It’s a rare man that doesn’t—at some juncture of his life—stop to question how things might be different if he worked for himself. Even a man who loves his job occasionally wonders what it might be like to strike out on his own and follow some crazy, half-baked notion.
Self-employment is a dream held by many men but acted on by few.
The reasons for this are many, but from my vantage point, most of the reasons practical men decide never to give themselves a chance to start their own side hustle is because much of what we learn about it—at least in The U.S.—comes from television shows, movies, and the media rather than people who actually run businesses.
In my short life so far, I’ve run four different very-small-businesses (I call them micro-businesses) and I can say, without doubt, that the way they came to be do not match any fairytale seen on TV.
They were small. They were incredibly cheap to start. And, to most people besides me, they were boring! No fancy business models, sexy offices downtown, or intriguing business cards—just a product or service that people wanted.
If you’ve ever entertained a dream like this yourself, I argue that most of the objections you have to just getting started may not be actual objections at all. Instead, they may be objections to what you think you have to do start something on your own.
The truth may be quite different.
Time to Confront Your Objections
In my experience so far, many men have three main objections when it comes to starting their own side hustle. Ask yourself if one (or more) of these complaints is what’s holding you back.
1.Starting a business takes a lot of time, and I don’t have any.
2.It’s expensive to start a business, and I don’t have the cash available.
3.I don’t have a good idea for a business.
If any of those complaints come to mind when you think about starting a side hustle, then you’re in luck right now because we’re going to systematically debunk all three of them.
Let’s get started.
I don’t have the time to start a side hustle.
Creating a business from nothing is truly a labor of love, and one that takes some commitment. In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s started a business and found that things went far easier or faster than they expected.
If you have a demanding job, a family, a life outside of work, or all of the above, this is a real concern. Where are you going to find the hours and hours it takes to create a meaningful income with all of these commitments?
The truth is that you will have to make some changes to how you use your time, but probably not as drastically as you think.
Here’s the good news: A new business only demands a lot of time if you’re attached to the idea that it must be built quickly.
In the book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours theory—that almost anyone can master a skill if they dedicate 10,000 hours to it. The same is true for your side hustle. If you put in enough hours—into the right places (we’ll get to this later)—then you can build a successful side hustle, too.
The rate at which you put these hours in is up to you. Yes, if you go slower, then it will take longer. But compared to your other option—doing nothing at all—what’s the hurry?
Here’s the tried and true technique I use to put the necessary time into any new project without overwhelming myself:
Set aside 20 minutes—no more!— every single day to work on your project, and protect those 20 minutes with everything you have. Never let anything get in the way of this time.
This does two things:
1.It sets the habit of working on your project a little bit every day.
2.It gets you started each day, and you usually end up motivated to work much longer.
I’m too broke to start a business.
A micro-business, done right, should rarely cost more than $100 to get started. When you’re starting a business, the easiest thing to do is think about all the things you wish you had that would make running it easy and enjoyable—an office, lots of expensive electronics, maybe a few employees or expensive services that automate pieces of your business.
The funny (and sad) thing about all of these business “necessities” is that they are—at least in the beginning—much more effective at destroying a business than making it successful.
Why? Because these are the fun and sexy things about running a business. They’re the status symbols you use to tell others, “Hey, look at me. I have a business!”
They distract from the real important part of running a micro-business: making money. And, just like keeping up with The Joneses will probably get your family in financial trouble, it will jeopardize your little business, too.
We all love to hear stories about the risk-takers with a dream that sold everything they owned, took out massive loans, and started the “next big thing.”
These are the stories that catch our attention. But they account for an extremely small percentage of successful businesses. And the reason we love them is because the odds of success are so incredibly small. That makes them easy to keep in “fantasy mode.”
A micro-business does not need to be run this way. It’s possible to create a meaningful income with far less risk.
At the end of the day, the only things you need to make money in a micro-business are:
1.Something to sell.
2.A group of people who want what you’re offering.
3.A way to collect money.
That’s it. No fancy bells and whistles. No complicated business techniques, strategies, or elaborate business plans.
If you want to be a cobbler and sell handmade shoes, all you really need to get started are the raw materials for the first pair, enough tools to make that pair of shoes, and one single customer to buy them. You should be able to procure these things for less than $100.
If you can’t, you’re thinking too far ahead. Even the biggest companies in the world—think Coca Cola—needed very little to get off the ground: a few ingredients, something to put them in, and a place to sell the finished product.
I don’t have a good enough idea to start a business.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned and relearned (several times) in my career starting and building micro-businesses is that the idea—typically seen as the Holy Grail—is far less important than we like to make it out to be.
So far, I’ve been a landscaper with one client, a ticket scalper, a freelance farm hand, an amateur guitar dealer, and now a writer. Two things all of these little businesses have in common are:
1.They’re not incredibly unique or earth shattering.
2.They never got started until I got over the fact that they aren’t incredibly unique or earth shattering.
A common characteristic I see in many people trying to start their first business is that they give far too much credit to the value of their idea. If it’s not an earth shattering, ultra-unique, never-seen-before business model, then it’s not good enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to think this way also. Sometimes I still do, and I need a reminder from someone far more accomplished than me that I’m “thinking wrong.”
Once you’ve started a few business projects, you begin to see that the idea you start with is far less important than what you do with it.
I credit Derek Sivers with explaining this concept much better than I could.
The truth about your business idea is that it’s virtually worthless. If you hold some sort of romantic notion about this, let me crush it right now with a simple challenge:
Take the greatest business idea you’ve ever come up with, and list it for sale on eBay. See how many bids you get for it and just how much cash it brings in. My educated guess is “none.”
This is because an idea is worthless without a multiplier—something to be added to it that exponentially improves its value. In this case, that multiplier is effort, or execution.
Once you bring your idea to life, then it’s worth something. Once you’ve proven that it works, then someone might be willing to pay for it.
The most brilliant idea in the world with terrible execution might fail miserably and make no money at all—it happens all the time. On the other end of the spectrum, someone with a strong work ethic and the will to succeed can take a very average idea and make quite a lot of money with it.
These days, when I hear someone say “I don’t have an excellent business idea,” my immediate response is, “Good! How about an average one?”
To successfully start your own side hustle, you eventually have to stop thinking about the idea and just get to work. An additional benefit is that the faster you do this, the less time you’ll spend convincing yourself you need a whole bunch of extra things to get started.
The First Step to Starting any Side Hustle…
Before work can truly begin on any side hustle, the first thing a man must do is slay his own objections.
This week, spend some time deliberately thinking about all the barriers you’ve created for yourself. Think about the legitimate concerns you have when you tell yourself you want to start your own micro-business.
