Finding Purpose Through Work

I read a recent article from ABC News that reinforces what we’ve heard for years; that American workers work more than anyone in the industrialized world.  We take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later.

With that in mind and considering how other aspects of daily living keep us grinding, how can we possibly find time for meaningful community engagement?  One way is to be more efficient with our time and resources.  Consider getting involved in community engagement projects through your job.

As an Influencer

If you lead an organization and have access to resources, consider engaging in projects that connect your business to issues, events, or causes that are important to you.  It’s an opportunity to strengthen your brand and raise your profile in the community that you serve.  You’ll inspire your staff by creating team-building opportunities that bring multiple departments or constituencies together for a higher purpose.

I decided to do this in my own shop by introducing a project that met our mission, contributed to work productivity, and created meaningful community engagement.  We decided to use our capacity as a journalistic organization to spend a year reporting on the growing poverty rate in our community.  Having grown up in Section 8 housing most of my childhood, it is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.  The City Limits Poverty Project involves the entire staff from reporters and producers to development staff to marketing and communications to front office.  The team felt a sense of pride and purpose that combined professional and personal interests.  It has also generated positive press and professional recognition for the organization.

Choose a project, identify resources, and build a team for the greater good in your community.  Your customers and constituents will feel good about their support for your organization and your staff will appreciate the opportunity for community engagement without impacting the busy home life.  It’s far bigger impact than making an anonymous donation.

As a Team Member

Rose Garden
A group of volunteers maintains the rose garden at Thornden Park

You can help contribute to a positive company culture, give back to your community, and still make the kids soccer game on the weekend.  If offered the opportunity to participate, take it.  If community engagement is not a part of your company’s culture, introduce it.  While many companies large and small make annual contributions to local charities, there is greater value in organizing your own events.  The team-building, publicity, and goodwill can have a long lasting, positive impact beyond simple recognition for a cut check.  Make this case to your employer and offer to lead the effort.  Much of the work will be done during regular business hours (wink wink) and you’ll be telling your friends about it over cold micro brews after the weekend softball game.  Again, everyone wins.

Food or clothing drives, public park clean-up efforts, job shadowing for at-risk youth, or donating services to needy non-profits are great examples of how some businesses in my community choose to get involved.  An advertising firm in our town chooses a local nonprofit each year for a brand and awareness campaign makeover.  I think that is a cool idea.

Combining your community involvement and work activities creates life efficiencies that can alleviate your over-scheduled life.  Because of all the time that we have to give, “me” time is essential for a healthy, happy life.

 

Socially Awkward AF

Surveying the room with dread. Identifying traps and looking for opportunities. Safe zones in the corners. Land mines around the bar. I walk smiling and nodding. Looking for a hack. Crtl + Alt + Del. I need a reboot. Intercepted by man. I recognize him from the elevator ride up. “Wamp Wamp Waa”. He sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I nod, feigning amusement. I chuckle with a sound I’ve been perfecting for years for these very moments. Another man touches his shoulder. Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc. Just the hack I need to exit. Dipping in and out of uncomfortable spaces. Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc. Made it to the bar. I sip bad wine and pretend it’s good. “Wamp Wamp Waa”. He found me using the same network pathway. We are joined by a woman. Small talk ensues. The man remarks on the extraordinary beauty of a young woman entangle in conversation among a pod of people next to us. He gives a foreboding glance and I wonder if he is conscious of #MeToo. “Wamp Wamp Waa”, they say to me. Reciprocity is expected. Crtl + Alt + Del. I need to hack this conversation. Esc Esc. A familiar face peers in my direction from a different pod of people and I make my way. Crtl + Alt + Del Dipping in and out of uncomfortable spaces. In familiar face, I’ve found a safe zone. Small talk ensues and again I am trapped.

Circuiting the room like a signal with no receiver. Page loading indicator just churning. That’s me in most social situations. Socially awkward as fuck. Conferences, fundraisers, meetings, it doesn’t matter. I tend to view the world through economic lenses. Inputs vs outputs. Risk vs reward. Investments vs returns. Gains vs losses. Over time, I have determined that the amount of energy expended during “small talk” is not worth the return on investment. For me…small talk is exhausting. I now know what the weather is like outside. The amount of traffic you traversed to get here. Your child’s school district. What’s my gain?

If nothing else, I am self-aware. I recognize this character deficiency. And I recognize the benefits of social capital. Yet still, social gatherings without my “wingwoman” are soul-crushing events without measurable personal benefit. This will come as a bit of a surprise for those who know me through my social media persona. The gregarious, opinionated person from Facebook is simply a personality construct for social media. A bit of personal branding if you will. The truth of the matter is that I am most comfortable sitting in a recliner with a glass of red wine reading a book or watching Netflix. Or getting caught up on the days events with my wife.

But I’m trying, friends. I’ve committed to getting out more in hopes of developing a set of skills that will help me survive social events. But the struggle is real.

The weather “Wamp Wamp Waa”. “How are things”? “What do you do”? Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc….

