Staying Sharp: Straight Razor Shaving as Life

by Brett on November 22, 2009 · 48 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

For the past few months, I’ve been doing some self-evaluation and have found myself wanting in some areas. For example, I’d like to increase my fitness level, become more productive, be less cynical, and increase my patience.  But it seemed like every time I set out to  improve myself in these areas, I’d get frustrated that results didn’t come as fast as I wanted and I’d give up. Soon I found myself stuck in a pathetic cycle where I’d get motivated to improve myself as a man, only to quickly end up back where I started. Then I would sulk about my inability to get my shiz together, resolve once more to improve myself, and then sink back into a funk of frustration. My wife, Kate, started to lose patience with me constantly saying, “This time it will be different! This time I’ll improve,” only to see me still in the same place personally as I’ve always been. She could no longer trust my professions about getting back on track.

One night as I was meditating on my inability to grow as a man, an image came to mind: a straight razor.

That image completely changed my perspective on personal growth and has helped me make more progress in the past few weeks than I have in the past several months.

The Disposable Razor Mentality to Personal Growth

So you might be asking “What does shaving have to do with personal growth?” A lot actually.

That night I recognized that the reason I wasn’t making progress was because I was approaching my growth as a man with a disposable razor mentality. Modern disposable razors allow men to just throw away a razor and replace it with a new, sharp one when the old one gets dull. It’s quick and requires little time and energy.

But as much as the self-help gurus and “lifehackers” would like to convince you otherwise, you can’t replace your character or form a new habit in an instant like you can switch out the Mach 3 blades on your razor. No, our character is more like an old-fashioned straight razor, and we should be treating it as such.

Character is Like a Straight Razor

I have an old straight razor I found in an antique store in Vermont. If you look at it, you wouldn’t think it’s over 100 years old. It’s as shiny and as sharp as the day it left the factory that made it. Who knows how many men used it before me, and if I keep it in good shape, it’s something that I can hand down to my son or my grandson.

But using a straight razor requires daily maintenance. Every time you shave you need to strop it to get that keen edge to slice through whiskers, and when you’re finished shaving you need to dry the blade so it doesn’t rust and chip, and every now and then when the blade gets dull, you have to get out the hone and do some grinding. In short, using a straight razor takes a lot of work, but it gives you a superior shave and lasts much longer than its disposable razor cousins.

That night lying in bed, I realized that a man’s character is like that old straight razor. Just like a straight razor, a man’s character takes daily effort to be maintained in tip-top condition. It’s not just something you can work on for a few weeks before putting your life on cruise control. Instead it takes consistent, dedicated, daily effort. Yeah, the work we do to grow as a man can be monotonous and menial (just like stropping a razor), but it pays off in the end.

And just like a straight razor, we can pass down our characters to our posterity as a legacy that they can either enjoy and be inspired by or something that just ends up in the bottom of drawers and hidden because it’s no longer in serviceable condition.

Keeping Our Razors Sharp

It’s funny, but that “epiphany” I had that night didn’t teach me anything I didn’t know already. Of course, I knew that lasting change and growth takes effort and time and that there are no shortcuts. These are lessons we’re taught all of our lives. I just forgot them and bought into the disposable shaving mentality of instant gratification and instant results.

My “life is like a straight razor” insight was more of a needed reminder and put things back in perspective for me. I realized that we can’t pull who we want to be as men off of a shelf. Honor and character don’t come pre-packaged. No longer do I get frustrated when I don’t see results right away. I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that consistent, daily effort will bring results. There is no other way to get to where I want to be. I might not see changes right away, but they’ll come.

So what are those daily, menial tasks that help keep our razors sharp and keen? Here’s a list of things that I thought of:

  • Daily exercise
  • Daily planning
  • Reading good books
  • Prayer/Meditation
  • Serving others
  • Focusing on one virtue a day
  • Tracking what I eat
  • Tracking my spending

Not very exciting, huh? And that’s the point. Stropping and drying a razor blade isn’t much fun either, but it works. Again, it just takes dedicated effort. Like I said above, my progress has been more consistent ever since I’ve replaced the disposable razor mentality with a straight razor mentality. It’s sort of like the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady.