Then, think about the many creative ways there are to get around them. You now have a work-around for some of the biggest ones. What’s left for you to confront? More importantly, how will you confront them?
Next week, you’ll learn how to actually get started with your new business by picking a profitable idea and launching it for less than $100.
Do-It-Yourself entrepreneur Tyler Tervooren writes at Advanced Riskology, a site dedicated to living a better life through risk-taking. He’s also the creator of The Bootstrapper Guild, a program for DIY entrepreneurs to start their first micro-business.
Not to make a habit out of borrowing, but I couldn’t help when I came across this piece. I just had to share it with my readers. I think the story strikes home because of the times in which we live, not that our lot in life is any worse than past generations – they all had struggles and worries, But I think we have more conveniences, wealth and free time and therefore: more ways to coddle ourselves.
Editor’s note: This is guest post from Marcus Brotherton. It originally ran on Men Who Lead Well (www.marcusbrotherton.com).
One harmful mindset that can keep a man from fulfilling his calling and potential is self-coddling. This is when he convinces himself he deserves a break, and runs to something that ultimately harms himself.
The WWII Marines of K/3/5 had been fighting on Guadalcanal for weeks. C-rations had run out, and the men ate twice daily portions of coconuts and wormy rice they’d confiscated from the Japanese.
PFC Sid Phillips (featured in HBO’s The Pacific) grew increasingly concerned for his hometown friend, W.O. Brown, racked with severe dysentery. Everything W.O. tried to eat ran straight through him. There was no medicine. No cots to lie on. The sick were simply stretched out on the ground. W.O. grew so emaciated he was too weak even to sit up. Flies covered him as he lay in his own diarrhea.
“It was bad,” Phillips reported in an interview with me. “I didn’t think W.O. was going to survive.”
Each day, Phillips carried W.O. to the ocean and helped him get clean. I asked Phillips if he remembered any specific conversations he had with W.O. during these times of carrying him. Here, I was expecting a poignant story. I pictured this young battle-hardened Marine carrying his nearly-dead buddy to the water. “Keep holding on,” Phillips would whisper. “Have courage. Just think of mom and apple pie.” Something like that.
But Phillips just chuckled. “Oh yeah, I remember. I told W.O. to stop being such a faker and take a salt tablet.”
The response threw me. I asked Phillips (who eventually became a medical doctor) what his strategy was.
“Well, it didn’t help a man to overly commiserate with him,” Phillips said. “If you did, it just depressed him. But if you kidded him, it made him smile. The ribbing was all good natured. He’d fire back some wisecrack at you, and soon he’d get to fighting again.”
How does this apply to us today?
Phillips respected W.O. Brown as someone who had the capacity to get up and go on. So let’s believe the same about ourselves.
Anytime a man is in a downed place—i.e. he’s annoyed, angry, tired, hurt, lonely, stressed, or frustrated—he is tempted to become overly sympathetic with himself. He gets that insidious, creepy, pampering mindset that tells him he deserves a break—just this once.
I’m not talking about kicking back on the couch with a bag of Doritos. Not that kind of a break.
I’m talking about blowing it: the lie that it’s okay to run to a favorite vice. We’ve all got them. We run to whatever ultimately harms us, because we’ve convinced ourselves it helps. It’s the worst form of coddling.
What’s the solution?
Get tough with yourself. Knock it off, ya faker. Take a salt tablet, and get back to the battle. Sure, frustrations exist. But you don’t need that bottle. You don’t need that porn. You don’t need to give in to that moment of rage on the freeway. You’ve only convinced yourself you do.
By the way, the strategy works. W.O. Brown survived the dysentery—and the war.
Respect. All men wish to have the respect of those around them. One man who earned respect from his comrades and his enemies alike was America’s first president, George Washington. Washington was known for his gentlemanly comportment. Some might argue that his formality bordered on being frigid. But his formality helped earn him respect wherever he went.
When Washington was just 16 years old, he copied by hand a list of 110 rules on civility that were compiled by 16th Century Jesuit priests. I’m sure the time Washington spent as a boy writing out these rules helped shape the magnanimous statesman he would become as an adult.
While some of the rules on the list are a little too stuffy, formal, and school marmy-ish for our modern taste, many of them are still just as applicable today. A man who practices these rules will definitely distinguish himself from the other cads out there.
George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation
(Note: The original spelling and punctuation was retained)
1. Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
2. When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered.
3. Show Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.
4. In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
5. If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.
6. Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
7. Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Dressed.
8. At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.
9. Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.
10. When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them.
11. Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.
12. Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs roll not the Eyes lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.
13. Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexterously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.
14. Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.
15. Keep your Nails clean and Short, also your Hands and Teeth Clean yet without Showing any great Concern for them.
16. Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.
17. Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play’d Withal.
18. Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.
19. Let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.
20. The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.
21. Reproach none for the Infirmities of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind thereof.
22. Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
23. When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always show Pity to the Suffering Offender.
Don’t draw attention to yourself.
24. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.
25. Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.
26. In Pulling off your Hat to Persons of Distinction, as Noblemen, Justices, Churchmen & make a Reverence, bowing more or less according to the Custom of the Better Bred, and Quality of the Person. Amongst your equals expect not always that they Should begin with you first, but to Pull off the Hat when there is no need is Affectation, in the Manner of Saluting and resaluting in words keep to the most usual Custom.
27. Tis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered as well as not to do it to whom it’s due Likewise he that makes too much haste to Put on his hat does not well, yet he ought to Put it on at the first, or at most the Second time of being asked; now what is herein Spoken, of Qualification in behavior in Saluting, ought also to be observed in taking of Place, and Sitting down for ceremonies without Bounds is troublesome.
28. If any one come to Speak to you while you are are Sitting Stand up though he be your Inferior, and when you Present Seats let it be to every one according to his Degree.
29. When you meet with one of Greater Quality than yourself, Stop, and retire especially if it be at a Door or any Straight place to give way for him to Pass.
30. In walking the highest Place in most Countries Seems to be on the right hand therefore Place yourself on the left of him whom you desire to Honor: but if three walk together the middest Place is the most Honorable the wall is usually given to the most worthy if two walk together.
31. If any one far Surpasses others, either in age, Estate, or Merit yet would give Place to a meaner than himself in his own lodging or elsewhere the one ought not to except it, So he on the other part should not use much earnestness nor offer it above once or twice.
32. To one that is your equal, or not much inferior you are to give the chief Place in your Lodging and he to who ‘is offered ought at the first to refuse it but at the Second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.
33. They that are in Dignity or in office have in all places Precedency but whilst they are Young they ought to respect those that are their equals in Birth or other Qualities, though they have no Public charge.
34. It is good Manners to prefer them to whom we Speak before ourselves especially if they be above us with whom in no Sort we ought to begin.
35. Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.
36. Artificers & Persons of low Degree ought not to use many ceremonies to Lords, or Others of high Degree but Respect and highly Honor them, and those of high Degree ought to treat them with affability & Courtesy, without Arrogance.
37. In speaking to men of Quality do not lean nor Look them full in the Face, nor approach too near them at lest Keep a full Pace from them.
38. In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physician if you be not Knowing therein.
39. In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.
40. Strive not with your Superiors in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.
41. Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Professes; it Savours of arrogance.
42. Let thy ceremonies in Courtesy be proper to the Dignity of his place with whom thou converses for it is absurd to act the same with a Clown and a Prince.
43. Do not express Joy before one sick or in pain for that contrary Passion will aggravate his Misery.
44. When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.
45. Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in Private; presently, or at Some other time in what terms to do it & in reproving Show no Sign of Cholar but do it with all Sweetness and Mildness.
46. Take all Admonitions thankfully in what Time or Place Soever given but afterwards not being culpable take a Time & Place convenient to let him him know it that gave them.
47. Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance break [n]o Jest that are Sharp Biting and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasant abstain from Laughing thereat yourself.
48. Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.
49. Use no Reproachful Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.
50. Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.
51. Wear not your Cloths, foul, ripped or Dusty but See they be Brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any Uncleaness.
52. In your Apparel be Modest and endeavor to accommodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places.
53. Run not in the Streets, neither go too slowly nor with Mouth open go not Shaking your Arms kick not the earth with R feet, go not upon the Toes, nor in a Dancing fashion.
54. Play not the Peacock, looking every where about you, to See if you be well Decked, if your Shoes fit well if your Stockings sit neatly, and Cloths handsomely.
55. Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season.
56. Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ‘is better to be alone than in bad Company.
57. In walking up and Down in a House, only with One in Company if he be Greater than yourself, at the first give him the Right hand and Stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him, if he be a Man of Great Quality, walk not with him Cheek by Joul but Somewhat behind him; but yet in Such a Manner that he may easily Speak to you.
58. Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for ‘is a Sign of a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion admit Reason to Govern.
59. Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act against the Rules Moral before your inferiors.
60. Be not immodest in urging your Friends to Discover a Secret.
61. Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grave and Learned Men nor very Difficult Questions or Subjects, among the Ignorant or things hard to be believed, Stuff not your Discourse with Sentences amongst your Betters nor Equals.
62. Speak not of doleful Things in a Time of Mirth or at the Table; Speak not of Melancholy Things as Death and Wounds, and if others Mention them Change if you can the Discourse tell not your Dreams, but to your intimate Friend.
63. A Man ought not to value himself of his Achievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches Virtue or Kindred.
64. Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, though there Seem to be Some cause.
65. Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.
66. Be not froward but friendly and Courteous; the first to Salute hear and answer & be not Pensive when it’s a time to Converse.
67. Detract not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.
68. Go not thither, where you know not, whether you Shall be Welcome or not. Give not Advice without being Asked & when desired do it briefly.
69. If two contend together take not the part of either unconstrained; and be not obstinate in your own Opinion, in Things indifferent be of the Major Side.
70. Reprehend not the imperfections of others for that belongs to Parents Masters and Superiors.
71. Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of Others and ask not how they came. What you may Speak in Secret to your Friend deliver not before others.
72. Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously.
73. Think before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly & distinctly.
74. When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended.
75. In the midst of Discourse ask not of what one treateth but if you Perceive any Stop because of your coming you may well intreat him gently to Proceed: If a Person of Quality comes in while your Conversing it’s handsome to Repeat what was said before.
76. While you are talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse nor Approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face.
77. Treat with men at fit Times about Business & Whisper not in the Company of Others.
78. Make no Comparisons and if any of the Company be Commended for any brave act of Virtue, commend not another for the Same.
79. Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. In Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A Secret Discover not.
80. Be not Tedious in Discourse or in reading unless you find the Company pleased therewith.
81. Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.
82. Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.
83. When you deliver a matter do it without Passion & with Discretion, however mean the Person be you do it too.
84. When your Superiors talk to any Body hearken not neither Speak nor Laugh.
85. In Company of these of Higher Quality than yourself Speak not til you are asked a Question then Stand upright put of your Hat & Answer in few words.
86. In Disputes, be not So Desirous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.
87. Let thy carriage be such as becomes a Man Grave Settled and attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others Say.
88. Be not tedious in Discourse, make not many Digressions, nor repeat often the Same manner of Discourse.
89. Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.
90. Being Set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your Nose except there’s a Necessity for it.
91. Make no Show of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed not with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on the Table neither find fault with what you Eat.
92. Take no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.
93. Entertaining any one at the table, it is decent to present him with meat; Undertake not to help others undesired by the Master.
94. If you Soak bread in the Sauce let it be no more than what you put in your Mouth at a time and blow not your broth at Table but Stay till Cools of it Self.
95. Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand neither Spit forth the Stones of any fruit Pie upon a Dish nor Cast anything under the table.
96. It’s unbecoming to Stoop much to ones Meat Keep your Fingers clean & when foul wipe them on a Corner of your Table Napkin.
97. Put not another bit into your mouth till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.
98. Drink not nor talk with your mouth full; neither gaze about you while you are drinking.
99. Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after drinking, wipe your lips; breath not then or ever with too great a noise, for its uncivil.
100. Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth napkin, fork, or knife; but if others do it, let it be done without a peep to them.
101. Rinse not your mouth in the presence of others.
102. It is out of use to call upon the company often to eat; nor need you drink to others every time you drink.
103. In the company of your betters, be not longer in eating than they are; lay not your arm but only your hand upon the table.
104. It belongs to the chiefest in company to unfold his napkin and fall to meat first, but he ought then to begin in time & to dispatch with dexterity that the slowest may have time allowed him.
105. Be not angry at the table whatever happens & if you have reason to be so, show it not; put on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.
106. Set not yourself at the upper of the table; but if it be your due or that the master of the house will have it so, contend not, least you should trouble the company.
107. If others talk at the table, be attentive but talk not with meat in your mouth.
108. When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously & with reverence. Honor & obey your natural parents although they be poor.
109. Let your recreations be manful not sinful.
110. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
Being punctual is a skill any man can master; it doesn’t take any special talents or abilities. But even if you feel it’s an important trait to develop, you may still struggle with being on time and find the habit of always running late extremely difficult to overcome. Each time you’re tardy, you re-commit to becoming more punctual, and yet soon find yourself running behind once again. Why is this?
