Self-discipline, honor, and integrity are three traits that I believe are hugely important to possess, to be known for, and consistently exhibit. They aren’t traits that are inherited or given, though. They must be deliberately and continuously built upon. Consistency is critical, as with any attribute. They are hard to imbue, but as they are consistently and deliberately kept, they become easier to form as a habit.
They are traits that the military tries to instill into recruits. That usually is due to a failure of the parents to introduce it to their children. It’s not an easy thing to do because it isn’t comfortable, and they are abstract concepts whose importance is difficult to explain to a young child. And sometimes to an adult. And if the parents never were taught the importance or how to have them, it’s nearly impossible to expect them to pass them onto their children. Typically an outer force has to interject and work at it, which was the case for me. It’s easy to talk about them and claim to have them, but as usual, actions speak louder than words, definitely in this case. They are abstract concepts, and it’s possibly easier to display them than to discuss them meaningfully and adequately. I’m trying my best. I may not do a perfect job, but I’m trying to explain them and will come back and edit this as I can to try and make as much sense as possible.
A fact I observed is that these essential traits escaped my ex-wife, and mother to our daughter and my ex-stepdaughter. She wasn’t taught them, and her parents weren’t taught them, so it makes sense they escaped her. When I attempted to explain them to her other daughter, she and her daughter considered them tyrannical attempts to destroy complacent behavior. If you aren’t familiar with any of them, as they weren’t, that perspective makes sense. But it doesn’t remove the responsibility (and reward) of invoking them. And it never will. I have a feeling my daughter’s step-father is deficient in them as well, beginning by the fact he’s never bothered to introduce himself to me. Honor and integrity are already missing. That’s going to make my job that much harder. But I’m determined to teach my daughter Cecelia about them and to understand why they are important to possess.
The difficulties I face in instilling these traits are formidable. When you begin to teach someone how to improve themselves, it’s helping them move in an upward, forward direction. That often doesn’t sit well with those who stay behind. So you have people that will constantly ask under their breath or right to your face, ” You think you’re better than me?” What they fail to understand is that it’s not about comparisons. It’s an end in itself.
I have a print hanging in my home of the mural of my high school’s 1908 baseball team that’s in the lobby of the awesome sports complex that was being built as I graduated. It reads: “Effort in sport is a matter of character than reward. It’s an end in itself and not a means to an end.”
Effort in sport is a matter of character than reward. It’s an end itself and not a means to an end.
Those words are true when you’re striving to improve your own character as well, I believe.
The Great Santini comes to mind, which I find interesting for a number of reasons. One is that it’s written by famous SC author Pat Conroy and set in a town where I’ve actually lived, in the exact same neighborhood it was filmed, in fact, right down the street. I know this life, and this writer, and I remember my father liking this movie, which starred Robert Duvall, who has a condo in Beaufort, where this was filmed and I lived. Small world. The Big Chill was filmed around the corner and The Lords of Discipline was another movie taken from a Pat Conroy book which centers around discipline at The Citadel, where many of my good friends went, and the incoming headmaster after Mr. Wright, at my boarding school whom I talk about below, General Grinalds, became president. Another formidable man.
Beaufort’s downtown, with its antebellum homes, has been named a National Historic District. (Discover South Carolina)
I intend to teach these attributes to my daughter and have her respect what they represent. And be able to identify them in others. When you find a person that has them, and they are fundamental in the way they conduct their life, you know you’re dealing with a person that you can trust. There aren’t many people out there that fit this description. It sometimes surfaces to appear to others as arrogance. It’s an excellent way to live. That’s not arrogant; it’s merely a fact. There are superior and inferior cultures and people and ways to do things. That’s life. To think otherwise is silly and naive. There are better ways to live life and in worse ways.
I had the fortune, privilege, or opportunity – define it as you wish – to be exposed to several people who know about these traits, what they mean, how valuable they are, and how to establish and maintain them. They are people who I try to emulate and respect and consider role models in specific ways. Not surprisingly, many of them are men, who were officers in the military, and are older than I. They have or had if no longer with us, wisdom and experience gleaned form hundreds of years of tradition, substantial research through trial and error and living ones lives in a good way, with spirituality, chivalry, respect for others and humility all being essential aspects of their personality and lives.
HONOR: I went to a boarding school that emphasized honor. We utilized an honor system that has become legendary. I was surrounded by others who were being taught honor, integrity, and self-discipline. Their fathers were men who were pillars in their communities, both business and cities in which they lived, and had the same beliefs and traits, as did our masters at the school. Many of them attended the same school and traveled the same paths. I’m a member of an order, Kappa Alpha, which I joined in college, whose motto is Dieu et Les Dames. “God and Women.” The two things that garner the most respect from the men in the order. Two things I learned to hold in the highest.
Some of the men that had a profound impact on me growing up that I still think of and use as a role model is my headmaster at Woodberry Forest School, Emmett W. Wright, who recently passed away recently, well into his 90’s. He was from Atlanta, where I was born, and a southern gentleman and scholar, who studied English, just as I did in college as an undergraduate. He went to Furman in SC, where I’m from and is the best school in SC. We ended up having much in common, although he had a far more significant impact on more young lives than I ever will, as far as I know at this point.
The funny thing about Mr. Wright was that among the student body, I was probably considered one of the most unconventional students. And he liked me for that. The masters always had their eyes on me because of how I dressed and wore my hair, behaved, and who I dated and hung out with. I didn’t walk the straight line they expected all students to. They thought every student should act like they wanted to be a prefect. Teachers handed out demerits to me at will, but I never got a “See EWW” on the demerit board. He stuck up for me and had my back. It was a funny relationship that I’m not sure many students or faculty were aware of.
