m sure I’ll have reflections to share about discoveries made throughout the year. Maybe they will make good writing material. But, hey, I won’t plan on it.

Straightforward

Gene and Fred Tuck

“I’m trying to read between the lines of what you’re saying.” This is a sentence, word for word, from one of my colleagues. It was a smack in the face because lately I’ve been challenging myself to be more straightforward in my communication. Her response showed me I still fall short with directness, so I’m giving it some thought.

Being straightforward means being uncomplicated and easy to understand. Honest and frank. In the past I didn’t always feel safe or secure enough to share my thoughts as explicitly as I could. Being a Midwestern guy, or rather being a Midwestern gay guy, or rather still, being a Midwestern gay guy of color, I felt the stings and dangers of being open with my thoughts and feelings. So, in a survivalist sort of way, my style of communication became a less straightforward approach. I learned to test the waters of a conversation with warm-up words and surface talk before sharing any deep thoughts. I developed tactics to shield myself from shame, embarrassment, or harassment. I could artfully dodge conversations with topics that made me feel less vulnerable. I would speak in code so as not to overexpose my differentness. I would butch up my behavior when really all I felt inside was giddy. I would highlight my sense of humor to draw attention away from what I felt were my flaws. These social strategies were my protection, but they also created barriers to connecting more directly with others in meaningful ways.

Communication Style
Growing up, we learn to communicate based on examples and expectations of our families and social communities. When we find acceptance in communicating our thoughts, we practice that communication style like choreography until the steps become a sure-footed routine. When we have goofs in conversation we try to avoid repeating those missteps, adapting our instincts in order to fit in. Conversation by conversation we practice the acceptable steps and dodge the missteps. Conversation by conversation we develop our personal communication style, which is either as graceful as ballet, expressive like a modern dance, as assertive as hip-hop, or entertaining like a tap dance.

To dance around an issue means to improvise in order to avoid the immediate question or issue. When problem solving, tap dancing around the heart of an issue is not helpful to either party. By laying a bed of verbal flowers, before getting to the awful part, we send the nonverbal message that everything is okay, even though we’re feeling quite uneasy. It’s confusing and it sends a mixed message. By getting to the awful part sooner, it gives everyone a chance to be on the same page without having to read between the lines. We’re being clear about where we are, and we’re also setting in motion a more direct solution to our problems.

Gene and Fred Jump

“Let’s just be honest. Even if it’s yucky we’ll get past it.”
-Lisa Adams

Don’t bury the lead, lead with the lead.
In journalism, the lead is considered the most important details or information of a story. To bury the lead means to share secondary details first, postponing the more essential facts. It’s a common habit for guys to bury the lead, or flat out omit the important details altogether. We believe we’re saving time, saving face, or saving ourselves from the embarrassment of vulnerability, when actually we’re wasting time and missing out on beautiful opportunities for sincere connection with others.

One solution to avoid burying the lead is to BLUF. No, not bluff as in put up a false face. BLUF is an acronym for putting the Bottom Line Up Front, the bottom line being those most important details. Try it out: The next time you have some news to share, good or bad, start your sentence with the words “The bottom line is….”, then fill in the blank. You might sound like you’re stepping into a 1930’s black & white movie, but I can’t think of a more straightforward way of getting to the point of your wishes, dreams, joys and pains. If it feels weird to say aloud, just think the thought, “The bottom line is…”, and see where it leads you. Still need some help with a straightforward approach? Borrow a lesson I learned from my niece. When it comes to putting the tough topics first, her advice is to “Rip it off like a Band-Aid.”

How Will They Know
The straightforward approach isn’t just about sharing the things that hurt the most. It’s also about sharing what means the most to you. I was telling a friend how frustrated I am that my parents often ask questions about my work, health and friends, but they don’t ask questions about my dating life. So what if there’s nothing to report. (And quite frankly the conversation might make me squirm in my seat…at first.) But it’d be nice if they showed at least a delicate interest. In talking with my friend, his response was “How will they know it’s important to you unless you tell them.” I wanted to kick his shins for being so right. As parents, my mom and dad are superheroes, but reading minds is not a required parenting skill. How will they know what’s important to me unless I tell them? It’s unfair to hold a grievance with anyone if you don’t share what grieves you. The bottom line is I have to rip it off like a Band-Aid and do my fair share of sharing.