Throwback Thursday: Innovation and Motivation

Old-school TV knob replacement
Old-school TV knob replacement

Those of us over a certain age remember this multipurpose tool as an effective replacement for the worn and broken television knob.  Yes children, televisions had knobs that were used to tune into different channels…all three or four of them.  After a few years of twisting and turning the knob too and fro, the plastic slot that fit over the tuner stem would wear and/or crack, rendering the knob itself useless.  Enter the handy set of pliers from dad’s tool box.  The tool sat on the television stand at the ready when it was time to navigate from The Price Is Right to the day-time soap operas.  I imagine those of you from families that could afford to replace the television did so in earnest.  For others like my family, we used the pliers until the metal stem of the tuner itself wore down.  The pliers, because of their multipurpose use, exist today.  The television knob…not so much.  It, as you know, was replaced by the remote control unit.

As far back as the late 1800’s, inventor Nikola Tesla described remote control technology in a U.S. Patent and Zenith Radio Corporation created the very first television remote in 1950.  These disruptive innovators endeavored to solve problems and enhance comfort and convenience.  Today, Panasonic has developed voice-activated televisions with facial recognition technology.  Tomorrow remote controls will join the TV knobs in tech heaven.

Examples of innovation and useful disruption on various scales are all around us as models of how we can and should live our lives.  A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.  Innovation is a new method, idea, product, transformation, metamorphosis, etc.  This is all scale-able to the personal level.

astronomyCenturies ago man looked at the moon and said, “damn it, I want to go there”!  And we did.  That’s innovation and motivation on a large scale.  As artists, creators, educators, leaders, managers and contributors, we should always endeavor for disruption and innovation.  Unless your position in life requires obsequious service, you should push yourself, your craft or your organization toward transformation.  Self-motivation is the time-proven cure for stagnation.  Ensconced in comfortable positions, happy to collect a pay check or simply survive to the next day is a reality for many.  Sameness can be as comfortable as an old fuzzy blanket.  Comfortable yes, but not necessarily useful or healthy.

Motivation pushes us to achieve at higher levels, feel more fulfilled and improve overall quality of life.  People who are self-motivated tend to be more organized and have more self-esteem and confidence.  Be it intrinsic motivators like having fun, being interested or creating personal challenges; or extrinsic motivators like money, power or high marks, self-motivation can help you take control of many aspects of your life.  Take a moment to take inventory of your life.  If there is a way for you to be more useful to yourself, your employer, or your organization, do it.

TV knob

The TV knob wishes it was still relevant.  The TV knob wishes it could have found a way to be of continued service to manufacturers.  The TV knob wishes it hadn’t just hung around and waited for the remote to replace it.  Don’t be a TV knob.  Get out there and shake shit up.

In Full Panic Mode at 49

Old JoeAs of this writing, I am a full 457 days away from turning 50 and, if you can’t tell by this advanced obsession, it is not sitting well with me. I never thought I would be the type to over-contemplate the aging process. After all, I consider myself a man of science. I understand aging and its role in the circle of life. But it does bring about an internal dialogue that I find particularly disturbing.

This is not a happy blog post. It is one full of angst, fear and trepidation. There is no “grab-the-bull-by-the-horns” pep talk here. Doom and gloom are the name of the game and the sky is indeed falling.

The featured photo here is from a site that allows you to age your face. I chose a 30 year aging for laughs but, instead of chuckles, I damn near cried hysterically. This is how I know that when the big 50 comes 457 days from now, my wife had better be equipped with a jumbo pack of Kleenex.

The picture disturbed me because I still remember the reckless little boy that ran the streets of Baltimore with hair that made me look like a feral child raised by wolves. I remember the high school boy overly concerned about pulling off a preppy look. And Joe “Black” the afrocentric, kente cloth wearing, Haki Madhubuti  poem spewing rebel who was going topple the “man’s” social construct.  I remember them with vivid detail. What has become of those Joes?

What does 50 have in store?  How about 82? For more laughs (or torture) I calculated my life expectancy using the Social Security on-line calculator and discovered that, as of now, I can expect to live to be 82 years old.  Not that I want to live that long.  But it is only 33 more years or 396 months of remaining battery life.  I need a plan to prepare myself for 50 457 days from now.  What am I going to do to cling to my youth?  Have I made a difference on matters of which I have some bearing? Am I prepared to survive another 20 years? What will be my quality of life? Do I spend my final years selfishly or helping others? Do I chase the kids off my lawn while wearing boxer shorts, black socks and slippers or do I let them play? Do I drive around for 30 minutes trying to find the closest parking spot that I can? I can not stop these thoughts from haunting me during the contemplative bathroom moments.

I don’t quite know what I am going to do but I do know what I am not going to do:

  1. I will not celebrate with a party. I don’t think I will be in the mood to celebrate the final third of my life with people that just want free booze and food.
  2. I will not color my hair. I can’t think of anything more desperate and artificial.
  3. I will not grow “mitties” or “moobies”. If I have to perform 200 push-ups per day to keep the chest tight, I will.
  4. I will not let my stomach eclipse the view of my shoes. I pay enough for them and needs see them.
  5. I will not accept the AARP card. I’ll hold off for as long as I can or until the deals are just too good to turn down.
  6. I will not stop having sex.  Angela Lee…you can run but you can’t hide!
  7. I will not let my nose and ear hair grow to a length that can be braided.
  8. I will NOT wear dad jeans. Under any circumstances.
  9. I will NOT listen to classical music. These old ears will continue to rock out even if the volume has to be much lower than normal.
  10. I will NOT dine before 6 PM.  That is lunch any way you slice it.