Another was the father of who I consider one of my best friends, John Buxton, and whose namesake he took. John Snowden Wilson Buxton. He was special forces, green beret, in the marines, and a father of five incredible children and husband to an equally unbelievable woman, Caroline Buxton, who I also admire greatly. He had two brothers, who were well-respected doctors in Charleston. Just a terrific family and Mr. Buxton was a man that any man should have looked up to and admired. I know I did. He taught his children what it means to be fighters, such as when my friend learned he had cancer and beat it, and how to have hugely successful and loving marriages with plenty of children to boot.
I have other role models, but I won’t keep listing them and what they’ve meant, because they all have contributed the same to my life, which is a model to strive for. These are just two such men. There are a handful of others who are/were giants among men in the business world, in their communities or country, in their church, in their military group, and were successes throughout life—real people with exceptionally high standards for themselves and high-achievers.
SELF-DISCIPLINE: My mother used to make me make up my bed before I went downstairs for breakfast before school. And keep my room straight. Even my dad used to say “a place for everything and everything in its place.” And at camp and school we had to keep our beds, rooms, cabins, footlockers, and common areas tidy and clean. Every day. It became a habit.
Self-discipline becomes a strength in that it allows you to do the things you don’t want to, but know you should. And do them now, instead of procrastinating. It leads you to become an achiever and to accomplish things that others can’t.
Discipline and self-discipline are two traits that are more focused on men than women in American society. In Israel, women are expected to join the military, so it’s clearly a cultural thing. I would even say it’s a socio-economic factor. Those with self-discipline tend to do better in life than those without it. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Discipline is such a big and, I believe, a valuable characteristic that I’m going to dedicate another post entirely to it. So I’ll leave this for now: Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.
INTEGRITY: Integrity is often defined as what you do when no else is around. But it’s more than that. It constitutes reliability and consistency. People can rely on you to do what’s best. It’s a principle of strength. People can count on you, which means you aren’t afraid to be held accountable.
I have people tell me all the time they’re responsible and accountable, but they aren’t. Talk is cheap. Action is what matters. Action that’s exclusive of whether anyone is around or not. Always do the right thing if you see an opportunity to make something better; take it.
Some synonyms for integrity are forthrightness, honesty, straightforwardness, principle, honor, candor, purity, and corruption. All things I strive to be and do an excellent job of, I believe, to the point that it’s too much for some people. They don’t like candor, straightforwardness, and aren’t used to people being forthright with them. They don’t believe it can even be done. But it’s like Yoda said, there is no “try.” You either do it, or you don’t. I believe that’s the same with a lot of ways to live life. Lying is something I don’t tolerate. I don’t do it. I don’t have to. I know other people do, and I know other people do it even when they don’t have to. It becomes a habit to them, where they always feel they have to make something up for every circumstance. I know a couple of women that do that all the time. And they believe all people lie because they do, which isn’t right, and is a sad way to go through life, I think. And the people they hang out with do the same thing. Birds of a feather flock together.
Something I’m placing here as an epilogue is a fact that no matter how far down you find yourself in life when other people have taken everything you have and you are stripped bare of all dignity and humility is all you have left, you will still have your honor and integrity. And that is huge when you’re left with nothing else. It will keep you motivated, and take you far.
I abhor moving. There’s no undertaking I like less, period. Although I’ve never been catheterized(Thanks be to God), I would rather be catheterized with a cactus than move. Yet here I go again.
I’ve probably moved twenty times in my proceedingly long life, which I’m growing more grateful for with each Sunrise. Back when I was 20, and even 30 moving was no problem. I didn’t have a lot of stuff. I thought I did, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. Now that I’m 50, I’ve picked up a few things along the way, including a beautiful little girl, who has her own set of belongings. So I happily add that to the equation.
As a sentimentalist, and collector of detria and interesting bits and bobs, and curator of the family items that were handed down from prior generations, I have a lot of stuff. Add to that my hobbies of playing guitar and tinkering and woodworking and all that and I have an interminable list of items that have to go from A to B. Every time I turn around, there’s something else that needs to go. It’s amazing. It’s like magic: “The suddenly appearing thing!”
The craziest thing is how much I’ve sold off and still have to move. My last move, which was compelled by a sudden separation/divorce, forced me to move an entire 4 bedroom house, with garage and yard and patio things elsewhere. I still don’t know how I pulled that off. My ex-wife left everything (but the daughters) and just ghosted in the middle of the night.
After living in that house, which was both a Godsend and a curse, for 3-1/2 years, I’m moving again. 3-1/2 emotionally turbulent years. I got divorced in that house. I lost my beloved dog Annie in that house. I got a great job and left a great job in that house. But the house was awesome for me and Cecelia. Plenty of room to roam and breathe and play and a creek across the street. A back deck and big basement and tiered front yard with river rocks bolstering each tier and creating a series of walls. Which was a nightmare to mow. I’ve mowed a lot of grass in my day, but that yar was the hardest to mow by far. Here’s a street shot. There are 3 tiers, down to the road.
What I have should represent the essentials. And a few “nice to have’s.” I sold 100% of my “nice to have’s” and what I’m left with is still a mountain of items.