Trust Yourself
The more we practice being straightforward the more we learn to trust ourselves and trust the validity of our thoughts and points of view. As a youngster, I learned how to protect myself socially, but today I don’t have to protect what’s true for me. I don’t need to perform a 40 second soft-shoe to express the dreams, joys and pains that are meaningful to me. By tap-dancing around the important information we delay any potential harm, but we also delay the love and healing that follows.

To dance in the cross winds of a judgmental society and the imposing beliefs of others is an act of courage and inspiration. When we are straightforward with our thoughts and feelings, we open up to the possibility of developing a unique and intimate folk dance with those we love.

*P.S. Of all the things I learned to do, I’m so glad I learned how to dance. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were my ultimate dance idols. It’s impossible to choose a favorite. Gene danced with the spirit of every man. Fred danced with the spirit of the gods. When Gene danced it made me want to get up and try it because he made dancing look so easy and effortless. When Fred danced it made me want to sit down and learn because he was dancing the impossible with such ease. Gene made me feel connected to dance. Fred made me feel in awe of it. Together or alone, they are the spirit of Health & Handsome.

 

Have a thought to share? Feel free to leave comment. If you know someone who would appreciate a little Health & Handsome in their life, please consider forwarding this blog to them. 

Inspiration

vintage men making music

Inspirational Influence

I learn from the lives of others and I benefit from their inspirational influence. For example, while Gratitude Lists aren’t new or unique, a sincere and consistent practice of gratitude can be a challenge to maintain. Learning how others acknowledge their gratefulness inspires me to invest time and attention to my own gratitude practice. And for every person I speak with who keeps a Gratitude List, each has his or her own way of recording his or her inventory. When asked about my style of gratitude inventory, I offer my own take on the practice. My Gratitude List is not complete without a corresponding Appreciation List because I believe each inspires the other.

A dictionary teaches us that gratitude is the quality of being thankful. It also says it’s a readiness to show appreciation. I think of it like this: Gratitude is a profound regard for people, places and things that benefit my life. (I’m grateful for my home. I’m grateful for my enduring friendships.) Appreciation is how I benefit other people, places and things by increasing their value. (I appreciate my home by keeping it tidy. I appreciate my friends by sending them notes in the mail.) It’s a balance of feelings and actions. I feel grateful and I demonstrate appreciation.

Be grateful – show appreciation.

Inspiration works the same way. We feel inspired, and we share our inspirations with others.

 

Inspiration Absorption

Art museums and history museums are some of my favorite places on earth because they offer hours of inspiration absorption. It’s fascinating how people see inspiration in a landscape, architecture, or an object, and then interprets it as visual art or sculpture. I walk through museum doors and my imagination becomes transported with curiosity. I follow my inner compass of delight from room to room, exhibit to exhibit, absorbing the creativity. I absorb inspiration from the lives and lands depicted in paintings. I download details about unique historical cultural decorum. I soak up information about ancient tools and artifacts. Abstract works inspire me to embrace the unconventional aspects of life. I walk away feeling full of gratitude for the expressive work of others, but how do I show my appreciation of those great works. Just as appreciation is a counterbalance to gratitude, sharing inspiration through my own creativity balances the inspiration I receive from others. We rather owe it to ourselves to honor our inspirational influences by making creative influences of our own.

 

Creative Influence

While I’m not perfect at it, I strive for the balance of being open to receiving inspiration as well as being willing to inspire others. That’s the reason for Health & Handsome. I hope to share my resources of time, talent, influence, and creativity in ways that may inspire others to share their own. As global citizens, wouldn’t it be awesome to be engaged in an inspiration cycle by absorbing creativity, then sharing it with others, thereby inspiring them to share their gifts and resources. When we don’t fuel the cycle of creative influence it’s like listening to music without ever attempting to make music of your own. But I’m not a musician you may say. That’s not the point. The point is to allow the music we hear to turn into art. To let the art we see turn into stories. To allow the literature we read to turn into aspirations for personal growth. It’s the give and take, or rather the take then give that makes the cycle of inspiration inspiring.