Fretting these things can’t be good though. I realize that it is quite natural to want to preserve your youth in the face of decrepitude. Perhaps my biggest fear has nothing to do with physically aging but grounded more in the fear that I will cease to be useful. Cease to be relevant. I do think about and fear all of these things during the quiet times. But then I think that the zombie apocalypse will be upon us before we know it and this worry will all be for naught. They will surely need my expertise and leadership then.

How Am I Doing?

Self assessmentSelf assessment is not new to us. We are asked to do it every year in the workplace. We turn to our bathroom scales when we want to measure weight loss goals.  Bank statements reveal how well we reach our financial goals. But what about our performance as a parent? A spouse? What performance indicators do we turn to assess effectiveness in these areas?

I read a blog recently in which the writer described her father as an “OK father.” I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of being a mediocre father or husband. I certainly do not aim for such distinction and so I asked myself, “How Am I Doing?”  After significant contemplation (approximately 2 minutes) the answer was. “I’m doing a fantastic job”. That is generally how the self-assessment of annual performance in the workplace goes, right?  Until the boss comes in with a different perspective. The disconnect becomes apparent and we are left wondering WTF!

It is those to whom we are responsible whose perspectives matter most. After all, their perception is their reality. So to effectively measure my performance as a father and a husband, I should definitely turn turn to my customer group — the wife and kids. Gulp!

angry-family

I will need some assessment tools. A set of agreed upon criteria by which to measure my effectiveness. The results should give me an idea of “strengths” and “areas for improvement”.

In his book, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Laurence Steinberg, PhD provides guidelines based on some of the top social science research which neatly serves as the criteria for my performance evaluation .  I Gave the criteria to my daughters and asked them to score me on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being a “deadbeat” and 10 being worthy of “father of the year.”  Here’s how I scored:

  1. Am I a good role model?  Average score – 10
  2. Do I show enough love and affection? Average score – 9
  3. Am I involved in your life? Average score – 9.5
  4. Does my parenting keep pace with your development? Average score – 9
  5. Do I establish and set rules? Average score – 9
  6. Do I foster your independence? Average score – 8 [verbatim: “Not very independent. I’m spoiled.”]
  7. Am I consistent? Average score – 9.5
  8. Do I avoid harsh discipline? Average score – 10
  9. Do I explain my rules and decisions? Average score – 9.5
  10. Do I treat you with respect? Average score – 10 [verbatim: “A 10 even though you call me rude names”]

Not bad scores overall, but there is clear opportunity for me to help my girls become more independent…and avoid calling them rude names.  That last one is going to be tough I will admit.

Now on to husbandry.  I found a few articles after conducting a basic search, combined several attributes into one evaluation form, and delivered said form to Angela Lee:

  1. Do I display trust? Score – 10
  2. Do I show you that I love you? Score – 10
  3. Do I communicate openly? Score – 8
  4. Do I recognize your sacrifices for the relationship? Score – 10
  5. Do I help provide for the family? Score – 10
  6. Do I strive to be more human and magnanimous? Score – 10
  7. Do I meet your needs? Score – 10
  8. Do I provide adventure? Score – 10
  9. Do I tell you that I love you? Score – 10
  10. Do I respect your opinions? Score – 9

The take-away here is 1) I am a slightly better husband than I am a father and 2) I have some work to do respecting her opinions and practicing more open communication.  To that I say, she’s wrong and I don’t care to discuss it further.

While this was a fun, cheeky exercise, going through it facilitated good discussion with those whose perceptions of my performance matter most. The follow up discussion on how I can be a better dad and how to improve my already formidable husband skills will aid in my desire to be the best that I can be in all areas of my life.  So, how am I doing?  Practitioner seems to be the grade…for the moment.

Protect Your Heart – It Could Keep You Above Ground

I recently lost a friend and colleague and, while the cause of death is yet to be determined, the speculation is that a massive heart attack removed him from this world and our lives and, as a result, the jazz world lost one of its most enthusiastic ambassadors.  Men’s health is nothing to dick around with hominids.  Black men in particular are notorious for ignoring warning signs that, with early detection, provide important indicators that all is not well but treatable.  Man Up fellas and take control of your health!

The Vitals

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • 5.1 million people in the US have heart failure
  • 1 in 9 deaths in 2009 included heart failure as a contributing factor
  • About half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years
Risk factors include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking tobacco (though smoking crack is OK?), eating foods high in fat, cholesterol and sodium, not getting enough physical activity and being obese.  This is hardly new information but it is well worth repeating since many of us ignore the data despite our knowing.