It’s not strictly a matter of one’s busyness; the busiest people are often the most punctual, while those with the least to do sometimes struggle the most with being on time. It’s also not that late people don’t set aside enough time to arrive on schedule; even when they give themselves more time, they simply end up taking more time, and still arrive late. And contrary to the popular conception of later-comers as lazy slackers who willfully disregard the needs of others, most folks who struggle with being late do want to be punctual. But telling themselves to “just do it” isn’t effective, as there are often deeper, unconscious issues and motivations at work. Those who are consistently late, may have a tendency to:
-Misperceive the passage of time. Studies show that people who are consistently late underestimate how much time has passed. So for example, you need to be somewhere at noon and start getting ready at 11:15, thinking you have plenty of time. You’re dawdling in the bathroom, feeling like about 20 minutes have elapsed, but when you stick your head out the door to look at the clock, you’re surprised to see it’s actually 11:45, and begin running around in a panic, trying to get out the door.
-Underestimate how long things will take. Those who are consistently late typically underestimate how long it will take to do something, even when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary…since they do that thing every single day, and it always takes longer than they think it will. What happens to the unpunctual is that they get stuck on the best time they ever did something in, even if it was an anomaly. For example, once when you went into work on a holiday, and there was little traffic, and you caught almost every green light, it took you 12 minutes to get there. So now whenever you think of how long it will take to get to work, 12 minutes is sealed in your mind. And yet day after day your commute takes 17-20 minutes. And thus day after day you’re about five minutes late to work.
-Engage in “magical thinking.” When it comes to time, the unpunctual are perennial optimists. They believe they can do a whole bunch of things in a limited amount of time, or that each thing won’t take as long as it really will. This kind of magical thinking is sometimes the product of an indulged childhood, which gave them the idea that all things are possible if you believe they are, and that the natural laws of time and space that restrain others don’t apply to them. They see the world as they want it to be, not as it is. Being punctual involves trade-offs – I’ve got to stop doing that and start doing this, but magical thinkers want to have it all.
-Procrastinate in general. People who struggle with being late, are often prone to procrastination in all areas of their lives. This may be because they are more easily distracted than others, need a deadline to get motivated, and/or enjoy the “rush” of trying to beat the clock. (See more below.)
-Be easily distracted. Those who are easily distracted have difficulty being on time because on the way from point A to point B, they get pulled into point C. You’re headed out the door and figure it wouldn’t hurt to check your email before you go, and then as you check your email, you decide to check Facebook too, and before you know it, ten minutes have slipped away.
-Need an external deadline to get motivated. Some people feel they work best under pressure, and can’t get going until a deadline is looming. At which point they go into mildly-panicked, hyper-drive mode.
-Enjoy the satisfaction of rushing to beat the clock. For those who are easily bored, enjoy taking risks, and seek bouts of intense stimulation, the rush to beat the clock can feel like an exciting race. A dump of adrenaline makes you feel alert and purposeful – your focus narrows to solving this one problem: how to get where you’re going on time. It can feel like the overtime period of an important game: it’s down to the wire and the stakes are high. When you win, it’s terribly thrilling and oh-so-satisfying. But just like a game, you can lose too: you forget your homework assignment, give a frazzled presentation at work, or leave your kid waiting at the curb. Those who are late because they enjoy the rush of trying to beat the clock subconsciously set their own fires to then enjoy the thrill of trying to put them out.
-Feel anxiety. Studies have shown that folks who struggle with being late tend to be more anxious in general than other people. They may use the rush described above as a way to keep themselves from thinking about their nervousness. If you’re worried about how things are going to go when you meet someone or have to make a presentation, running late takes your mind off what’s to come and focuses it only on trying to make it there on time.
-Desire to feel special/unique. This person may view punctuality as the mark of a conformist, mediocre life. If you don’t have the life you’ve always wanted, being late can provide a tiny bulwark against feeling like you’ve settled down too much. It’s a small way of feeling like you’re different, that you’re not one of the crowd and march to your own beat, even if most of the other areas of your life are otherwise very conventional.
-Engage in passive-aggressive rebellion. Often raised by strict, controlling parents, this man tends to constantly feel as though people are breathing down his neck, and so haphazardly rebels against any rules, even reasonable ones, even ones he willingly agreed to himself. When he finds himself in a situation he dislikes, he is unable to make his needs known and to openly confront the problem, and thus feels powerless to change it. He resorts to rebelling in little ways like being late, in order to maintain a sense of being in charge of his life.
-Desire to feel powerful. Some men get a kick out of people waiting for them. It stokes their ego and gives them a sense of control, oftentimes when they lack a feeling of power in other areas of their lives.
How to Break Out of the Unpunctual Habit: Tips for Always Arriving on Time
If you struggle with the habit of consistently being late, hopefully you can now see that the cause of your habit may be deeper and more difficult to shake than you realized (and that if you have an unpunctual loved one, you should be patient and charitable with them). With any habit we fall into, our mind does a (typically unconscious) cost/benefit analysis, and decides one course of action is more beneficial than another. So in breaking an old habit, it’s crucial to identify and cultivate a benefit of the new behavior. Here are some ways to do that, along with other tips for helping you perceive time more accurately, short-circuit magical thinking about the clock, and always get where you’re going on time:
Own up to problem. When someone knows something is right and wants to do it, but fails at doing so, they often resort to rationalizations in order to soothe the dissonance between who they want to be and how they actually act. In the case of the unpunctual, this takes the form of deciding that being on time isn’t very important anyway, or that people who expect punctuality are unreasonably uptight, or in excusing their lateness by blaming certain circumstances…even if they face those same circumstances every single day. So the first step in overcoming lateness is to quit the rationalizations and take responsibility for the problem.
Redefine punctuality as a matter of integrity. It’s easiest to reach a goal when you feel a strong sense of purpose and motivation in doing so. So stop thinking of being punctual as something your mom or school teacher arbitrarily asked of you, and start viewing it as a matter of integrity — a way of keeping your promises and becoming a man of your word. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine the inconvenience your lateness will cause them. Once you form an inner conviction about the importance of punctuality, you can move from relying on external motivation (deadlines), to inner motivation (excellence).
Start taking note of the benefits of being on time. Remember, you need to replace the benefit you were getting from the old habit of being late (the rush of beating the clock, the feeling of being special, etc.), with a new one for being punctual. So start taking note of the benefits of being on time. These can be things like the satisfaction of self-mastery, increasing your sense of confidence and control of your life, and the respect you get from others for being reliable.
Learn to make your needs known and don’t rebel against something you freely chose yourself. If there’s something onerous about various situations in your life, then it’s up to you to make your needs known and to leave or change the situation, instead of passively rebelling through arriving late. Honestly assess the situation: if you willingly agreed to being on time for a job or something else, than why are you rebelling? If you don’t like the job, then find another, and if you do like it, then keep your promise to arrive on time.