 

One Sings While Other Dances

“One sings while other dances and they take turns in singing.” This is a quote from The Mythology of the Wichita, a collection of Native American folklore. It makes me think of the back and forth partnership of inspiration and action. Of gratitude and appreciation. Absorbing inspiration that fuel your soul into action can ignite a social movement, so allow inspiration to generate energy inside of you and then pour forth into the world. The great works inspire the small works, and in many ways the small works inspire the great works too. We can turn inspiration into art, music, dinner, a hug, a jig, or a new hairstyle. What inspires you? And what act of inspiration can you share to help make the world a better place? Your creative influence may inspire me into an act of aspiration, so don’t hold back!

 

 

 

 

Simplicity

vintage man1280

Simplicity in life means clarity, ease, and effortlessness. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Simple living is shaped by peoples’ particular needs and concerns. For one family, simple living means planning lunch and dinner a week in advance, while for another family it may mean preparing dinner based on what produce is at the farmer’s market that morning. For some people, simplicity means owning a tiny home. It may mean downsizing a wardrobe or a workload for others. What does simplicity look like for you? For the purposes of Health & Handsome I’ve been contemplating other ways to think about simplicity.

 

Simplicity is an act of trust.

Living in New York City, it’s very common to carry a bag, or backpack everywhere you go. I envied those guys who could walk around with their arms swinging by their side, or hands in their pockets, free from excess baggage in every meaning. My poor backpack would be filled to the gills with tech gadgets, gear, a book, a snack bar, pens & pencils, and a virtual medicine cabinet of toiletries. I even carried a change of shirt, just in case of something like a random coffee spill. Despite the weight of my carryall, I was ready for any emergency one could encounter while being on the go in NYC. In truth, I never, or very rarely, needed the things that I carried around with me. By having all of that ‘gear’, I thought I was being ready as a Boy Scout when actually I was living in fear. Fear that I would be without a tool or gadget when faced with some unforeseen need. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to help someone else if the occasion arose. I lacked self-trust that I could solve those day-to-day problems without arming myself with a bag full of solutions. I also lacked trust in the universal optimism that I could find creative solutions in the moment of need. When I learned to trust in a simpler lifestyle, I let go of the excess baggage and my fears of the unknown. Two important things to leave the house with are wisdom and a smile. You can’t get any simpler than that, and it’s a much lighter load.

 

We can practice simplicity in our thoughts.

The other night I was going home in a cab with my housemate Lisa, and the cab driver was in the wrong lane when entering our neighborhood. We ended up on a highway that took us in the opposite direction and through another borough before we could loop around to get back on track. What should have been a ten minute drive turned into a thirty minute journey. So many thoughts raced through my head. From the backseat I wanted to call the driver a few choice names regarding age and education. I wanted to scream and whine because I was exhausted and wishing I was home in my pajamas. I wanted to make sure Lisa didn’t yank the driver’s hair for outright ignoring her directions on which lane to take. My thoughts weren’t being helpful to the situation. They were too much so, for the sake of sanity, I decided to reduce those thoughts down to one. In that moment I remembered the simplest thought one can have for any situation or person or thing is Thank You. I made a list of thank yous: Thank you for this time to be with my dear friend Lisa. Thank you for the safety and warmth of this car. Thank you for the driver not showing any signs of anger or frustration, and for immediately performing goodwill by turning off the meter without being asked. Thank you for my home waiting for me at the end of this journey. Who or what was I thanking? Perhaps I was thanking the universe for a new perspective on simplifying. Simplicity of thought means nurturing only the thoughts that can serve a purposeful good.

 

We can find simplicity in time.

Recently I participated in a panel discussion for upcoming college graduates. We discussed and dissected the unpredictable transition from student life to the working world. They posed questions about balancing survival jobs with their true career pursuits, otherwise known as The Hustle. Listening to their situation, I reflected on what I learned about the importance of time management. I shared my lesson with them. Time management doesn’t mean organization. Time management means elimination. It’s rare to meet a person who can “do it all”, and do it all well with energy left to live, laugh and love. Simplicity of time means weeding the garden of your schedule. Like a garden, if you plant too many vegetables next to each other, they won’t have space to root and sprout. You have to make space in your day for the things you want to grow. Like a farmer choosing his crops, thoughtfully select your day-to-day activities. Make the garden of your time strategic and fruitful. Think about the harvest you hope to have at the end of the season, and plant and plan accordingly. Be judicious about what you’re willing to take on. Saying No to things that only partially excite you means more time to nurture the things that truly excite you.