Warning Signs

Researches have done a lot of work in recent years studying the signs and symptoms patients experienced in the months and years leading up to a heart attack.  Melanie Haiken, Senior Editor at Caring.com, reported on these common warning signs:
  • Erectile Dysfunction – ED is one of the best early warning signs of progressive heart disease.  Researchers at the Mayo clinic followed men ages 40-49  with ED and found that they were twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with no ED.  Why?  Narrowing and hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow to the penis.  So if you can’t get it up or keep it up, get to the doc and discuss your heart.  Don’t just seek treatment for the ED.
  • Snoring, Sleep Apnea and other breathing problems during sleep is another warning sign.  If you snore loud enough to make the dog bark, you could be showing signs of heart issues.  Those with sleep apnea were found to be 3 times more likely to have a heart attack within 5 years.  Why?  Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders that restrict breathing lowers the blood oxygen that feeds the heart.  If you suspect having a sleep disorder, ask your doc to set up a sleep study.  I participated in one about 5 years ago and it turned out to be one of the motivating factors that lead to my weight loss efforts.  Having to sleep with an oxygen mask on every night just wasn’t sexy at all.
  • Sore, swollen or bleeding gums.  That’s new information to me.  Experts believe that poor circulation due to heart disease could be an underlying cause of periodontal disease.
  • Puffy or swollen legs and feet.  If your feet swell enough to make your shoes tight or your ankles, wrists, or fingers are puffy, you might have a problem with fluid retention.  Why it matters?  Fluid retention occurs when the heart doesn’t pump strongly enough and blood doesn’t carry waste products away from tissues.  This is otherwise known as edema.  Talk to your doc about it.
  •  Irregular heart beat.  An early sign that something about your cardiovascular system is out of whack is irregular heart beat.  It may feel like your heart is beating too fast, pounding too hard or skipping a beat.  The most common cause of this is CAD (coronary artery disease) and is the leading cause of death for both men and women because it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Constricting or aching in the chest or shoulder.  Angina is the most common symptom of CAD.  It is not a sharp pain but more like a heavy weight.  When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it deprives the heart muscle of blood, making it feel squeezed.
  • Shortness of breath can be an early sign that something is wrong with a major bodily system.  It will manifest itself during exercise, exertion and stress.  It may feel like you cant catch your breath.  Again, when your heart isn’t pumping strongly enough, it prevents oxygen from circulating properly.  95% of women who had a heart attacks reported unusual symptoms in the weeks leading up to the attack.  40% of those reported shortness of breath.

Knowing Matters

Education and early detection is key to staying in tune with your body.  Listen to it.  More often than not, it is trying to deliver feedback and that communication process just might save your life.

Another man was taken from this world before his time.  His was a father, a husband and an advocate.  He was 57 years old.  He was cool.  He was positive.  He was a voice for jazz.  He’s gone.  RIP Bobby Jackson.  You will be missed brother.

‘Tis The Giving Season

Those of you who have the misfortune of being included in my social networks know that I recently polled folks to gain an understanding of your charitable endeavors.  After all, it is the giving season.  That time of year when we are encouraged to be less self-centered and more giving of our time and resources to others.  ManUp Hominids and take the Joe Lee giving challenge!

Your Responses

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” ~ Proverbs 11:25. Try not to choke on the fact that I used a biblical quote.  I was encouraged to see diversity among the nonprofits listed in your responses.  They ranged from arts organizations to social service agencies to nonprofit healthcare and research.  And while the size of organizations ranged from small to large, those organizations with national appeal and recognizable brands were most common.  They have the resources to effectively market their services and causes and help shape public policy, while smaller nonprofits struggle for operating funds and recognition.  
The National Center for Charitable Statistics estimates that there are some 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S.. The number is even larger when you consider small organizations that don’t file IRS 990 reports.  Nonprofits are a vital force in our society that serve the public good often where gaps in service exist between the business and government sectors.

The Effects of Giving

“Wait a minute Joe Lee.  I thought your blog was about self-improvement!”  It is!  We’ve all heard that “giving makes you feel good”.  Research and anecdotal information seem to support what many of us thought to be true.  I recently read a study, The Effects of Giving on Givers, by Sara Konrath (Institute For Social Research, University of Michigan and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center) and Stephanie Brown (Stony Brook University Medical Center and Institute For Social Research at the University of Michigan) that examines many studies and research work conducted around this subject.  And while they concluded that researchers need to move beyond the simplistic question of whether or not giving has health benefits for the giver, many of the studies examined show consistent correlations between giving and well-being.
Giving time and money to organizations ~ research shows correlational links between making charitable donations and psychological well-being.  Volunteers who donate their time for “other-oriented” reasons like compassion, experience a significant reduction in mortality risk while “self-oriented” giving (those who volunteer to learn a new skill or feel good about themselves) sees no reduction in risk.
Giving social support ~ several correlational studies find that giving social support to others (friends & family) is associated with higher psychological well-being such as more happiness, increased self-esteem and less loneliness.  Giving in this case can include taking care of elderly relatives or a disabled friend.
Compassionate attitudes and traits ~ a number of correlational studies find that people who score high in empathy or compassion have lower stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and depression.  Who can’t use a little less hopelessness, right?
My take-away is that the key to gaining some of these benefits lies in “other-oriented” (e.g. compassion) giving.  That is giving for reasons other than personal gain or obligation. 

  The Joe Lee Challenge

Your next assignment Hominids (should you choose to accept) is to give of your time or resources for causes that you believe in.  Please select one and get to work.
  1. If you currently give to nonprofits, your challenge is to seek out a new, smaller nonprofit that provides services that address issues in your community that you are concerned about or an arts organization that shares your interest and passion for art.
  2. If you don’t currently give, find a nonprofit that provides services that you value, learn about their programs and make a gift.
  3. Teach your children the joys of giving to others.  Have your child assist with writing the check and explain what that nonprofit does, volunteer as a family, have them donate their own funds, etc.
  4. Join a nonprofit board.
  5. Volunteer your time.
These don’t count:
  1. Don’t drop your old funky clothes off at the Rescue Mission to make room in your closet for all the cool holiday gifts you are going to receive.  If that is going to be your charitable donation, make an attempt to understand how the organization benefits from your donation, how it supports programming and whether or not it aligns with your values.
  2. Donating money for a tax write-off.  While the organization will certainly appreciate your gesture, you will forgo the benefits described above.  Give to what you are passionate about.  The tax write-off will be an automatic value-ad.
  3. Count your existing church tithing as meeting your challenge.  It’s has been a while since I have been allowed to enter a church, but, from what I understand, tithing is an obligation and, in using it, you lose the “other-oriented” giving classification.
As we give, we practice gratitude.  Gratitude for service to our community in the name of public good.  We don’t live on islands.  We live in communities.  The kind of work that needs to be done in order to allow humanity to reach a higher level must be done together.