Transferring the utilities and the internet was easy and pain-free. The movers, however, didn’t show up at their SCHEDULED time and rescheduled me for 3 days later without notice. Talk about bad form. So I have my bed and a couple of heavy/big items in the old house, another house full of boxed items and things that need to find a place to be kept, and a storage unit full of furniture and rugs. And some guy named Eli who has the rest, like my lawnmower and tools(hopefully) thanks to my ex-wife. My old landlord is tapping his foot for me to get out of the place, and rightfully so. But: reality.
So that gives me time to set things up at the new place and find out where I’m going to cram everything. It’s a considerable downsize. No basement, whereas the last house had a basement the size of Soldier Field with a fireplace and kitchen. Perfect for Cecelia to exercise in. Her exercise at the new house will be going up and down the stairs I guess. No more “tag” with marathon laps through the old rancher. I have copious photos to remember the place by. Really I just want to remember the time I had there with Cecelia.
She’s going to love this new house The neighborhood is ridden with children. And rabbits, who we have living in our back yard.
We’ve all heard this saying, and I’ve heard it as much as anyone growing up. At times I took it to heart, which was a mistake. And it goes back to my words of advice on life about being careful about who you take advice from.
When I think back, most people who told me this saying all got their jobs from family members, friends, and friends of their parents. But the jobs they got were short-lived, required no specific knowledge that made them an asset for the company and were token jobs of no real consequence. Jobs such as sales, politics, and I can think of one person who parlayed an acquaintance into a lifelong career via a political connection.
But I’m at a point in my life when I have enough road behind me to see patterns clearly and realize some hard and fast truths. Which is why I’m sharing this wisdom in the first place. I don’t want my daughter to have to learn all the lessons I did by trial and error.
It in fact IS what you know, and partly who you know from knowing what you know.
To get anywhere professionally you need to know more about something than others. Even if you decide to make living with your muscles instead of your brain, you still need to know how to perform your work better than others. Otherwise, people are going to skip over you and go to the next person who is the expert.
The more you know about something the more likely people are going to seek your input and insight. And through those contacts and connections, you tend to meet the right people in a network where opportunities present themselves more frequently. Makes sense, no?
For example, I have people reach out to me often to speak about what I think the future holds for WordPress and blogging software and technological areas that I spend a lot of time immersed in. As a result, I meet and know people that otherwise would be difficult to grab some time with. And they know people that are accessible to me if I ever need the opportunity.
I’d also like to emphasize that people like to help others when they know what they want and what they want to do. Think of it as being available to pitch to They aren’t there to figure out your life for you. Impress people with what you know and they’ll introduce you to the right people to make your dreams come true. If you know nothing but know people of influence, it doesn’t matter. You’re just wasting their time.
With the Coronavirus keeping people shut in their houses and social distancing, quarantining themselves and self-isolating, it provides a lot of time that would otherwise be spent on productive activities elsewhere, and with people that we may not be able to spend time with. I can check both of those boxes, and on top of that, I’m making other transitions that fall right in the middle of this panic.
For one thing, I’m in the process of moving out of a house I’ve been in for around three years. The neighborhood is terrific, but the house is too much in size and cost. It doesn’t make any sense for just me and my daughter half of the time. I have a finished basement with a kitchenette, fireplace, and someone could live down there comfortably. I never even go down there except with Cecelia, who uses it like a gymnasium. I have a basketball goal, tee-pee, slide, and all sorts of forts and places to run amok down there, which she loves to do to get her energy out. She runs laps and shows me how fast she is, just like I used to do when I was a child, and my mother made me run laps around our house to get my energy levels in check. And the upstairs is Pee-Wee’s playhouse times ten.
And the upstairs is more like a clubhouse for a gentleman that’s been overtaken by a four-year-old. It’s a brackish environment of toys and elegant interior decor. This house has been a blessing and a curse. But it’s served as a comfortable, cozy home for Cecelia and me during this tumultuous time. There’s a creek across the street we go down to and play in, and it’s tranquil and safe around here, with only one neighbor. We have deer, possums, hawks, chipmunks, raccoons, snakes, and all sorts of animals that live and visit the property. The thing about houses is that eventually, you grow and outfit them to suit you. I have about 100 framed wall-hangings that are going to be a trick to use when I downsize to a smaller place.
And although I have a job offer on the table, I’m still looking for a more fulfilling job that suits my qualifications, goals, and desires. I’m in talks with people that can make that happen, but since everyone’s working from home, they can’t interview me, so that’s to be placed on hold until we return to “normal.” I’m very eager to get that show on the road. But it’s another transitional issue that’s currently occurring. Moving and getting a job in the middle of a pandemic. Fun.
This situation is also keeping me from seeing my daughter, who is at her mother’s house this whole time. Our house here is mostly boxed up at this point, and I sent all her toys to her mom’s until we get moved into the new place. So it’s been two weeks already since I’ve seen her, which is one of the most extended stretches we’ve ever been apart. I miss her terribly. I can’t get her and take her to a playground or library because everything is closed or in a public area where others might be. Louisville isn’t a hot spot for the virus, and it seems to leave the young and immunodepressed alone and hurt the elderly mostly, but there’s no reason to chance it.
So that’s giving me more free time than I’m used to. I’d like to learn a new skill, but what? Anything I’m interested in I’m already into. I’ve been writing, but there’s only so long you can do that before your mind says “enough.” I’m writing here because this site needs an updated post. I haven’t been posting anything but recipes lately, it seems, which might reflect the recent lameness of my life. I’m sure of that, in fact. When I lived in SC, I always had more than I knew what to do with my time, but in Louisville, there’s nothing that interests me. I don’t drink, so bourbon is out. I don’t like basketball anymore, which is the only sport this area cares about. The notion that horse racing is big around here is a result of hyped-up marketing by Churchill Downs for the Louisville Derby. Lexington is the horsey city. The Ohio River is polluted and nasty. The hiking around here is boring. And so on. I’ve lived here for seven years and explored everything I can.