See yourself as part of a team. There are times when you want to be a fully autonomous man, and times when it’s helpful to see yourself as having a role in making something great. When you meet your wife on time for a date night dinner, you contribute to making the evening a relaxing and enjoyable one.
Work on your powers of concentration. If you’re often late because you have trouble staying on task with what you need to be doing to get somewhere on time, building up your mental discipline and ability to focus can help a great deal. A powerful way to do this is through daily meditation. We’ll also have a post in a couple of weeks with some simple concentration exercises you can do to strengthen your attention muscle.
Find more constructive ways of getting your adrenaline rush and feeling special. If you never leave enough time to get somewhere because you love the drama and excitement of trying to “beat the buzzer,” you may want to assess the amount of thrills in your life. Because while it’s very understandable to like that feeling, it’s really kind of a sad way to get your jollies, isn’t it? Even when you “win,” the only reward is…not being late. Instead, look to incorporate other activities into your life that involve risk and get your adrenaline going, but that don’t inconvenience other people and torpedo your personal and professional success for no good reason, and may even make you a better man at the same time.
Similarly, always being late in order to avoid feeling “ordinary” or “conformist,” is a rather impoverished attempt at feeling like an individual. After all, there’s nothing unique about being selfish. Work on creating the life you want and following your passion if you truly want to break away from the crowd.
Redefine your concept of “wasted” time. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to arrive even a minute early because you feel waiting time is wasted time – either because it’s boring or you could have been doing something else you like – redefine wasted time as your guilt-free, luxury time. In our madcap lives, it’s hard to break off from work-related tasks, and just do something totally unnecessary, or something pleasurable and enjoyable that is work-related or tied to backburner goals that you can never seem to find time for. Whenever you’re early and waiting for someone, let that be the time to do those things. Read a book or magazine. Play Angry Birds. Jot down some figures. Contemplate an idea. Relax and just think. Waiting time may become something you truly look forward to – the new benefit to replace the old one you got from running late. You may even come to find yourself disappointed when you don’t get to wait!
In order for this tactic to work, you should always bring a book, pen, or notebook with you, so you can bust them out during your guilt-free enjoyment time. Of course your phone does most of these functions too, and you’ll probably have it with you most of the time.
Always shoot to arrive 15 minutes early. There’s an old expression that if you’re on time, you’re late. The rule of men like Vince Lombardi and Horatio Nelson was to always aim to arrive 15 minutes early. Half the time, you’ll run into unexpected trouble — traffic, difficulty finding the building or a parking space — and end up right on time anyway. And the other half of the time, when you do arrive 15 minutes early, you’ll have a quarter of an hour to do something enjoyable or to get extra prepared for the meeting or interview.
Now it’s important to note that there are times when you do not want to be early, and may even wish to arrive a little late. For example, when picking up a date, aim to arrive right on time or a minute or two after; your date may plan on using every minute up until you said you’d be there to get ready, and you don’t want to make her awkwardly answer the door in her bathrobe. And when it comes to things like dinner parties, people are generally expected to be a tad late; it gives the hostess a little extra time to finish up her preparations. I saw some comments in Monday’s post to the effect that you should arrive to a dinner party 15 minutes late, but personally I think that’s too much; 5-10 is appropriate. After ten minutes a hostess will begin to wonder where you are, and if the hostess’ food was done when the scheduled time arrived, the fact that it has been cooling for 15 minutes will begin to worry her.
Basically, the rule to follow here is that if arriving early will cause others to feel awkward and/or force them to turn their attention to entertaining you when they have other preparations to make, arrive on time or a little after.
Correct your magical thinking and misperceptions about time. As we mentioned above, oftentimes those who struggle with being late feel that time moves slower than it does, or that they can get done more in a period of time then they realistically can. If you fall into this category, here are some ways you can train your mind to think more accurately about time:
Make a chart of how long you think many of your daily tasks take you.
Write down things like:
Get ready in morning: 20 minutes
Eat breakfast: 15 minutes
Drive to work: 9 minutes
Drive from work to gym: 15 minutes
Workout at gym: 45 minutes
After you make your list, get a timer (or timer watch) and a notebook and carry both around with you during the day. Write down how long each activity actually takes. Do this for a full week – any one day could be an anomaly. At the end of the week, compare your estimations of how long your daily activities take with how long they actually took. Average the actual times for each task together, and then, moving forward, allot yourself that amount of time each day to complete the task. Remember, if you end up with extra time, you can use that time to do something enjoyable. You should post a chart of how long your daily activities take in a place where you can see it often. These realistic times will come to replace the inaccurate, idealized times that were stuck in your head.
Organize your time with a daily planner.
When your plans for the day are vague and fuzzy, you end up spending too little time on some things and too much on others, and inevitably struggle to catch up and get things done on schedule. Instead, plan out what you’re going to do each hour of the day, and how long you plan to spend on each task.
Use a timer to stay on track.
Set a countdown timer, with a large display you can read from across the room, with how long you want to spend on each activity; this will help keep you on track. If it has a feature where it gives you a five minute/one minute warning, all the better. If you’re often late because you’re prone to distraction, look for a timer that beeps at intervals as well; when you hear the beep, take a moment to assess whether you’re on track with what you’re supposed to be doing or have drifted off.
Keep a clock in every room, even in the shower.
A clock will keep you situated with where you are in time. However, I don’t recommend the common tactic of setting your clock slightly ahead, on the theory that it will spur you into greater urgency. Your mind will simply begin to accommodate the extra time into its calculations, and you’ll be just as late as you were before.
Keep things in set places. When you get home, put your keys on a hook inside the door. Put your cell phone, wallet, and other pocket contents in a dresser valet (ideally with a charger so your phone is ready to go in the morning) or box. That way, when you’re going out the door the next day, you won’t be late because you had to rush all over the house like a mad man looking for your keys.
Leave important items by the door. If you have special things you need to remember to bring with you — homework, documents, samples, tools, whatever — put them right by the door through which you’ll exit in the morning, so you’ll practically trip over them on your way out. You can also put them in a plastic grocery bag that you hang from the doorknob.
source: Art of Manliness
The life of George Washington was characterized by a scrupulous regard for punctuality.
When he asked a man to bring by some horses he was interested in buying at five in the morning, and the man arrived fifteen minutes late, he was told by the stable groom that the general had been waiting there at five, but had now moved on to other business, and that he wouldn’t be able to examine the horses again until the following week.
When he told Congress that he’d meet with them at noon, he could almost always be found striding into the chamber just as the clock was striking twelve.
Washington’s promptness extended to his mealtimes as well. He ate dinner each day at exactly 4 o’clock, and when he invited members of Congress to dine with him, and they arrived late, they were often surprised to find the president halfway done with his meal or even pushing back from the table. To his startled, tardy guest he would say, “We are punctual here. My cook never asks whether the company has arrived, but whether the hour has come.”