Scratching That 7 Year Itch

Is the 7 year itch real?  That’s a question that has been tackled by social scientist and psychologist for years without yielding a definitive answer.  It is certainly not one that I am going to attempt to answer here given my  particular knowledge deficiency on the subject.  Instead, this post represents a jumping off point for discussion on understanding a phenomenon which affects our middle-aged demographic.  Man up dudes.  It’s time to scratch that itch and put some fire back into your relationships.

So you’ve been married or in a committed relationship for a long time and that “new relationship-smell” has long worn off.  You don’t talk to each other when you’re alone.  Habits you once found cute are super annoying now.  You feel less appreciated and less desired and if you could snap your fingers a-la Samantha Stephens in “Bewitched” and be gone, you would.  Sound familiar?  If you answered “yes”, there are measures that you can take to help navigate these troubling waters (buying a sports car is not one of them).  If you answered “no”, don’t worry young buck because you’ll be there soon enough.

Reference to the number 7 was popularized by the success of the 1955 Marilyn Monroe film The Seven Year Itch but it is also based on US Census data indicating when a divorce is likely to happen.  Other data indicate that the number is closer to 4 years.  Whether it’s 4 or 7 or some other number, most experts agree that there is a period in the multiple stages of a relationship where couples are susceptible to pulling the plug.

As promised during the start of Man Up, this is a personal journey of discovery of the post-40 year life stage including its issues and challenges.  I am not here to misrepresent myself as an expert on any topic.  Rather, I hope that you and I will take a closer look under the hood and examine the engines that drive us.  I don’t doubt than many of you are in healthy, happy relationships while others are negotiating the day-to-day difficulties of relationship management and still others are divorced or separated.  I do doubt that many of us give time or thought daily, weekly or monthly to what it takes to exist in healthy relationships and apply what we learn to our own situations.

Where Am I on the Continuum?

Key to understanding what’s going on in your relationship is to understand what phase of the relationship you are in.  For most of us, relationships go through various stages according to Dr Marty Tashman:

1. The Honeymoon – you are consumed with being together, the sex is good, and the attraction is strong.
2. Accommodation – roles are established, expectations set, and the day-to-day realities of managing a relationship have settled in.
3. The Challenge – there’s trouble in paradise, major life changes (new job, unemployment, illness) begin to test the strength of your bond.  Children and family crises are important factors during this stage.  There is a certain amount of disillusionment in this stage.  The relationship is not meeting early expectations and one or both partners run the risk of being attracted to other people.  This is a time when the relationship is vulnerable to infidelity.  Hello 7 year itch!
4. The Crossroads – what do I do at this stage of my life?  You’ve already encounter a few challenges in your relationship and you have learned how to deal with them as a couple and how each responds individually.
5. Rebirth – learning to re-appreciate and re-love one another.  You’ve learned how and when to compromise and accept areas of difference without resentment.  This is our ultimate destination Hominids!  Conquering stages 3 and 4 is how we will get here.

From Challenge to Rebirth

According to Dr Marty Tashman, how you deal with the challenge phase will determine the direction that your relationship takes in the Crossroads stage assuming you want to get there of course.  I’ll list some professional tips and some not-so professional ones as well (those are mine).
Experts vary on the key ingredients of a good relationship.  Here are a few: 1) Feeling accepted.  When one partner says something to the other to make them feel valued and important, it strengthens the relationship. Stay away from saying things that come across as criticism.  Focus your arguments on the issue at hand and not what happened two and half years ago.  2)  Let your partner feel that they have influence over you.  We all need to feel that weight and thought are given to our perspective.  If my perspective doesn’t matter, then I don’t matter.  3)  Keep the nagging to a minimum.  We are adults here.  Don’t continuously remind them about things that they already know.  If you are the recipient of the nagging, prevent yourself from withdrawing in angry silence or some other passive-aggressive form of rebellion (I have a natural inclination for angry silence as my wife attest).  4) Keep your judgments to a minimum.  When we feel that our significant other is negatively judging us, we feel diminished and devalued and the response is typically a defensive one.  Regardless of how many times you apologize, negative remarks can not be taken back.