So I’ve still been keeping my marketing chops sharp and reading business articles. I’m working on a book I want to give my daughter that details my life and our family with stories I remember about everyone. I’m the last one to know a lot about some of those things, so if and when something happens to me, it might be helpful to have those chronicles archived for posterity’s sake. And Cecelia’s. I’ve noticed that as my relatives get older, their versions of stories all change. I don’t know if that’s due to poor memory or to suit some type of desire to have things remembered in a more aristocratic and palatable way than what happened. In some cases, my relatives refuse even to believe some of the things I know happened even did. So living in denial is also a factor that dilutes these memories.
The grocery stores are something out of a dystopian movie with all the shelves cleared out. That makes eating hard for someone that typically shops for a few days at a time. I don’t stock up on foo like I did when I had a family to feed because it goes bad and expires, and I hate wasting food. So my diet hasn’t been the best during this time, which I don’t care for either. I have been able to catch up on a lot of Mystery Science Theater, which has been playing 24/7 here on Twitch.
This virus has been disruptive, to say the least. The tax filing deadline has been postponed, and the NCAA basketball tournament has been canceled (no spectators, at least), businesses have shuttered, public services all closed, schools all closed. It’s Polio all over again, with a few, but notable differences. Politically, technologically, culturally, and economically, we see what’s expected. Technology is trying to step up to the plate, politics bogging everything down, the economy taking a hit at the small business level and in the markets, and cultural divisiveness, as people have too much free time on their hands and a controversial topic being lit on fire by the media.
As far as my opinion at this moment in time on the virus, I don’t think the vast majority of Americans have anything to worry about. The people that do are the elderly and non-Americans in this country. The virus is concentrating on sanctuary cities in high-density environments. That’s the perfect place for an infection to spread, so that’s what’s happening. Children don’t seem overly prone to it, and neither do the healthy. And even though most Americans aren’t “healthy,” their immune systems seem to be ok at least. Taking precautions isn’t a stupid idea, but overreacting isn’t a solution for anything.
“Doing a solid” was a national catchphrase that went, thankfully, as quickly as it came. Middle America likes to adopt specific phrases and gestures and latch onto them as if they make the walking cliche’ using the fad in public unique in some way, or suddenly “cool” even though it’s been used already millions of times and wasn’t all that smart in the first place. I’m glad to see fist-bumping has been on the decline since 2016. Unfortunately, saying “I know, right?” as some insightful response is sticking in some females’ brains interminably. And even a few sad males. These types of cultural failures would be an exciting study, fer sure. That was the pinnacle of cool in the early 1980s for a few months — California Valley Girl lingo, which still contributes now and then. Black Americans seem to hold the licenses for most of what white middle America appropriates as “cool” in an almost satirical, mocking manner, but then cements it in place through popular (read: lame, brainless) media, mostly coming out of Southern California, where the black population is somewhat under-represented in many ways. Still, their equality is diligently defended with much talk. As long as they stay far away or assimilate exactly to white protestant culture, it seems. It’s the same way here in Louisville, a very blue city, also, coincidentally. Just some observations as I’ve moved around this great country.
But “doing a solid” means “doing a favor for,” and in this case, I mean, to do a solid for your future self. As much as you can.
I only really began noticing I was doing this over the past few years, which could be for a few reasons. As we get older, we gain experience and can use history to know what we’ll need in the future. It’s like linear regression modeling but just using your head instead of plotting points on an x and y-axis. Wisdom, in other words, which comes with age and experience. I was in my 40’s when I had an epiphany that I had turned a corner and could see more clearly the world around me because of the accumulated experiences behind me. I could more easily connect dots through time and see how events led to one another, versus what had been told to me or some connections had been left unattached. I could see the whole picture. And I think that comes with age and having lived life like I’ve had to, via much trial and error. And then beyond that, into the future to see where they will lead to some extent. That’s the power of knowing regression modeling and statistics. You can tell the future to a scarily accurate degree. My statistics professor in grad school was seriously a wizard and should have been a billionaire the way he could predict the outcome of future events by manipulating numbers. It was excellent and for the very brainy. I don’t think there a whole lot of people that can do that.
I’m digressing. But the way to do yourself a favor is to go the extra mile when you’re doing a job for yourself. Delight yourself. When you do a job, give it 100%. And then give it a little more. And that little bit is often found in a reward waiting for you in the future.
But seriously, if you do a lot of work in a workshop, there are lots of opportunities to go the extra mile today that you’ll thank yourself for in the future. Many have to do with safety. But mostly convenience of having something right at hand when you need it — or keeping things charged. Keep the air in your spare tire filled, for instance. Most people don’t ever think to check the pressure in their spare tires, but it slowly leaks out over time, and a flat spare is no better than any other flat tire.
There are tons of little and big ways to do this. Put some cash in your suit jacket so that in church, when you don’t have some money for the offering in your wallet since most people don’t carry cash anymore, you’ll have it on you. Keep a spare set of gloves or pack of crackers or bottle of water in your car. Stupid, natural things, but things you’ll be grateful for when the time comes. Bring in some dry firewood for when you know it’s going to snow or rain. Or put a tarp over the wood. Front-load the work, and you won’t have to worry about it when you’re weary and tired later. These are just easy examples. You have to learn what yours will be.