Let’s stay sharp, men.

How can you do you keep  “razor sharp?” Share your ideas and thoughts with us in the comments.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Luis Q November 22, 2009 at 10:41 pm

As cliche as it sounds its the little thing that counts. For instance saving, by doing a little saving every day it keeps adding up. Same with excercise, knowledge, study, etc. Good analogy and I’m glad you had that epiphany/reminder, I personally, love them.

2 Ike November 22, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Great post. Never thought of life like that before, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks, Brett!

3 Shane November 22, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Nice post, Brett. You mentioned tracking what you eat. Depending on how serious you are about it, this site: http://caloriecount.about.com/ is a pretty good one to use. You just input a bunch of information about yourself (and a weight if you choose to aim for something), and it pumps out all kinds of good recommendations such as daily calorie intake. Plus, the database of food for you to keep track of what you eat is pretty huge, and you can get daily/monthly/whatever breakdowns of calories from fat or protein, sodium intake, and a bunch of other stuff. I used it for awhile just to try and nail down a profile of where I might be waning nutritionally, and see where I might be sneaking in some poor foods without really thinking about it.

4 Gordie Rogers November 23, 2009 at 1:22 am

Baby steps are the way to go to help ensure long term progress. Great analogy with the straight razor!

5 Mark Beatty November 23, 2009 at 1:39 am

Very interesting and thought provoking, as well as a first rate and indisputable analogy. Thanks for this :-).

6 Derrick Lumsden November 23, 2009 at 2:36 am

Brett, great post. Thanks for the reminder of the simplicity of life through a great analogy.

I love shaving with a straight razor because nothing wakes me up liking holding a knife to my own throat. Similarly, nothing wakes up the mind like focusing on the details of personal growth.

7 Kenny November 23, 2009 at 2:38 am

I really identify with starting life improvements and then losing steam when thngs don’t change instantly. Great post, and I hope the inspiration it’s given me isn’t short lived.

8 Ammon November 23, 2009 at 4:47 am

This is what Covey refers to as “Sharpening the Saw.” Excellent comparison to razor shaving.

9 Perry November 23, 2009 at 5:27 am

This is why I have come to the conclusion that is it so important for us men to teach and educate our sons in “the way of men”. I myself never had a father figure around. As such, I have had to learn myself all the men stuff. This takes tremendous amount of time, learning, frustration, question marks. etc. while all could have been learned through years of interaction with a father. So it’s good that we are now reconnecting with the ‘old’ ways of being men. Just lets also make damn sure we take the effort not to only persue personal growth for ourselfves but also for our children.

10 David November 23, 2009 at 6:04 am

For me its ensuring I read good books every day and get my news from reliable sources.

I read the Economist and its amazing the changes in my outlook that have come about from reading it over the years. At the beginning of university I was quite naive and had no understanding of the forces shaping the world. Since subscribing and regularly reading every week I’ve noticed how I’m able to start and sustain a conversation on almost any topic with ease.

11 rory November 23, 2009 at 6:09 am

Although I have come to love this site, the repetition is beginning to compromise its quality. The first time you talked about straight razors and Theodore Roosevelt were great experiences for me, but in order for you to maintain a fresh blog you need new ideas. Please continue to produce high quality articles such as the “Lessons in Manliness” into the future.

12 Chad November 23, 2009 at 6:48 am

I’ve been using mint.com to track my money for about a year and a half now. Once you get budgets set up it’s really easy to split things out and know how much you’re really spending on things. Managing and sticking to a budget has helped me to afford many things that I would not have been able to otherwise.

13 paul November 23, 2009 at 7:22 am

Wonderful post. great way of bringing it down to basics in a way that is difficult to refute. thanks
paul

14 George November 23, 2009 at 8:39 am

I liked this post a lot because I’ve got the same problem where I’ll work out or get into a good routine for a week or two and then putter out. Great analogy and hopefully I’ll be able to pull it together like this.