When the cost of being in a relationship outweigh the benefits for one of the partners, this person may be tempted to call it quits.  So work toward getting back to a mutually beneficial bond. Here’s what I think works for me:

1) Encourage one another.  It doesn’t matter what you provide encouragement for so long as you show your support.  “Good luck on the meeting today babe.  I know you’ll do well.”  “I love the way that you interact with our children.  You are a fantastic mother.”
2) Have open and respectful communication.  Disconnects and ill-informed internal dialogues resulting from poor communication can breakdown trust and wreak havoc on stability.
3) Keep your dreams on the table.  We are all working toward something right?  Whether it’s an exciting retirement plan, entrepreneurship or completing a bucket list together, talking about it periodically reminds you that you have purpose as a couple and share the same dreams and visions.  It also affords you an opportunity to discuss when those dreams and visions cease to align.  I said goodbye to my dream of owning a horse farm after my wife said she was having none of that foolishness.  Hello compromise!
4) Respect and honor your partner’s contributions to your relationship and to your lives.  Regardless of how roles are defined in your relationship, partnerships are successful when each partner feels that they have equal footing in the deal.  Antediluvian caveman attitudes and behaviors don’t work for most modern women.
5) Keep it sexy and keep it hot!  Think about what attracted you two to each other in the first place.  You were attractive, probably took pride in your appearance, you smelled good, had muscle tone, energy, vigor, and the sex was hot right?  There is no reason that you can’t get one or two of those back.  The bottom line is everyone wants to be desired and wanted and, while to some, love is unconditional (I would argue that it is not), desire and attraction have some conditions.  Give her a reason to get her eyes off of Idris Elba and back on to you no matter how daunting a task that might seem.
6) Drink plenty of wine and laugh.

Scratch The Itch

I’ve learned that love is an irrational and fleeting emotion.  We’ve all done things in the name of love that no rational being would do and to rely solely on love as the cornerstone of your relationship’s foundation is…well…irrational.  It takes a great deal of work, energy, partnership, compromise and understanding to manage a relationship from the Honeymoon to the Rebirth stage.  The question is, if you are itching, how do you intend to scratch that itch?  Whether it’s 7 years hypothesized by some or 4 years as a 1980’s global study suggests, there is a critical moment in your relationship that requires either a fight or flight response.  The situation is quite normal.  There is no evidence that emphatically demonstrates that humans, as a species, have a predisposition to be monogamist.  Perhaps you are not built for monogamy.  Maybe you need a new situation every 4 years or so to be content and happy in your relationships.  Or you’ve made the conscious and rational choice to pair-bond for life.  It takes a rational decision to assess whether or not the benefits of the relationship outweigh the cost and effort it takes to maintain it.  There is a reason why sites like Ashley Madison and others exist…there is no shortage of business for them. These sites do more than provide a forum for discreet adulterous behavior. They prey on peoples frustrations and exploit the cracks in the relationships of those who struggle to navigate the often bumpy road of relationship management.
Don’t be a victim of the pitfalls. Understand where you are in your relationship and be ready to Man Up Hominids and get to work.

You 2.0 Part 3

You 2.0 Part 3 – Fine Tune the Logo

I struggle with writing this final installment of You 2.0 because fashion is often considered a frivolity by many.  Something that only the superficial, self-centered embrace.  An exercise in narcissism if you will.  The old style over substance argument that you’ve heard a million times.  But placed in the context of self-improvement and rebranding, I think it makes sense to give the subject some consideration.  Man up Hominid because it just might be time to elevate your style by concentrating on the basics.

You know the saying, you only have one shot to make a first impression.  What do others think when they are meeting you for the first time?  Positive impressions might include the fact that you look “professional”, “put together”, “organized”, “stylish”, “trendy”, “dapper” etc..  Some not so positives include “unprofessional”, “sloppy”, “out-dated”, “unorganized”, and “oafish”.  We are talking first impressions here so the fact the you are a truly wonderful, bright, witty and insightful human being might get dismissed right off the bat.  It sucks but that’s the society we live in.

This post is not about high fashion.  Rather, it offers basic tips for those who struggle to define and refine their look.  If your gear is tight, then you need not read on.  If you hate buying clothes because you just can’t quite figure out what you should be concentrating on, you are likely to find some helpful hints here.

Why be conscious about your appearance?  For reasons other than first impressions, consider pride in your look, a boost in self-confidence, making a statement, impressing a first date, impressing a hiring manager, building social capital, and giving your partner a good reason to want to be seen with you in public.  If your plan to get healthier and fitter pans out, why put that sexy new body in your tired old clothes?  Here’s a head-to-toe look at what to concentrate on.

Grooming

Are you clean shaven or sporting facial hair?  Long or short hair cut?  Do you pay attention to skin care?  Eyebrows?  Regardless of your choice to go bare or go hair, keep your look neat, tight and professional.  If you are in your 40’s and 50’s, your daily interactions with others are likely in a professional setting.  The unkempt look is best left for the Hollywood and music industry glitterati.  Whether short cropped or medium length, keep your hair cut, trimmed and styled.  If you aren’t sure what the modern trend is, consult your barber or stylist.  If you’ve been wearing the same hair cut for the past 10-15 years, it might be time for a change.  The same holds true for facial hair.  Whether you embrace facial hair or not, keep it trimmed or freshly shaven each day.  Your face should be the focal point when interacting with someone, not food stuck to your mountain man whiskers.  Avoid having stray hairs pointing in all directions.  Keep your eyebrows trimmed as well.  It shouldn’t look as if a caterpillar is napping on your forehead.
Do you have a skin regimen?  You should. Keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.  Invest in a decent facial cleanser (no body soap on the face) and moisturize before bed and again in the morning for clean, blemish-free skin.  Keep your hands clean and nails trimmed (not chewed).  People notice and judge hands more than you think.  And for goodness sake keep your nose hair trimmed.  There’s nothing worse than being distracted by someone’s dueling nose hairs when you are attempting to concentrate on the conversation.  Add to your tool kit a nose hair trimmer, razor, electric hair clipper (for the tufts of hair attempting to escape the collar of your t-shirt), nail clipper and hand-held mirror.