There are more significant ways to pay it forward. Savings is one way. People don’t set aside savings first, but spend first and save what they have, if anything, afterward. I did this for a long time because I was never taught better. But all it shows you is how to be broke. And I’ve been there. There are good ways to buffer against that scenario as well I’ve learned.
When times are good, stock up on the items you know you’ll need and buy them at great prices. Don’t ever pay retail for anything. There’s no reason to anymore with the internet. And if you’re sharp, you’ll learn how to save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on items each year by being a savvy shopper. But that’s another post.
When I was flush with cash and had a high income, I bought things I knew I’d need in quantities that assured I wouldn’t run out or even need to worry about going and getting the as frequently as some people do. Toilet paper and paper towels are prominent examples. The kind of shampoo I use is expensive, so I buy it in bulk, and it’s enough to last me years. I use the same type of soap, so I get it by the caseload. Same with garbage bags. And Toothpaste. And deodorant. And detergents and other sundries. And I have storage for all this out of the way, of course, so it’s not stockpiled in my living room or anything. One good thing about Kentucky is most houses have basements. Even boxes I save for the next time I have to move, so I don’t have to go box-hunting. I order a ton from Amazon and Boxed, and keep the boxes, which have come in handy. All the time. For moving or making a rocket ship or house for my four-year-old daughter. I think there’s a parable about this like the ant and the grasshopper.
But something most people wouldn’t think about is clothing. I buy well-made, durable clothing and shoes (I mostly wear men’s boots) that, if taken care of properly, will last a long time. I still wear leather Wellington boots that I bought in high school, for example. I’m no fashion plate and don’t try to be. I dress conservatively in things that don’t go in and out of fashion. Women may say they can’t do that as easily, but that’s nonsense. When most women try to dress with the latest trends, it goes horribly wrong anyway. Women’s fashions have gotten far worse if anything, which is saying a lot as someone who started noticing the horrors of the 1970s. And then the neon bubblegum 80’s and then the poseur 90’s. And then some hipster scene junk that turned into mall trash tattooed/pierced colored hair insanity that lingers, which brings us to the slovenly yoga pants/pajama bottoms and shoulderless rags and outdoor housecoats of today. Most women seem to try and dress like the other women they know, instead of what they look and feel good in. Bad mistake, all around. So far, I’ve been mightily impressed with what clothes my daughter chooses to dress in and how she puts her outfits together. She has a good eye, I believe. She loves to wear her fanciest dresses.
Anyway, I get my shoes and boots, resoled and clothes repaired if and when necessary. I have a lot of functional boots for various activities and spent a lot of time researching which were best and why and who uses them for what. I have waterproof steel-toes for hazardous areas I find myself in all the way to dress boots that I can wear with a sports coat. I luckily live in a city big enough to have some high-quality cobblers and tailors/seamstresses. My clothes cost more than most people’s, but they’re nicer than most people’s, and therefore they last longer than most people’s. I have lots of clothes and will never lack for decent clothing, which is a nice thing to be able to say. And I take care of them probably better than most people because they do cost more and are worth the extra attention.
Same as if you owned a Ferrari; you’d take excellent care of it, right? And the companies I buy them from stand behind them 100% so if something is wrong, they’ll always make it right, no questions asked and with a great apology. I’m very brand-loyal when I find one that’s solid. So even if I am broke, I can still dress nicely and not look or feel quite as broke, which is essential for self-esteem while getting back on my well-shoed feet, I’ve found. So that’s another way to pay yourself forward. Take care of your nice things, and they’ll be there for you in good shape when you need them — oil your boots and leather goods. I’ve bought shorts or pants/shirts/sweaters offseason on clearance, knowing I won’t be able to wear them until the next year when it gets warm or cold. And it’s cool finding a brand new pair of awesome shorts or pullover waiting for you in your closet you forgot about when Spring or Autumn comes around. I realize all this clothing talk is unrelated, but this is a life lesson, and there are things to pay attention to here with clothing.
Buy durable clothing that stands the test of time, like Pendleton, Orvis, Barbour, Filson, etc…But don’t necessarily buy brands without knowing why. Brands change over time, and usually not for the better. Burberry used to be a high-quality brand, as did Brooks Brothers and Polo/Ralph Lauren. But money is what drives those companies, and eventually, they all succumbed to clothing the masses instead of the elite. This is to say they commoditized themselves, started selling lower quality clothing in “outlet” malls, and started cutting corners, and instead of working for high margin, well-made clothing, they opted for lower-margin but sold en masse cheaply made clothing. Sure, they still offer high-priced goods with premium margins attached, but they aren’t the same quality as they used to be. They’ll market them as “purple label” or something distinctive, to match the distinctive price.
What’s the difference, you may ask? With clothing, look at the stitching. Inspect the quality of the fabric and how it was cut. Check out the hardware, like zippers, pulls, rivets, toggles, and buttons. Is it double-stitched or single stitched? Does the material feel durable? Are the fibers woven tightly and is it heavier than it looks? Where there are ends, does it look “carefully finished” or just like “one and done?” Is the hardware genuine brass or flimsy, never meant to last plastic?
