The Measure of a Man

Guest post by Tim Champion

Way back in 1986, Boston asked us the question “What does it take to be a man?”

The answer they came up with was, in part:

The will to give and not receive

The strength to say what you believe

The heart to feel what others feel inside

To see what they can see.

This isn’t a bad stab at it, but as always, the question remains… “What more?” Let’s take this time to talk about work, though you’ll find many aspects all connect like strands of a web.

From a personal standpoint, I started asking what it took to be a man when I realized I was surrounded by men, but wasn’t yet a peer. Immediately, I found myself asking how one ascended to this brotherhood. I had some larger than life role models that I wanted to impress, somehow. I had people outside of my immediate family that I wanted to think more of me. I was big for my age, but that didn’t make me a man. It did earn me some advanced level chores, though…. Lucky me.

When I was thirteen, my dad decided I needed a good work ethic, since my people skills were, shall we say, unpolished. He arranged for the farmer that he worked for as a young man to put me to work as well. I did the usual small farm stuff: herding and milking cows, baling hay, (and later, alfalfa, which is a new lesson in work), doing some light farm-type construction, and even keeping the calves safe from wildlife that ventured in from the woods.

This all taught me a few things:

1) Work is hard. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called work, and someone else would have come along and done it already. It’s also completely necessary. Things do not happen by accident. You have to work toward a design, rather than expect a windfall.

2) No one cares how tired you are. Every single day is a grind, but the cows still needed milked. They don’t care about the show you wanted to see, the girl who wanted to catch a movie, or the fact that homework is piling up. There’s work to be done, and the guy handing you HIS money needs to know you’re pulling your weight. He’s investing money in you, for your labor, in hopes that he can turn a buck on it and his product. You do well for him, and you keep your job. Excel for him, and you get more. I got a raise every few months, thanks to the fact that I left every drop of sweat I had on his land.

3) The new guy. At some point, we’re all going to be the new guy. You’re going to suffer like only the new guy can. Initiations happen. You’ll wonder why you’re even there. It sucks. Embrace it. EMBRACE THE SUCK. It’s the time of maximum learning, and if you want to last, you need to learn it all. Don’t whine to HR about feeling left out. Catch up. Carve your own spot out… with your bare hands, if you have to. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, or you’ll go up in flames. Did I mention “Learning”?

4) The fourth big lesson I can pass on, and it’s as important now as it’s ever been, is this: There is NO guarantee of security. There’s always a chance you’ll do your best, and still come up short. Some guy’s nephew will beat you to the position. Someone, somewhere, hates you, and you’ll lose a job you busted your ass for. It’s ok, and here’s why: as someone who did their very best, for the sake of the work itself, you’ll have competence and a good reputation in your field.

5) Last one: Sacrifice. You don’t get anything of value for nothing. For everything you do, you build new opportunities and contacts. Those give you more options. It’s that simple. Yes, this is a quaint way of saying that the work never ends, but it’s also true that at a certain point of expertise, you get to pick the work that you do. This is more valuable than the money you’ll make. If time = money, the inverse is also true, labor = soul. You might be raking it in hand over fist, but are you ok with it? Is the work to your liking enough that you don’t mind the heartbeats and breath you’re investing in it? That’s the question. If it is, go you. If not, you need to do better for yourself through training or re-education in a new field. Remember, we all learned how to do the thing. If you need to learn a new thing, you can.
In closing: Work ethic, experience, reputation, results. In that order.

Let me stress something…

YOU. CANNOT. BUY. THESE. THINGS.

Not for any amount of anything.

After a few years of this, you tend to develop this thing called “character”. You actually want to do the work right, because a job well done is, in fact, its own reward. One of the major traits of a man is that he takes pride in looking at the quality of his completed work, whether it’s the way the yard turned out, the new deck he built, or the family he raised. Don’t ever be afraid to look at something you did, “and see that it was good”. Being proud of your work is normal. Finding ways to hone your craft is exemplary.

So when someone asks what it takes to become a man, I tell them you don’t become one, you make yourself one from the ground up. YOU get to be the architect of your character, your self worth, and ultimately, your public image.

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Shifting Focus

This is a story I’ve been meaning to tell for months now, and it seems appropriate to share it with you since we’ve only just started a new year.

Back during the summer of 2015, I was taking my 3 kids on a quick get-a-way to the Alabama coast for some sand and surf. We’d been looking forward to a big vacation with the family (grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncle), but those plans fell through and so we set out, just us 4 ladies.

We had made it about halfway to our destination when my van began to overheat. I stopped in at a gas station to let it cool and refill the radiator. My kids didn’t mind, because there was a Subway there and they were hungry. We were wearing swimsuits under our clothes, ready to hit the beach and have fun as soon as possible! It was worrisome to be having trouble with my van, but it’s an old van and so isn’t a stranger to trouble.

Within minutes of stopping, a man had approached me to ask what the problem was. He was on his way to Florida with his wife and little girl, and said he couldn’t in good conscience just walk away from a woman and kids who needed help, so he began to look for the source of the problem.

This is where it gets really impressive…

That man stayed with me for an hour, getting his hands dirty and busting his knuckles while he checked and rechecked everything under the hood and in the fuse panel so that I wouldn’t be stranded later on with my 3 girls. And he did so despite the fact that he and his family were also ready to begin their vacation, and despite the fact that his friends were meeting him at their destination. He helped me despite the fact that rain was moving in, and he had gear packed in the bed of his truck, and was towing a fishing boat. Even his little girl ran over to help, because she very obviously had a good example in her dad.