The Gear

Your goal should be to look sharp for all occasions.  That includes the office environment, after work activities, weekends, the kids basketball games etc.  You never know who you are going to run into at the grocery store so why not have a consistent, stylish look for all segments of your life?   Do you work in a formal office environment where the suit is the uniform of choice?  Invest in a couple well made suits with modern lines (there is no substitute for quality).  If you can’t afford multiple suits, choose fabrics that will get you through all seasons.  Invest in shirts with varying collar styles and don’t shy away from color.  If all of your shirts are white or blue, get more adventurous with your color selections.  Regardless of whether you go with short lapels or normal, pinstripes or solids, the key to looking your best in a suit is the fit.  If the suit off the rack does not fit you just right, seek the service of a good tailor.  It’s worth the additional $30 or so to get it right.  A loose fitting suit will make you look sloppy and disheveled.
Whereas a tailored look projects a more stylish image.  One that is neat, organized and professional.
Perhaps your office culture is a bit more relaxed and suits are not necessary.  So trousers, shirts & ties or sweaters are the name of the game.  If that’s the case, load up on trousers.  Mix up the patterns, colors and fabrics.  I spoke with a friend who said that her boyfriend has the one obligatory pair of “dress pants” for special occasions.  Black of course.  Why limit yourself?  Black, blue, earth tones, olive and grey should occupy space in your closet.  Go for flat front whenever you can.  Not every man can pull of pleated trousers.  If you carry a little extra weight, pleated trousers will look like a balloon.  Men like me who suffer from height deficiency often find it difficult to acquire trousers in the proper length.  Bad trouser breaks are a common mistake.  You should have just a small fold at the front of the trouser and reaching halfway down the back of your shoe heel for the perfect length.  If not, spend the $10 bucks and get them hemmed.  The image to the left illustrates the break you want.

Opting for chinos a couple times a week?  Mix it up my friend!  Chinos are available in all kinds of flavors these days.  I snapped this pic of a chino display while shopping.  Skip the khaki color and grab a red, blue or green.  Make it pop!

Put some color in your shirts.  Mix it up a bit by including some patterns (stripes, checkers, plaids).  Don’t be afraid to experiment with mixing patterns.  Afine striped blue shirt with a grey plaid tie makes more sense than you think.  Just don’t mix more than two patterns in any one ensemble.  And tuck your shirt for goodness sake.  An untucked shirt screams “I can’t dress myself!” or “I just don’t give a damn!”

The Feet

You can follow all of the above suggestions and look your sharpest, but it can all go to pot if your shoes are whacked.  THE most common mistake that I see in footwear choice is the square toed shoe.  It’s gone people!  Finished!  Done!  Kaput!  Your toes aren’t square so why should your shoes be?  Choose a round toe shoe please and thank you.  Dusty, scuffed up shoes are equally egregious.  Get a cheap shine kit and polish and, with some care, a good pair of shoes will last you a while.  Invest in a few good pairs appropriate for the season and in different hues.  Grab a couple of lace-up Oxfords and slip-on loafers.  You’ll be able to get through most office and social occasions.  Add a nice pair of boots or two and you’ll be set.  Build your collection slowly with classics and you need not worry about being out of style after having come out of pocket the prior season.

 Final Thought

With so many styles and trends to choose from, you can often neglect the basics.  Stick with the basics described above and you’ll have a good foundation to build on.  Just remember to dress for the occasion, the proper season, go for quality rather than quantity and build your look around one piece that will bring your outfit to life like adding a print tie to a solid suit and solid shirt.  Most of all, have fun.  New body, new look, new attitude.  You 2.0.  Now go get it.

You 2.0 Part Two – The Logo

You don’t want to look like this guy anymore than I do and, let’s face, we couldn’t if we tried.  He represents  an all day every day supplement ladened approach to working out that is not conducive to a normal life style.  Careers, family, social time, hobbies, volunteer work etc. is how we normal mortals roll.

We are looking for simple refinement to our company logo.  The previous post focused on the internal health of our organization (keeping with the corporate analogy again) and part 2 of You 2.0 will turn our attention outward to the brand identifier – our physical appearance.

The first step in the process of reshaping your body is to understand why you’ve failed in the past.  Information is a beautiful thing.  Some 88% of new year’s resolutions fail because of the limited way that your brain stores information according to Stanford professor Baba Shiv The brain cells that operate willpower are located in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for handling short-term memory, staying focused and solving abstract tasks.  That part of your brain is like a muscle that needs to be trained and it cannot handle the additional load*.

The most effective way to train this muscle and avoid the pitfall is to build a habit.  At the end of 2012 you resolved to lose weight and get in shape.  Your approach to fitness has been hit-or-miss.  You found time when you could with a treadmill walk here and some dumbbell lunges there, and by February the gym was a distant memory.  That is because your brain was overwhelmed with the amount of information (willpower) that you were trying to store.  But you don’t have an issue remembering or carrying out the things in your life that are a routine part of your existence i.e. going to work, grocery shopping, watching your favorite TV programs etc.  They are all on autopilot.  Your exercise program must become a habit.