Learning to discriminate between high quality and junk is doing yourself a solid. You won’t end up wasting your time and money, frustrated with an inferior tool, garment, shoe, piece of furniture, or anything else that commands a high price. Learn to inspect the joinery and materials of furniture. There are big differences in quality and price and very often a high price doesn’t equal high quality there, either. As far as tools go, look at what the pros rely on for their livelihood. DeWalt is always a good bet. But there are others. Bosch, Milwaukee Tool, Snap-on, and even Sears makes some decent wrenches. We have so much to choose from in America, you need to be knowledgable or else marketers will decide for you, which is what you want to avoid.
Think of it like hiding an Easter egg for yourself. And when you start getting good, you begin forgetting all about them and surprising yourself when you find them, and you want to pat yourself on the back. As I read this, it sounds like old-geezer-talk, so maybe it is something that comes with age, but I don’t see any reason not to try it sooner than later, knowing the benefits it brings.
Another valuable life lesson I’ve learned the hard way is when to take guidance from someone. And just as relevant, if not more so, is WHOM to take advice from.
In light of this post being about when to take advice and from whom, I thought a post-script prologue was due since I’m giving advice myself. Who am I to give someone advice? I dance around that question in the body of the article but I don’t address it head-on, which I think I should so I’m providing some enlightenment on that now, after originally publishing.
What are my credentials, and who have I taken advice from, and ignored? What were the results? What patterns and linear trendlines can be seen over time? I have 50+ years of life to base my advice on now. What education, people and experiences do I know and possess from which to draw upon? Talk is cheap, as I’m often reminded by others. So what substantiates my words? What evidence is there to prove what advice I give is trustworthy and not a load of puffery and utter crap? Glad you asked.
First, I wouldn’t give advice that I don’t have experience personally. I’ve put money where my mouth is in other words. Literally, and metaphorically, in terms of time(my life), which is not replenishable as is cash, and great emotion. Via blood, sweat, and tears, basically. I’m drawing my advice from roads I’ve chosen to travel down through life and retelling the results of those adventures. All journeys have some good and bad, but some are far more regrettable or fruitful than others. Some have ended in a bloody dead end. Some have opened up new paths that wouldn’t have been available by traveling any other road. It’s those that I try to impress as the ones that most valuable so that they can most easily be recreated by others. Especially my young daughter as she grows. She has the whole world ahead of her, and I write these words to her as my audience. I want her to be able to lead the most fulfilling, fruitful, happy life possible, and avoid the many regrettable, and avoidable, wastes of time, slums and heartbreaking dead-ends that I have. Either by having to forge my own path or being told to go down them by someone else who I shouldn’t have listened to. So a lot of this advice has been gained through hindsight. which is 20/20, and if you don’t know optometry, it means perfectly clear. I’d call that trustworthy.
A lot of the advice I have has been gleaned through the battle of life, which I have the scars to prove I’ve engaged in fiercely. Both physical and emotional. In the first part of my life, I was allowed to explore the world rather freely when that was a lot safer than today. I’ve always been curious, and loved nature and figuring out how things work, so I have always been turning over logs, looking under rocks, pilfering through books and closets, digging through boxes, inspecting animals and natural science as closely as I possibly could(which was scarily close), finding out the inner workings of everything, and never sitting still. A trait my daughter shares.
As a result, I’ve been to both the emergency room and to therapists more times than any average human will. The emergency room visits were to fix broken parts and stitch up wounds, and therapists to do the same emotionally, when my heart and mind were attacked out of nowhere by mental grizzly bears. Those visits were the result of my ex-wife’s personal pursuits and a hereditary issue that I’ve learned to cope with better than the vast majority that shares it. That came at a great financial cost as well some others but was worth every penny and more. So I’ve spent lots of money and time on one-on-one consultations learning when and how to take advice from others, and what to do with it. That gives me lots of psychological armor and a treasure chest to draw from when giving advice, which few people have.
I’ve had the immense and rare fortune to have been surrounded, befriended by and have as close friends people that are either exceptional themselves and, usually, are the products of exceptional parents, who give their time to me. That’s part of what makes them exceptional.
My mother’s father was the most exceptional man in my family and I’m grateful to have been able to spend as much time as I did growing up, even though at the time it was the last thing a young boy wanted to do. The lessons I learned from him were valuable and steered me through life in a positive direction when the odds were against me. His daughter/my mother died when I had just become a teenager, and he died when I was in my early 20’s. I never had a chance to fully appreciate him. And for all he did for me, my father never developed a relationship with him. On the contrary, he kept him as far away as possible as he does with anyone that doesn’t fully enable his want to be inert.
I went to a boy’s boarding school in Virginia where I met and became close friends with many young men who were taught as I was what honor meant and how to become a young man of character. That meant not lying, cheating or stealing, valuing scholarship, treating women and elders with respect, valuing comradery and teamwork, how to be a leader, how to be humble and a lot of other characteristics that aren’t taught much anymore by fathers, single mothers, or anyone at all. Most women aren’t taught these traits at all, which turns them into some rather unpleasant people, I’ve learned also the hard way. They may tell you they have them, but as I’ve said, talk is cheap. Reading a book doesn’t give you these traits, unfortunately, any more than just saying you have them does. Actions show what you’re made of. As does inaction.