15 Brian Escamilla November 23, 2009 at 9:02 am

Awesome post! Nevermind the naysayers about repetitive posts. There’s nothing new under the sun, and frankly, if you need everything to be “fresh” and “new” in order to stay interested, maybe you need to take a step back from our disposable culture. Being a man is an on-going process and we need constant reminders to refine ourselves.

I’m throwing in another vote for http://www.mint.com. It really helps to track your budget all in one place and gives you tips on saving. I will have to check the calorie counter website and get a regular exercise program going. Thanks again and keep up the good work, Brett and Kate!

16 David M. November 23, 2009 at 10:15 am

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau

I think this quote relates. It takes time to develop new patterns of thinking and new habits for the development of character. Great post.

17 Greg November 23, 2009 at 10:54 am

Great analogy about working on our character a little bit each day. I like The Art of Manliness and have learned some useful things here. Thanks for doing what you do and doing it well!
One thing that concerns me though is the continued spreading of the perception that shaving with a straight razor gives “a superior shave”. This is simply not true today. There are some old-school barbers with ALOT of straight razor experience who can give a great shave with a straight blade. However, the overwhelming majority of barbers (and certainly men who are not barbers) can give a much better shave with the modern technology of Fusion blades and Mach III blades. It’s cool and it does feel manly to use a straight blade. I’m a fan of keeping this art alive and I recommend that all guys should have a straight razor shave from time to time by a barber that is willing to do it, has alot of experience doing it and likes doing it. But to rely on a straight blade or use one on yourself for daily shaving is like choosing to rely on an Edsel or a Model T for your daily transportation needs instead of a new BMW (or Honda). It seems cool but it’s probably not a good idea and in fact it could even be dangerous. I know two guys who cut themselves badly with a straight blade because they had been lead to believe they should be able to shave themselves better and closer with that blade than with the Mach III blades they’d been using.

18 John Keener November 23, 2009 at 10:59 am

@Brett. As I read through this great post, I was reminded on the following proverb:
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

19 eric November 23, 2009 at 11:03 am

I’ve been writing in a journal for the past few weeks. I find the reflection very positive and it allows me to explore emotions and situations calmly and rationally. I either do it first thing in the morning when I wake at 5:30 a.m. or right before bed, and sometimes both in the morning and at night. This is something I think I’ll continue for the rest of my life. It’s a great “check-in” with myself. Also, maintaining a regular schedule of wake and sleep seems to make me more energetic and productive.

20 Brett McKay November 23, 2009 at 11:09 am

Thanks for the kind words and additional insights, fellas.

@Shane-

Thanks for the tip. I’ll check that site out.

@Greg-

When I say that a straight razor shave gives a superior shave, I speak from personal experience. I’ve used the Fusion, I’ve used a safety razor, and I’ve used a straight razor. The straight razor gives me hands down the best shave of all the razors I’ve tried. So it is true for me and I feel comfortable telling others about it.

21 Flippy November 23, 2009 at 11:33 am

Brett, you have provided some insight here that is simply EXCELLENT!

Kudos to you for articulating a concept that has so much value for men. A man cannot seek instant change or gratification in any area of life and expect fulfillment or success from it. Success comes from daily cultivation of a success-mindful attitude through sometimes difficult or at least tedious work. I would add that a man should learn to value and enjoy the daily work. When ever I get out my sharpening stone, I enjoy the process of sharpening in and of itself, all the while reveling in the thought that, when I’m finished, I will have renewed my cutting edge.

I suspect the turning point for you was the “meditation” that you mentioned. Aside from the wisdom you have provided in this article, it would be very interesting to me and probably other men to know if there was anything specific about your meditation that led you to the razor analogy.

22 James! November 23, 2009 at 11:47 am

Good entry Brett.

23 Trevor B November 23, 2009 at 11:54 am

Thought this was going to be on the manliest movie ever, The Razor’s Edge, one of Bill Murray’s greatest performances, and an all around excellent flick.

24 Troy Brown November 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Thank you for this site that encourages us to continue on our journey to be better men and the perfectly timed reminder for me that it is the consistent, daily effort that will bring results.