Take small steps to build your habit.  I do so by attending a spin class (stationary bike) every Tuesday at my YMCA.  It serves as the foundation of my weekly routine.  From that point, I carryout a basic routine that concentrates on certain muscle groups each day and that I am able to repeat with ease each week.  Doing so ensures that my workouts are routine and very little thought is required.  For example, Wednesday is chest/tricep, Thursday bicep/back, Friday shoulders/legs,core and Saturday starts the whole thing over again with Monday as my day off.  I incorporate some kind of cardio in my daily warm up.  Again, the key is to make it as routine and consistent as possible to train your brain to include it in your daily schedule.  You need not live in the gym.  30-45 minutes a day can get this done!

So the good news is that you are not the lazy bastard that you thought you were.  The bad news is that you are running out of excuses to reach your goals. (By the way, you don’t want to look like this guy either)

Rebuild With Safety In Mind

Now that we know some of what causes us to come up short of our goals, it’s time to Man Up and and kick this thing into action.  But for goodness sake, start slow.  Don’t go rushing into the free weight room looking to display a prowess long bereft of action.  “A common pitfall guys make is doing too much, too fast” says Kevin S Heffernan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise Science at Syracuse University.  And as Director of the Human Performance Lab, I think Dr. Kev is worth a listen.  “Gone are the ‘go big or go home’ days, at least initially”, he says.  Heffernan recommends allowing a little extra time for the warm-up.  “Don’t just swing your arm around in a circle for 5 seconds and call that a warm-up like you did when you were younger.”  He suggest starting with cardio to elevate body temperature and blood flow to the muscle.  After the warm-up, begin with some light static stretching, holding each stretch for 15-20 seconds.  Kevin notes, “that even moderate exercise may cause soreness now so don’t get discouraged.”

Other suggestions from Dr. Heffernan include:

a. Incorporate rotator-cuff exercises in your routine (see video demo)
b. Don’t neglect the abs and lower back! (guilty)
c. Learn proper form for all exercises.
d. If you have an injury, don’t work around it and don’t train over it. (guilty here too).  Building a shoddy foundation can only lead to collapse.
e. Leave “no pain, no gain” in the 80’s where it belongs.
f.  Watch your breathing during resistance exercises. Don’t hold your breath.
g. Be aware of your surroundings (avoid walking into protruding equipment parts)
h.  Don’t be too proud to ask for help.  Use a spotter whenever you can.

Finally,” Kevin says, “recognize that you’re not off the hook for being considered ‘sedentary’ just because you’re going to the gym 30-45 minutes a day.  What good is exercise if your’re sitting on your butt/lying down the other 23 hours that day.  In addition to moving more, try to sit less.”

Don’t let doubt, perfection and restlessness get in your way.  All are barriers to achieving your goals.

I’m not just the president of Hair Club for Men…..

One day I stood in front of the mirror with a sad and sour look on my face and my wife asked what was wrong.  I complained to her about the way I looked and she responded with four simple words, “do something about it.”  It was so simple and so matter-of-fact yet it felt like a pimp-slap across the face.  It was a sobering moment.
If you don’t like the way that your corporate logo is designed, redesign it.  Build an active lifestyle and embrace it.  Don’t have a bicycle?  Buy one.  Have a bicycle?  Then ride it.  Walk when you can.  Build up to jog and then a run.  Create challenges for yourself.  You say you’ve never competed in a 5K run?  Well do it.  You’ve tried the hit-or-miss approach to working out without success.  Create a routine that fits well into your daily schedule and stick to it.  Be a creature of habit.  You want to get to a point where you feel guilty for missing a workout.  Track your progress and take pride in your accomplishments.  Be patient.

It’s important to increase your metabolism to lose weight and weight lifting can help you accomplish that.  Muscles are an important factor in increasing your metabolism as a pound of muscle can burn up to 20 calories a day.  Since lifting weights helps build muscle and burn fat, it has a dual benefit in weight-loss programs.  Always remember to lift more weights than your muscles are used to.  If you are completing 20 reps of any exercise with relative ease, then you don’t have enough weight.  Shoot for 8-12 reps where the last rep of each set causes muscle fatigue.  In order to burn fat, build muscle, shape your body and lose weight, most experts recommend weight lifting at least 3 times per week.  Incorporate cardio exercises and a healthy diet for quicker results.

Equally important in burning fat and building muscle is getting the proper amount of zzzzzzs.  If you are sleep deprived, your metabolism cannot function properly or efficiently.**  We generally require 7.5 hours of sleep per night.  If you are sleeping an extra half-hour or so over that, you won’t see any improvement.  You are getting enough.  However, if you are only getting 4-5 hours of sleep per night, improving that to 7.5 – 8.0 per night will likely produce noticeable weight-loss results.  

I realize that we are busy little hominids and that there are only so many hours in a day.  Something has to give to in order to create room for the transformation that is to take place.  Perhaps it is some of the extra time you give your employer or maybe it eats into some family time.  In the long run, I believe that all parties that have an interest in you would be willing to give up a little time with you now so that they can experience more days with you down the road as you work toward longevity and improved quality of life.

Thanks to Syracuse University’s Kevin S. Heffernan PhD for his time and valuable contribution to this post and thank you for reading.  Now go get busy!  Part 3 of You 2.0 will put some final polish on your brand as we take a look at punching up your style.
*Credit blogger Leo Widrich, Buffer
**Credit Denise Mann, Web MD feature writer