I was able to spend a lot of time with the fathers of these exceptional boys I made as friends. My own father came to campus once while I went to school there, which was to my graduation, with my grandfather. The only other time to drop me and my things off the very first day I went there to begin attending and quickly left. So on weekends, I was able to leave campus I went to friends’ houses and saw how these exceptional boys were raised. And what their dads were made of, which was often some impressive stock. Leaders of their towns and cities, self-made men who remained humble, titans of industry, people who influenced this entire country in some way, or owned a great portion of its land, lots of military officers when young men themselves who fought in actual wars, and men who earned and deserved great respect. Many had families with 5, 6, and 8 children they helped raise. Just incredible weights they managed successfully. And of course, they had strong marriages with strong wives at their sides. All of them had endured tragedies. The loss of a child, or sibling at an early age or an event that strengthened them it seemed. Yet they persisted, never stopped fighting, kept their eyes on prizes and led lives that made you say “wow.” These were guys that I took a lot of cues from and tried to hang around with my mouth open at their achievements. But of course, they had their own families and lives to lead. But their advice was and remains solid.
I took their advice, which led me to places a lot of people wouldn’t be able to go. And I also took advice from people that didn’t have any credibility. I was too young and inexperienced to know it at the time, so that’s where I spent a lot of time learning by trying and failing and having to teach myself through wasted time and hard knocks. It feels a lot like a rat trying to complete a maze. There’s no plan. And you always need a plan. That part wasn’t mentioned by anyone.
I’ll provide some examples of receiving poor advice, or even no advice when some were needed that resulted in a lot of lost time and money and emotional strife which was all unnecessary. I was allowed to choose whatever college I wanted to go to. I chose the most expensive, farthest away from home and one that assured I would have no one to help guide me. A terrible mistake that should have been avoided. I then had to put myself back on the right track and go to a school I was accepted to before, cost all four years what 1 year at the private school I originally chose cost, and had people that could help guide me better. I needed guidance and advice. And I got advice but it was all bad advice steering me in the worst directions.
Upon graduation, I didn’t know what to do. My friends all were going to grad school, which was never really something mentioned to me. I took the LSAT, but that was from my own curiosity, not anyone helping guide me. Those that didn’t go back to extend their education went to work for their dads or had jobs lined up by their families. So I turned to family for guidance as well.
That consisted of 4 people. 2 who had been given jobs by family or a friend and had since dropped out of the workforce never to really return. So their advice was to find someone that would give me a job, rather than find a way to earn a job by getting the skills needed to convert them into a situation where I could be paid for my skills and education and experience, which I had quite a bit of by my own effort. I worked at a law firm for 4 years through school and had a degree in hand and was no slacker. On the contrary, I was hungry and ready to get the ball rolling full-pace.
The other two were an uncle and more of a friend of the family, than an actual family member, but a very close friend of my family’s, and remains so. My uncle, who I always admired for his assertiveness, style, and a quick brain, was an angry man who couldn’t offer much to me. No hard feelings. For some reason, I always got where he was coming from, and I certainly can understand it now, better than ever and anyone was ever able to explain it. I don’t believe he’s still alive, but he was a memorable character in my life, the few times he was present. That probably can be said about him in any room he ever graced. He had an intensity and passion that was enviable. He would have made a wonderful actor.
The other person was a man who was given a political position as a favor and parlayed it into a lifelong career and income stream. The president he worked for is still alive, at age 95. He also got my aunt her most memorable job in the 1970s, which is how long ago I’m reaching for help for professional advice. I realize I was asking them the wrong question, which was “how do I get a job?” What I meant to ask is “how do I EARN a job?” not “how do I go about someone giving me a job, as you did?” Because the advice I was always given had to do with finding people to GIVE me jobs, not how to go earn one with my skills, education, and experience, which is what it really takes to remain employed. I have gotten lots of advice about employment from people that A) have no job and B) have never earned a job and C) managed to keep a job. That has led to years of floundering around. I took the wrong advice from the wrong people. And to this day, there are people always willing to give advice about that who have no business doing so. It’s more harmful than helpful, in fact, although their intentions are good. Good intentions often pave the pathway to Hell. (END: prologue)
As an only child, I didn’t have older siblings to watch and learn from. And from my early teen years on I didn’t have a mother to provide advice. And the father I had only offered advice to do as he said, and not as he did, which was advice that was half-right, but hardly anything anyone who knows him couldn’t figure out on their own. I did have a grandfather who was successful by a number of measures, depending on whose measures you used, and he probably gave me the most consistently good advice. Which normally was contrary to the advice I received from everyone else willing to provide it. Turns out he was right far more than anyone else has been. I’ve had to figure out life for myself while watching my friends be ushered along by men and family who knew what they were talking about. I state that from an envious but realistic podium. I am far happier to have the opportunity to know such people and they not be among my counselors than not know that such wonderful people even exist.
When you learn my grandfather’s life story, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because he didn’t have an easy time growing up and had to learn lessons the hard way. (Which a lot of people think they do, and even though they may have had a hard time, the part that matters is learning from the lesson and acting upon what you learned in a positive way. Don’t repeat your mistakes is a lesson a lot of people may learn, but they refuse to act upon it, for example.)
My mother’s father was the son of middle-eastern immigrants who moved to the American South and was born in North Carolina, I think, in 1919 with plenty of brothers and sisters, whom I never even met and he never talked about. Not an easy time for that ethnicity in the rural South, or the US for that matter. He settled in southern Georgia. A lot of turmoil and big changes for our country awaited culturally, economically, politically and technologically. And in medicine. Polio was a real thing. Life spans were relatively short. Life was a lot harder then versus today where we have anything we want, usually immediately within arms reach and if not, within a day, as promised by Amazon on our smartphone, which is always within arms’ reach. If you wanted something then, you usually had to go out and make it or make the hard-earned money to get it for yourself, no matter what age you were. People grew up having little, and houses and living situations would make Americans plead absolute destitution by today’s standards.