25 Milan Voykovic November 23, 2009 at 2:21 pm

A great post and thank you for it. My Dad was a straight-razor shaver until he got to old to hold the blade steady. As a kid I used to watch the twice-monthly ritual of sharpening. Out would come the stone and the little bottle of oil. Since his death a few months ago, and then reading the articles on Art of Manliness, it struck me that every man alive, no matter the race, creed, colour or beliefs, has the DNA of the blade. Somewhere at sometime all our forefathers picked up the spear, sword or ploughshare to protect and provide for those they loved. Luckily, I’ve never had to use the spear or sword (or ploughshare for that matter) but I guess it was that part of us which resonated when I watched Dad sharpening the straight blade. And it is that which makes me feel part of something much greater than myself when I shave with one. When Mum asked me if there was anything of Dad’s I wanted there could only be one answer- the razors, strop and stone. Keep up the good work Art of Manliness.

26 J.D. Tuccille November 23, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I just finished restoring to shaving condition a W.H. Morley straight razor that dates back to sometime around 1920. I picked it up several months ago, and the edge had long ago gone dull. Sharpening that blade on a stone was one of the more meditative things I’ve ever done, requiring me to focus — for the sake of the edge as well as my safety — on what I was doing and to take the time to do it right.

Now, after much effort, the razor is back to its intended use, and as effective as it was the day it came from the factory. There’s value to maintaining well-made things in working condition, and there’s value in acquiring the skills and patience to do just that.

27 roentarre November 23, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Seriously, I am glad to discover this manliness blog. The content really applies to me and I love the concept of exclusivity of reading a blog just about men.

“pursuing one virtue a day” is very hot concept for me. I would start doing some. The razor concept sounds really cool as it rids off the old mundane matter in one swipe.

28 Brett McKay November 23, 2009 at 7:06 pm

@Flippy-

Unfortunately I don’t have any good tips on the meditation that led me to my insight. It wasn’t really meditation in a strict sense-I was just laying in bed pondering over my inability to progress and it came to me. So nothing special-although I do recommend taking the time to think quietly sometimes. Oftentimes we’re so busy that we don’t even do that.

@Milan-
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. I very much appreciate them. I’m sorry to hear about your father, but it sounds like you are prepared to carry his legacy forward.

29 Rob November 24, 2009 at 12:22 am

Nice post, but was the dig at Lifehacker really necessary? I find a lot of useful stuff there.

30 Jesse November 24, 2009 at 3:26 am

Good stuff. Working through a similar malaise myself, this was a timely read!

31 Bryan November 24, 2009 at 4:37 am

It’s posts like this that are the reason I come back to this site again and again, and have given up on touchy-feely new-age self-help blogs. Well done that man! i’m off to buy myself a straight razor and a shaving brush, so I can remember to take that attitude into evry day of my life.

32 Brasky November 24, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Very insightful post!

I suppose we can hold you responsible now when we all run off to buy straight razors and make a *ahem* mistake? :p

33 Online Bidding November 25, 2009 at 1:44 am

hi

The old shaving style is difficult against this time.

34 Jeff Young November 25, 2009 at 9:05 am

One of the gifts I got when I graduated from college was a nice, leather bound planner from one of my uncles, who is now one of my manly Mentors. It had some self-improvement pages, and one of the things it mentioned was to take time to “sharpen the saw”. A different tool, less directly manly, but largely the same insight as you had, Brett.

You’re right, it isn’t some big secret, hidden knowledge. But it’s one of those things we would do well to keep track of.

35 Sundance November 26, 2009 at 10:03 am

Great post!

Inspired by a previous straight razor post, I picked up a straight blade and kit. I enjoy it, though I save it for weekends until I get comfortable enough to include it daily.

I’ve been thinking about what appeals to me about the experience. As you and other readers have said, it takes focus.

In my hectic, go-go-go life, I find tasks and rituals that force me to gear down very relaxing. Along with the straight razor shave, I also enjoy building a fire, and the occasional pipe. These tasks require you to do it right or they don’t work.

It’s very rewarding to do things right. (and I believe there are articles here on every one mentioned. Great site!)