And when Washington’s secretary arrived late to a meeting, and blamed his watch for his tardiness, Washington quietly replied, “Then you must get another watch, or I another secretary.”
George Washington’s passion for punctuality was born from his youthful study of “The Rules of Civility” – his repeated copying of maxims like “Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.” For Washington, being on time was a way of showing respect to others, and he expected to be treated with the same level of respect in return.
We may no longer live in an age of knickers and powdered wigs, but being punctual is just as important as it ever was. It has been called “a homely, but solid virtue,” and it certainly doesn’t cause one’s breast to swell in the way that pondering courage or resolution does. But related as punctuality is to discipline and self-mastery, to integrity and respect, it is – if not particularly sexy – still an essential component of the character of an upstanding man.
Today we’ll explore why this is so, and then on Wednesday we’ll cover why some men struggle with being on time despite their best efforts, along with tips on how to overcome the habit of always running behind.
Why Is Being Punctual Important?
“The habit of being prompt once formed extends to everything — meeting friends, paying debts, going to church, reaching and leaving place of business, keeping promises, retiring at night and rising in the morning, going to the lecture and town-meeting, and, indeed, to every relation and act, however trivial it may seem to observers.” –William Makepeace Thayer, Tact and Grit, 1882
The importance of punctuality is not universal and varies from culture to culture. In some places like Latin America and the Pacific Islands, life moves at a different pace and meeting times are meant to be fuzzy. But this does not negate the value of punctuality to a man living in a culture that does define being on time more strictly, just as the well-rounded man of the West seeks competence in things like shaking hands, wearing a tie, working out with a kettlebell, and holding open doors for women, even if such things are not practiced the world over.
“I have always been a quarter of an hour before my time, and it has made a man of me.” -Horatio, Lord Nelson
Being punctual strengthens and reveals your integrity. If you tell someone that you will meet them at a certain time, you have essentially made them a promise. And if you say you’ll be there at 8:00, and yet arrive at 8:15, you have essentially broken that promise. Being on time shows others that you are a man of your word.
Being punctual shows you are dependable. A man can always be found at his post, carrying out the duties needful for that time. People know they can rely on such a man – if he says he will be there, he’ll be there. But if a man is not punctual, others cannot depend on him — they do not know where he will be when they need him. His associates will begin to feel he cannot organize his own time, and these doubts will seep into matters beyond the clock, as it naturally raises the question: “If he is careless about time, what else is he careless about?”
Benjamin Franklin once said to an employee who was always late, but always ready with an excuse: “I have generally found that the man who is good at an excuse is good for nothing else.”
Being punctual builds your self-confidence. Showing up on time not only tells other people you are dependable, it teaches you that you can depend on yourself. The more you keep the promises you make, the more your self-confidence will grow. And the more you gain in self-mastery, the less you will be at the mercy of your compulsions and habits, and the more in control of your life you will feel.
Being punctual assures you’re at your best. After riding someone’s bumper, speeding like a maniac, scanning for cops, and cursing at red lights, it’s hard to then turn your focus to making a presentation at a meeting or charming a date – you’re shaky and depleted from the adrenaline and stress. But when you show up on time, better yet a little early, you have a few minutes to collect your thoughts, review your materials, and get your game face on.
“Soldiers should be minutemen. Punctuality is one of the most valuable habits a soldier can possess.” –Christopher Columbus Andrews, Hints to Company Officers on Their Military Duties, 1863
Being punctual builds and reveals your discipline. The punctual man shows that he can organize his time, that he pays attention to details, and that he can put aside this to do that – he can set aside a pleasure to take care of business.
“’There is great dignity in being waited for,’ said one who was in this habit, and who had not much of which he need be vain, unless it was this want of promptness.” –John Todd, The Students Manual, 1854
Being punctual shows your humility. That bumper sticker maxim: “Always late, but worth the wait” shows that tardiness and an overestimation of one’s worth sometimes go hand in hand. People will be glad to see you when you arrive, but they would have been gladder still had you come on time.
Being punctual shows your respect for others. Being late is a selfish act, for it puts your needs above another’s. You want an extra minute to do what you’d like, but in gaining that minute for yourself, you take a minute from another, which is why….
Being late is a form of stealing. That’s a tough truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. When you make others wait for you, you rob minutes from them that they’ll never get back. Time they could have turned into money, or simply used for the things important to them. In coming to meet you at the agreed upon hour, they may have made sacrifices – woken up early, cut short their workout, told their kid they couldn’t read a story together – and your lateness negates those sacrifices. If you wouldn’t think of taking ten dollars from another man’s wallet, you shouldn’t think of stealing ten minutes from him either. Being punctual shows you value time yourself, and thus wouldn’t think of depriving others of this precious, but limited resource.
“It has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money. If you have time you can obtain money—usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.” –Arnold Bennett, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day, 1910
Being late disturbs the experiences of other people. Your tardiness not only robs others of their time, but of the fullness of their experiences as well. The student who interrupts a professor in the middle of his lecture; the family which climbs over you to get to their seats at the middle of the row in the theater; the man who opens the creaky door in the middle of a eulogy. When an old man was once asked why he had been so punctual in arriving at his church on time for decades, he replied, “I made it my religion not to disturb the religion of others.”
Being late strains your relationships. When you’re late in meeting other people, it makes them feel under-valued, that whatever you couldn’t pull yourself away from was more important or that they didn’t mean enough to you to warrant allotting sufficient time to arrive on schedule. The guest who flies in to see you feels like a dope standing at the airport alone, your date feels awkward sitting at the restaurant by herself, and your child feels abandoned as she waits with her teacher for you to arrive, all the other children having already been picked up from school.
Being late hurts your professional career. Whether you’re an employee or in business for yourself, being late can hinder your professional success. Many companies have strict policies about punctuality — get a few write-ups and you’re gone. Of course, if you arrive late to the job interview, you probably won’t land the position in the first place. And if you’re trying to win over a new client, arriving ten minutes late isn’t going to get things off on the right foot, in the same way that promising to get something to him by a certain date and then failing to do so, may have him looking elsewhere for your services.
Being late takes a toll on your life. Always running behind simply hurts you in all areas of your life. It results in lost opportunities: missing a plane, missing a meeting, missing an important part of a lecture, missing a wedding. It creates stress and can lead to car accidents and traffic tickets. It results in embarrassment and forces you to come up with excuses for why you’re late, putting a strain on your honesty. Basically, it makes your life more complicated; for men seeking to simplify their lives, cultivating punctuality is an essential part of that path.
Thanks to 1000 Awesome Things for this post!