Come On! This poster was put out by the US Government the year before my grandfather was born, enticing people to buy “liberty” Bonds to help fund the war. It shows you in no subtle terms what you’re funding, in gory detail.
I have a school photo with my young grandmother and her schoolmates and most of the kids didn’t even have shoes. And the girls all used the same chili bowl for their haircuts. Clothes were handmade and handed down. Radio was the entertainment, for those who had the time and money for such a luxury. Illiteracy was rampant. Women had few opportunities in life, and forget it if you were black. Christianity provided much-needed hope and salvation to most of America. That’s been replaced by the government’s lifelong politicians’ empty promises and celebrity entertainers fighting for the lowest common denominator to make a buck today it seems. We’ve exchanged many forms of actual poverty for cultural poverty, and many people, although having many material possessions, still live paycheck to paycheck and carry huge loans for years and years for everything they “have.” No one admits it though. If you ask around, everyone pays their fair share in taxes and “works hard” for what they have. Both being completely relative, of course. Half of America doesn’t pay any income taxes, and many receive “credits” in fact.
Roberta, GA School 1927-28 Grandmama (Virginia Moulton) in 4th grade
But everyone has their own story to tell. And the topic of this post is a study in what stories to listen to, and give credence to, and how those stories relate to instruction that those same people may want to give.
I’ve chosen to live my life to a large extent differently from a lot of society, in that it’s been a true roller coaster ride. I believe I inherited that “desire” to embrace risk more than most and that trait has lead to some very tall highs and very low lows and twists and turns with no idea what lies around the corner, from day to day in some cases. It’s not a life many people are built for or want, which is normal. It isn’t anything to take pride in or shame. It’s what makes life what it is.
What’s largely contributed to this style of living has been looking to people for life guidance that I probably shouldn’t have, and took it when I shouldn’t have. But that’s easy to determine in retrospect and paints those people in a dim light, which I don’t mean to. Their hearts have always been in the right place. They just have given consistently poor advice based on their own life experiences. And I was too young and immature to realize it, and looking for answers for, what was at the time, the present. I’ve had to live my life by trial and error, which is a method I don’t recommend. It’s an expensive way to live in terms of resources. Especially time, which unlike money is a resource that cannot be replenished. It’s the exact reason why I write these lessons down. And many of my lessons have come with great hurt, which still lingers. I have several family members that have tried to help guide me based on their own life paths, which was appreciated but led nowhere. That’s because everyone has their own goals and path to travel. And when you’re young you can’t see how people arrived at the places they did in life, which is often a different story than what they would have you believe, I’ve learned.
One of the finest bits of advice I’ve been given is to not judge a man before walking a mile in his shoes. It’s something we hear enough, but I’m not sure people really take it to heart because I’m judged all the time by those who couldn’t possibly walk a mile in my shoes and even if they could, it’s clear they haven’t before forming their judgment of me or others. I don’t mind being judged at all, because as I often state, I live my life as an open book for people to judge. It keeps me honest and able to work on critical areas of weakness. No one’s perfect, and certainly not me. Some people can’t even admit that, and they’re the ones who judge others the most it seems, and usually wrongly because they tend to reflect their own imperfections onto me. Known liars want to call me a liar, for example, which is something I definitely avoid doing. And Christians will tell you the Bible states not to judge others while at that very moment they’re making (often false, or at least uninformed) judgments about you. And so it goes.
Judging others is something we do as humans, and it’s hard not to do. And I’d argue it’s necessary to a degree for self-preservation and safety. We learn to recognize danger signs when in a situation or around strangers that may present a danger. That’s exercising “good judgment.” And the same goes for being able to recognize when other may endanger us in more subtle ways, like with toxic personalities or a tendency to suck the life out of people for their own purposes, or maybe they’re just narcissists and selfish people, that will end up hurting you badly and not think a thing of it. It’s said to not cross an ocean for people that wouldn’t cross a puddle for you. Idealistically, that wouldn’t be true. In reality, it’s probably better advice than you know. I’ve crossed oceans for people that wouldn’t cross a puddle for me, and I was left out of breath, life and vulnerable, while they sat dry and safe on a high perch looking the other way.
So, who and what advice should we listen to? In the heat of the moment, it’s not always clear. Do we turn to religion? Family members? Therapists? Our dogs? Our significant others? It’s not who we have learned to trust. Although that sounds counter-intuitive, it isn’t. We want factual, unbiased advice, and family or boy/girlfriend aren’t unbiased. Religious figures such as our reverends and priests aren’t unbiased either because their advice will naturally have religious undertones of their denomination and religion, and in many cases provides more false hop and places serious situations in the context of prayers and thoughts, which may be comforting, but hope and thoughts of others don’t pay bills or help make crucial life choices.
The lesson to be learned here is to take everyone’s advice and weigh the impact that it’s likely to have individually and/or in conjunction with other advice and your own life experiences. Play out a least likely scenario, a most-likely scenario, and a best-case scenario. Writing them all down isn’t a bad idea to look at them across the board and next to each other. If able, sleep on it. Your mind does magical things when you allow it to do it’s thing while you’re asleep and coming to a problem with a fresh perspective works. Even walking away from a problem for a while is better than nothing.
These days we have the “advantage” of going online for explanations. While tempting, that’s a method that could lead to even bigger, or at least more, complications. No one cares more or knows more about your dilemma than you do, and assuredly not anyone on the internet. Except for the sole exception, which is this post.