 

Contentment is the key to simplicity, and the benefit of its rewards.

Contentment is a word worth embracing. To be content is to be satisfied. And to be satisfied you need an intention to know what it is you desire. It also needs a keen eye to recognize when you already have the thing you desire. Simplicity is a willingness to admit you have all that you need. Contentment is the willingness to enjoy and make use of what you have. Contentment and simplicity go hand in hand. For the sake of contentment, acknowledge the wealth that exists in your life. For the sake of simplicity, nurture those things and activities that genuinely mean something to you, and let go of the excess.

Health & Handsome: Creativity

Typewriter
Today is a coming out day for what may be considered a brother blog to All Good Things called Health & Handsome. Health & Handsome is a lifestyle blog dedicated to the modern man who strives to build his character with old school principles like creativity, simplicity and inspiration.

Health & Handsome is inspired by a conversation I overheard at a summer holiday party. One of the guests at the party was a former professional actor. He talked about how starting a family required a transition from the performing arts to a more traditional career. With a family and kids and a new work life, he lamented that he misses having an outlet for creativity, a means of expression that acting provided. It broke my heart to hear him speak about this. Perhaps he could have ten different meanings for what he was trying to say in that moment, but the overall gist of his statement revealed to me that as a culture we tend to believe that creativity only exists in the arts; painting, literature, theatre and music. It’s a limiting thought because we actually have many opportunities for creativity in our everyday lives. Perhaps we overlook some of them.

The act of creativity doesn’t only exist in the arts, in studios or rehearsal rooms. We create meals and we create conversations. Sometimes we create meals for the purpose of creating conversations. We create friendships and experiences. Creativity empowers us to say, “First there was nothing, then I created, and now there is something!” That something could be a new song, or it could be a text message exchange with a friend. We can be constant creators! We can create order out of clutter. We can create clutter out of order, if we’re so wickedly inclined. We can surprise ourselves by creating a new way of traveling to work in the morning. With our intention, we can create moods and atmospheres, or stories and memories, or personal standards and family traditions. Since I can’t go back in time and create a conversation with that gentleman about how we’ve fooled ourselves into believing that creativity only exists in certain pockets of professions, I’ve decided to share my message, and my lesson, with the world.

There is a new buzz term that’s been floating about. It’s the notion of The New American Dream. If the Old American Dream is based on material prosperity, the New American Dream is based on owning less material property and gaining more personal and financial freedom. The New American Dream values experiences and connections over things. I believe that in order to greet The New American Dream, we will need new models of men and women. Wishful thinking alone doesn’t make dreams come true. It takes action, and action takes courage. Courage needs a mission, and a mission is based on our character. Character needs nurturing, and that’s where Health & Handsome comes in. Health & Handsome men, and women, strive to express their creativity, live simple lives and inspire the world around them to live joyful and meaningful lives.

Health & Handsome is my creative adventure, my way of generating something from nothing, by paving a new road. I feel the awesomeness of this endeavor, in both excitement and fear. And that’s okay. Paving new road is scary because all I see is a vast wilderness before me. But it’s my time to step into the wilderness and make a clearing, and make a path that may benefit others in some miraculous way.

There’s a saying:

Handsome is as handsome does.

It means character and behavior are more important than appearances.

Health & Handsome means self-care and social grace. It is the content of our character and how we share the content of our character with others. That’s the purpose of this writing. To be more open to solving our problems creatively, living life more simply, and allowing the light of our lives to be an inspiration to others.

 

Be a Health & Handsome Man

When it comes to guys learning to be men, (in a mature and spiritual sense, not in a gender stereotypical sense) we’ve got a lot of ground to cover – and no one needs to do it alone. If you’re a Health & Handsome kind of guy, please subscribe to my blog… I’d love to pave this road with you. If you know a Health & Handsome kind of guy, feel free to share this message with them, or the links to my website or social media communities. It’s all brand spankin’ new!

Website          www.HealthAndHandsome.com

Twitter           @healandhand

Instagram      @healthandhandsome

First there was nothing, then I created, now there is Health & Handsome.