The craftsman is an archetype of manliness that has been with us for millenia. We admire his independence, his work ethic, and his unwavering sense of purpose. We envy the way he personally shapes and creates the fruits of his labor.
While not many of us will ever make a living hammering horseshoes or chiseling wood, we are all artisans in a way, because we are all charged with crafting our own lives. Each man must take an active role in shaping his future. He must gain entry to the Guild of Greatness.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll be offering a series of articles on how to craft a more remarkable life. Like all good craftsmen, we need a blueprint to guide our work, a shop where we can do our work, and tools to help us accomplish our work. We’ll be taking a look at how these three facets of a traditional craftsman’s vocation can be applied by every man to the task of crafting a satisfying life. First up: the blueprint.
Creating a Blueprint for Your Life
Are you living the life you want or have you shoulded all over yourself for years and feel as though you’re simply going through the motions as you try to gain the approval of others? Being a mature man means knowing what you stand for and where you’re going in life. A man always has a plan, especially for something as important as his life.
But many men today just drift along and let life happen to them. Maybe you’re one of them. I know I’ve done lots of drifting in my life, and I always feel like crap when I do. It’s an angsty feeling that drives you bonkers because you feel this strong drive to live with more purpose, but you don’t even know what that purpose is, which leads to an existential funk and the desire to eat several Supersonic Cheeseburgers with jalapenos. At least that’s how it works for me. Have you ever experienced that restless, anxious feeling and weren’t sure what to do about it?
Well, today we’re going to stop that angsty feeling in its tracks. Today we’re going to start crafting the life we want to live.
Like any good craftsman, we need a solid blueprint to guide us. But instead of creating a blueprint for a cedar chest, we’ll be drafting a blueprint for our life. Below I’ve laid out the steps that I’ve personally used to hash out a life plan. It’s a mash-up of ideas from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Brian Tracy’s book Goals!. This is what has worked for me, and it’s helped other people I’ve shared it with. I’d encourage you to read other materials on goal setting and experiment with different formats to find something that’s comfortable for you.
With that said, let’s bust out our t-squares and protractors and get to drafting.
Time and Tools Needed
Drafting a blueprint for your life is a huge endeavor. It’s not something you should expect to complete in just an hour. We’ll be doing a lot of meditating, writing, and soul searching, which is surprisingly difficult and draining work. Ideally, you should dedicate a weekend to drafting your life’s blueprint. Go on a camping trip, lock yourself in your man cave, or just check into a hotel that offers hot continental breakfasts (mmmm…am I the only one who loves continental breakfasts?) and hash out your blueprint.
If it’s not possible to do it in one fell swoop, then feel free to break the process up over a couple of days.
Where should you draw up your life’s blueprint? It just comes down to personal preference. If you’re a digital guy, do it in a word document. Personally, I prefer using my leather-bound journal and a nice pen to write up my life plan. I feel more engaged with the process, and I feel like I think better with pen and paper than I do with a keyboard. Some studies actually support the idea that writing with pen and paper increases cognition.
But you don’t have to use a fancy journal and pen. A spiral notebook and a cheap Bic pen will do the trick. Just make sure you write this stuff down.
Alright, we’ve got our tools. Let’s start with the first step in drawing up a blueprint for a manlier life.
Define and Prioritize Your Roles as a Man
Every man wears different hats throughout his life and even during a single day. We take on the roles of husband/boyfriend, father, friend, businessman, volunteer, citizen, employee and so on.
To become a complete and well-rounded man, we need to thrive in each of our roles. So much of our happiness as men depends on our success in our various roles in life. But before you can figure out how to excel in each aspect of your life, you first need to clearly define your roles as a man. Sit down with your pen and journal and really think about the roles you take on each day. Write down as many of them as come to your mind. Don’t hold back.
Here’s a list to help get you started:
A great deal of stress and angst in a man’s life occurs because he doesn’t spend enough time nurturing and growing in the roles that are most important to him. A man might consider himself an entrepreneur even though he works a day job at a corporation. Working on projects that he’s passionate about fills him with a level of manly vitality he doesn’t feel doing anything else. He might even have hopes of one day hustling his side job into a full-time gig. But whenever there’s a choice between working on his business and going out with his friends, this man consistently chooses his friends. Consequently, his small biz never goes anywhere and he ends up bitter, resentful, and depressed.
To help guide our long term goals and even our daily choices as men, we need to put down in ink what roles are most important to us. Look at your list and start prioritizing your roles in order of most important to least important.
You might be looking at your list of roles and thinking, “Boy! I’ve got a boat load of roles to prioritize!” Being involved in lots of people’s lives is a good thing, but too much of even a good thing can lead to burn out. Are there some roles that are causing you a lot of unneeded stress? Perhaps you have taken on a few roles that don’t provide any fulfillment and take away time from the roles that are truly important to you. You might then consider pruning those “dead” roles away to strengthen your core responsibilities. This can be tough to do, especially if what you’re eliminating is a “good” thing. But you don’t want the good to become the enemy of the best.
With your prioritized list, you can now start making better choices that are more in line with what you really value. This list will especially come in handy when you find yourself in situations where you have roles with competing demands. For example, let’s say you’re asked to come into work on the weekend. It’s not mandatory, but it would definitely look good and help with your career advancement. But that weekend your daughter has a soccer game. Which do you choose? Well, if you put your role as a father over your role as an employee, than you’d go to your daughter’s soccer game.
Now a few caveats with your prioritized list of roles. First, this isn’t a static list. The order of your roles will change during the different seasons of your life. So take a regular personal inventory and make adjustments when needed.
Second, sometimes your roles will have conflicting demands. Try to find ways to make both work at the same time. You might have to bring some reports to your son’s basketball game and work on them during timeouts and half-time. It’s not ideal, but it’s a good compromise.
Define Your Purpose for Each Role
Now that we’ve defined our roles, it’s time to establish our purpose for each of them. Without a strong sense of purpose, we feel lost and shiftless. Roles with clearly defined purposes enable us to make decisions that will enrich rather than impoverish us.
How will we establish our different purposes? Stephen Covey suggests imagining your own funeral. A bit macabre, yes, but it’s a very effective exercise. Imagine the people in attendance. Who will be there? Many in attendance will probably be the people you interact with in your various roles as a man: your wife, your children, your friends, your boss, your co-workers, your clients, and maybe even your dog.
What would each of them say about you? Which of your contributions will they mention in their eulogy to you? What memories of you will they share? How do you want them to remember you?