Put your hand up if you’ve ever driven your car up to a gas pump only to notice after you’ve parked that your gas cap is on the other side.
My brother, if your hand is up right now, you are not alone.
See, some cars I’ve driven have the ol’ gas hole on the starboard side and some on port. Due to my unfortunate afflication with gasholenorememberititis, I’m always parking the car the wrong way. Sure, I try desperately to notice a little gas-cap bulge in the side mirror when I pull up, craning my head wildly in both directions, and generally pretty sure I caught quick glimpse of it as I pull in. But then I get out, notice I messed up, pound my fist on the trunk, give a sheepish toothy grin to the attendant, and then have to pull off a quick and awkward seven-point-turn before anyone moves in to steal my spot.
It is a terrible thing.
But guess what? High fives all around the room, because there is hope for People Like Us. Shockingly, I have recently discovered The Gas Arrow! Yes, believe it, driving fans, because it truly exists. The Gas Arrow is a little, tiny arrow right beside the picture of the gas pump, which tells you which side your car’s gas hole is on! I know, it’s crazy. And I guess whoever is responsible for marketing really dropped the ball on this one, because nobody I asked (n=3) has even noticed this before!
Yes, just look at that Gas Arrow, head-nodding casually to the left or the right, a classy pal just trying to tip you off real subtle like. It’s like a flashlight in a storage closet, a lighthouse on a foggy pier, a finger pointing at what you’re supposed to look at.
The great, noble Gas Arrow, telling you which way to park your stupid car.
So thanks Gas Arrow, for the big helper. Until car companies start putting gas holes on both sides of the car or they invent a new wireless gas that lets you fill up through your radio, I think I can speak for all of humanity when I say that we love you and everything you stand for.
I like proper grammar. I am certainly not an expert on the subject, nor would I claim my writing/language to be the pinnacle of proper use of the English language. Regardless, I prefer well articulated thought and language. I encourage my children to pay attention to the rules of grammar and not fall trap to “lazy” habits such as saying “like” or “you know” every three seconds. My older girls have struggled with “lazy” language habits; my son doesn’t speak fast enough or often enough to really have any use for language habits in general. It always seems to be a struggle to ensure that my kids (and wife) speak properly and in a fashion that doesn’t leave them sounding like uneducated miscreants.
Knowing what I know about my penchant for proper language skills and habits; I can’t help but chuckle at my own hypocrisy when it comes to my youngest children. My 5-year old has a bit of a lisp and pronounces words in her own special way. I don’t know what causes a child to speak with a lisp. I would like to blame my wife for drinking too much Dr. Pepper while the babies were still cooking in her womb. Alas, I don’t believe there is any scientific basis for that argument. I’m sure the solution is something much more pedestrian such as: I am being punished by god because, for a short period in my life, I didn’t think Angelina Jolie looked like a man (Jon Voigt specifically, but that is another discussion — yes, I know about the father/daughter relationship). Whatever the reason, and I honestly don’t care how it came about, I am not offended by listening to her speak. To be honest, I love it! As a teenager I had the hots for a girl who went on to become a speech pathologist; she would probably tell me that my “kids need to get that speech defect fixed.” I’m not sure I’m ready for my kids to outgrow it. It seems that the lisp is also contagious because my 3 year old has acquired it too.
A couple of weeks back I had a birthday. As part of the birthday celebration my wife purchased a single mylar balloon for me. The balloon is still floating above one of the dining room chairs proclaiming “It’s your special day!” I was talking to my three year old about the balloon when I realized that she has a very special word for balloons: she calls them “gumbloons”. Just writing that word for this post melts my heart and makes me long to hug that little squirt. I have no idea what the thought process was that lead her developing mind to settle on “gumbloons” when all the adults were saying “balloons” but I love witnessing the development. I don’t think I could ever correct her “butchering” of the english language. I want to bottle it, stuff it away in the very back corner of my sock drawer and pull it out for a listen on days when adult life has beaten me down. I want to remember her cherubic face muttering that word with a slight lateral lisp on the end.
My three year-old also speaks of herself in sentences structured for speaking in the 3rd person. She doesn’t refer to herself in the 3rd person, but she will say things such as “him gives the iPad to me…. now.” You must understand that she is not stating a fact with this sentence, she is asking me to enforce her request to have her brother turn over possession of the iPad to her. Ending the sentence with the word “now” is neither demand nor request; it is, oddly, her own “lazy” habit — she says it all the time, after nearly half of all her sentences, whether it is applicable or not. I like to think that her whole life is happening in that “now” that she utters 100 times a day. Kids grow so quickly that she is always a new person from one “now” to the next. She is simply trying to help us keep pace with her evolution!
My son also had words that he used when he was little that I found to be so endearing. I always swore that I would remember them and cherish them. As most parents do, I forgot them. In my youthful confidence I gave my memory more credit than it really deserved. Gladly, I was able to remember that for a few years he would call “elephants” by his own moniker “felnats.” I loved that word then, and I love it now. My own mother once told me, in front of some of my teenage friends, that when I was a toddler I couldn’t remember the word for “bumblebees” so I came up with the term “stumbleflies” to give them a name. I was embarrassed that she would share such a “un-macho” story in front of my friends. I stared at her in shocked disbelief. She looked at me with a smile I didn’t recognize as her eyes twinkled. Leaving the room, she kissed me on the forehead and patted my belly. At the time I couldn’t decipher the gleam in her eye; but, I assure you, I know its meaning now. There is nothing more dear than knowing, without a doubt, that you are loved as much as you love your own little ones. Even if they butcher the English language.
I think I am a sentimental guy. I don’t find anything to be ashamed of in that statement. Sure, it’s hard to hide misty eyes when my kids excel at sports, academics or serving others; but I don’t go out of my way to disguise my pride. I feel blessed to have a sentimental tilt. I think sentimentality is partly a realization that these great moments we have in life (and they are great) are, in fact, fleeting and the most precious of these fade far too quickly. The longer I live and the more parenting that I do makes this point even clearer to me.
I have been reminded of both sides of this eternally revolving coin this spring. Through deaths in my own family circle and deaths experience by friend’s families I have been able to view many lives celebrated in eulogy. I have seen through picture and anecdote alike the true value of life on this earth and it is seldom what we put most of our daily efforts into. I have yet to hear statements like “my dear old Dad was sure great at his job” or “I am so happy he spent long hours at work” from any person at a funeral. I have heard things like “I’m sure glad he was at our wedding” or “he sure loved the outdoors, and I remember that time when he and I…” I think these are the things we speak of when we lose loved ones, because these are the things that make us who we are and how we will be remembered.