That man’s name is Raymond, from New Orleans.

Raymond discovered that my radiator, fans, and fuses were all good, but the switch that turns on the fans was bad. He then wired the fans to the battery so that I would be able to make it whether I could replace the part soon or not (I drove directly to a local garage, and it was not something they could do since my van is old; I’m still driving with Raymond’s very practical and easily adapted wiring under the hood).

We weren’t quite making the time we thought we would when we set out, but then neither was Raymond. He left us with smiles, and my girls were still happy to be able to have a little vacation before school. I hope Ray caught all the big ones on his vacation! That man deserved some good times and good stories.

But then we actually made it to the beach…

We’d encountered a little rain, and got a little worried in traffic that we might overheat again and ended up finishing the trip with no A/C and the windows rolled down, but we made it to the white sands of the Alabama coast and we still had some daylight in which to enjoy a swim and maybe to play in the sand before heading to our hotel. It wasn’t the hours we’d planned on, but it was good. It was enough. We were happy.

So there we were, behind The Hangout, looking for a place to park, and the SUV ahead of us stops. Okay… no problem. The kids are fine, the gauge looks good, they’re probably just waiting for someone to back out, right? We’re good. We’ve encountered worse already today, so this is minor. We’re joking about a parking spot to the left of me that’s covered in sand and closed in a bit by the trucks on either side. They must not know where the lines are…the kids giggle…

The guy ahead of me backs up.

Did the car they’re waiting on need more room? Am I supposed to back up, too? But there’s another truck rounding the building and approaching behind me… surely the space isn’t that important. I mean, do we need to direct traffic to reverse in a one way only lane?

Then the guy ahead of me backs up and angles his SUV toward the sand-covered space no one saw until they’d passed it, which is to my left. And the guy behind me is now a part of this craziness, because I can’t back up even if I wanted to. That’s when the guy ahead of me gets out of his vehicle so that he can yell at me for not letting him have this parking spot. Right there, in front of my kids, his wife and kid, all the kids playing in the sand by The Hangout, everyone buying ice cream at the little stand there, and everyone eating on the deck. He yells at me, asks me what the hell I’m doing that I won’t back up, and I tell him I can’t because there’s another car behind me. He then yells that it wasn’t there to begin with and ends with “I HOPE YOU SLEEP WELL TONIGHT!” to which I calmly replied, “I will,” and then he gets in his vehicle, slams his door, and drives away.

And my 13 year old, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, said, “He’s the human grumpy cat!”

And we all lost it. We completely cracked up. Everyone outside The Hangout heard us laughing our butts off, because honestly…. that man was a comedy of the absurd. Especially after having experienced the likes of Raymond!

I hope you sleep well tonight?? Over a PARKING SPOT?? Dude, I didn’t punch your granny. I had no idea the spot meant so much to you.

I hope he makes it without needing counseling. I mean, the loss of a parking spot cuts deep. Those wounds just don’t heal…

I laughed so hard I cried, and then drove forward all of fifteen yards and parked right by the beach boardwalk, in front of the showers, by the pavilion on the beach. It was not the last spot, either. There were plenty. And they all cost the same amount per day.

So my girls and I enjoyed our day at the beach, undeterred, and as we jumped into the waves, I began to sing a parody of a song from The Little Mermaid“I wanna be…where the people aren’t…” and I dedicated it to Human Grumpy Cat, which my ten year old said she thought looked like Anger from Inside Out, because he was irate and was wearing a red shirt and had a crew cut. She had a point… so we tried to spot ‘Anger’ on the beach, and wondered whether his wife was Disgust or Fear (we couldn’t imagine anyone in that family being Joy). Our fun, rather than being diminished by such a small man, had actually increased.

So thanks, I guess? We had many laughs thanks to you, Indignant Grumpy Stranger.

And many thanks to Raymond from New Orleans, who made it possible for us to get to our destination and back home, and make many great memories.

So now that you have the backstory, time for the lesson…

Everyone in this tale had a choice to make about what they chose to focus on.

  • I could have focused on the troubles with my van and become dejected.
  • Raymond could have focused on his vacation and left me to sort things out on my own.
  • Indignant Stranger could have focused ahead of him at what was available rather than behind him at what he’d missed.
  • My kids could have focused on the setbacks and the rudeness and allowed it to ruin their fun.

Which brings me to the point of this post…

What we focus on determines where we go and the attitude which carries us there.

If you are so caught up in looking back at what you’ve missed, what’s gone wrong, or where you messed up, you will be incapable of seeing the opportunities and the adventure before you. If you are so caught up in looking ahead at the place you want to be, or the challenges you have to face, or stress about the unknown, you will be incapable of living in the moment and enjoying it fully. You’ll be incapable of detouring to help someone in need. You’ll miss the chance to live fully right here, right now, right where you’re at in life at this moment. 

We can be aware of what’s behind, and we can prepare as well as possible for what’s ahead, but we will drain all the joy from this moment if we fail to focus on what’s right in front of us and the people we’re surrounded by.

You can’t be fully alive in the moment if you’re obsessed with what’s behind you or what’s ahead of you.

So this year, whatever your goal is, whatever your plan is, whatever course you have charted for your life – just remember: sometimes what’s ahead is better than what’s behind, so don’t fret over missed opportunities, and don’t be so caught up in where you’re headed that you fail to be blessed and be a blessing where you are right now.

Safe travels on the road before you!