36 Eckard November 30, 2009 at 9:24 am

Hi Brett. Fantastic post and a first-class analogy. I’ll also second you on the quality of the straight razor: though I have very little competence with this article, after I got started with it I noticed it would keep my cheeks smooth for 12 hours at least. I’ll give a shout-out for the old double-edged razor here as well: if I want a safe, very close shave within my level of competence, I go for the DE. (I still look forward to mastering the straight one day.)
Don’t listen to that stuff about repetitiveness. This sort of thing never gets old. That’s why people like me are returning to it, and why we love AOM.
Many thanks for an excellent site, and all the best to you and yours.

37 Tom December 3, 2009 at 12:32 am

I keep my mind sharp with simple math:
http://www.nixroot.com/icompute/
A really a fun way to stay sharp! :)

38 Tas von Gleichen December 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

To stay sharp I discipline myself. I follow a routine that will keep me successful. If that routine does not go into the right direction I adjust my routine so that I will continue to be successful. I respect the military a lot because they have some of the hardest routine around.

39 Toysoldier December 9, 2009 at 11:49 am

Repetition is not necessarily a bad thing: sharpening a straight razor, stropping a razor, doing the same thing the same way every time, revamping an article that has meaning and application in life. As far as articles go, i cite the book “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. You can read that book a day at a time as intended and when you finish, start reading it again. You will find fresh insights and fresh applications when you read a date again because you are not the same person who read the article a year ago nor will you be the same person a year from now. If you keep a daily journal you can see this for yourself. Keep doing what you’re doing with the site and the blogs. Well done!

40 latinkangaroo January 12, 2010 at 4:59 am

I’ve been using a safety razor for a few years now, and find it halfway between a styraight razor and a moder gillette.

I reckon you guys should touch base on these as well, since they’re fantastic.

41 Brian Schneider January 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I just stumbled upon this site while searching for a straight razor to purchase.

Great post! I think I will be a fan of this place for awhile.

42 Scott Wigginton January 27, 2010 at 8:39 am

Some more good resources to help with the tracking

http://www.dailyburn.com (track and plan eating and workouts, find local motivators to keep you on the ball)

http://www.yodlee.com (mint.com gets all their data from yodlee, but yodlee lets you pay bill to boot)

43 jon August 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm

This is such a common thought and struggle, it’s why some friends of mine created MONVEE.com. Their tag line is “You have what it takes to grow, find out what gets in the way” Very cool stuff…check it out.

44 Grant September 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Awesome post, it really made me think seriously about some things taking hold of my life now, and how they really can’t be fixed in a day. Thanks so much for the great insight, really helps.
Not to mention really making me want to try a straight razor, sounds so… manly.

45 Net December 3, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Agree completely with this post. I try to do something called the 5 Tibetan Rites every morning, I have been slowly but surely changing my eating habits as well. A step in the right direction is still a step.

Patience is the name of the game. Its also, at least for me, one of the hardest virtues to enact.

Seems like I need to invest in a straight razor as well.

Cheers.

46 Tim March 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Great post! This is the kind of stuff we, as men need to keep in mind. It is so easy to get ahead of ourselves in today’s fast paced society. It is also easy to forget that we can only do so much in one day, be patient and (most of all) choose wisely.

47 Jose May 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Great article! I just have a question, do you guys know if a shavette is a good starting point for switching to a straight razor shave? I’m wiling to invest in a proper Dovo straight razor, but I would like to try with a shavette first, to get used to the lengthy process and reduce my learning curve.

What do you guys think? Will the results vary by using a shavette instead of a straight razor?

Thanks!

48 John Mark Earle September 8, 2013 at 1:19 am

Loved this post. I recently read John C, Maxwell’s, 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. It describes what to do to make real change in our lives and that the things that we want to do or change in our lives don’t just eventually come. It takes deliberate action one day at a time. I think that ability to be steadfast over time shows “manliness” more than outward toughness. It is hard to be patient as we grow, but with a real determination to take steps toward who we want to become, we will see results as time goes by instead of just having time pass by us as we remain unchanged.
I loved the comparison to the extra effort required to shave the old fashioned way. It is like choosing quality of convenience. Will we as men choose quality in our own lives over convenience. The reward is a legacy left for those who will come after.

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