Make no mistake, there is great value in work. Work is an important part of our lives and development. I’m just finding that it’s not as important as I always thought that it was or should be. It is not a foundation for a great life — it is a room in the house you build with your life. My mom (who has since passed) always got after me for focusing too heavily on my job and not enough on my young family. I bristled at her comments because I was certain that I WAS focusing on my family by providing a good life — a life I always wanted as a kid. I thought work was a magic machine into which you poured time, honest effort and brain power in one side and it would squirt out the ‘good life’ from the other end. I don’t even know what the ‘good life’ really was, it just always seemed a couple bonuses or another promotion away. I don’t remember holding it in my hand and feeling misty…ever.
I love architecture. I think it has the power to change mankind and actually design a better world for everyone. I want to practice architecture the rest of my life and design great things with great people. Still, I want to know my kids forever. I want to see them become… Become whatever their version of greatness is going to be. I want to goad my wife into laughing at my stupid jokes – forever. There just seems to be a grand difference between family and architecture.
So, with all my sentimentality intact, I have ventured to Phoenix this weekend -with my son- to experience Spring Training Baseball with the Angels. I wish I could express in words the look on his face and his reaction when I told him that we would be seeing and having dinner with The Angels. Alas! Some joy is ineffable and speaks solely to our hearts. Today, as we sat in a warm spring sun, he fell asleep on my arm for an inning. He was tired from a flight and chasing autographs from his baseball heroes. I sat in that cramped seat, afraid to move lest I wake him, and watched a baseball game as the arm upon which he lay fell asleep. The stadium was full, the cheers were loud and dramatic, but to me we could have been alone in the world. Me and my boy. Father and son. What could I ever do that is greater than this?
Okay, before I start this story, just know that I feel terrible. As much as my dog has been a headache and driven me nuts for over a year now; I assure you that this didn’t go down the way I planned. There are many things that I have “planned” in my life that have fallen apart, in fact. Not that I should have been surprised that this was a bad idea, it falls within my recipe for family disaster as described here or the fact that I am a terrible parent, as described here. Regardless, of my inadequacy as a parent or the broken synapses in my male cerebral cortex, I cannot be excused for this blunder.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a violent guy. I don’t spank my kids (though I believe in spanking), I don’t get in fist-fights on the weekend; and even though she eats poop: I don’t beat my dog. Not that any of that changes the story.
To tell the story; I was shooting a BB gun in the backyard with my son. We were “zero-ing in” the site on a small daisy BB gun during a break in the action of the Super Bowl. Once we had this calibrated correctly, we started shooting old tomatoes off the tomato plant in the backyard. It should be noted that this is one of those “pump action” BB guns that required 7 or 8 “pumps” to penetrate the skin of a tomato. I was almost done with my fun and was about to turn the gun over to my son for him to shoot when I heard loud voices from inside the house. “NO! GET DOWN!” was all I needed to hear. I knew instinctively that the dog had snookered everyone while we were outside and was now inside the house enjoying our Super Bowl snacks. My teenage daughter was doing what she does best: over-reacting and dramatizing the whole event inside the house. The dog retreated to the back door.
Primitive man was not very concerned with reasoning or debate. He saw a problem and he fixed the problem. Often these solutions were not cognitive or cerebral solutions to problems; they were strictly physical. Many great things in the world have come through this primitive male brain; sadly, this event wasn’t one of those ‘great things.’ Here is the thought process as best I can recall it:
I saw the dog in the door.
The dog had been disobedient.
I had a BB gun in my hand.
The dog needed to be punished.
A BB gun couldn’t do any “real” damage anyway. (I saw National Lampoon’s vacation and John Candy made an excellent observation when he said
Lasky: That’s not a real gun, is it Clark?
Clark: Are you kidding? This is a Magnum P.I.
Lasky: It’s a BB gun!
Clark: Don’t tempt me. I could poke an eye out with this thing.
Lasky: You couldn’t even break the skin with that thing.
I would only give the gun 2 “pumps” so it was just like a swat on the butt.
It totally broke the skin. Lasky, the security guard at Wally World, was totally wrong. My dog scurried under the kitchen table. My devious smile immediately faded to a heart-sick grimace. “crap, that wasn’t a good idea” I thought to myself as I scrambled inside to check on the family pooch. I coaxed her out from under the table and tended to her wounded butt. The BB didn’t go in, but there was some blood. I put her on the counter and stopped the bleeding while petting her on the head and telling her how sorry I was. She looked at me with the same dumb expression that she always has, probably wondering if I knew that standing in front of the back door could lead to serious pain in your backside — out of the clear blue sky. My wife walked in the house at this point, she stood at the door flabbergasted. I think she tried to give me the “death stare” that she uses on the kids. It didn’t work on me. She muttered her favorite line “you have got to be kidding me” and moved on. I tended to my patient and moved to the living room with her. I sat with her on the couch wondering how I could make it up to her; thankful that her cognitive reasoning skills would not allow her to connect the dots and know that I was the cause of her pain. I felt like a dork.
The dog was back to normal in about 10 minutes. Sniffing around my bean dip and chips, stealing brownies from the toddler and being a general menace. I was glad that she bounced back so well. As the evening progressed I began to feel a sense of normalcy return and a hope that I could one day forgive myself. About 9 o’clock my 5-year old showed her mom the picture she had been drawing on the IPad. I saw the picture and knew that I wasn’t out of the woods yet and that I might never live this down. Though she never cried about the incident, she obviously wasn’t ignorant of what took place. As i studied the picture, the knots in my stomach returned. Here is her picture.
There are times as a father when you really need to earn your stripes. This was obviously one of those times. My little girl was trying to process her puppy being injured. She played it off as an image of “her and her future husband and how their dog got hurt” she said that Lily died before she got married. “This was TOTALLY another dog.” she reassured me. I was able to see through the charade. I pulled her close, gave her a hug and told her I was sorry for shooting her dog. I told her that I knew it was wrong and that I wouldn’t do it again. She reiterated that the picture had nothing to do with her dog, and she went back to coloring pictures.
I think it will be a long time before I forget the lessons of yesterday. Not that I can promise my decision-making tree will be better vetted or without poor selections. I just know that somewhere, I owe that dog an extra chance. She’ll probably use it up this week, but still. I owe my daughter something too. I’m not sure how to make up those things; I’m not even sure that I can. I’m thankful that there was no class I had to take or license I had to get in order to have kids — I obviously would have failed; but, the thing I am most thankful for is that little kids forgive dumb parents easier than the dumb parents forget dumb decisions. As for dumb dogs… Well… They are dumb, so they love us even when we are dumb too.
I hope with all my heart that the dumb decisions stay minor and that they all stay within the realm of puppies. I hope my kids grow up normal in spite of me; and, I really hope one of them makes the dumb split-second decision to shoot the family dog.