February 8, 2011

A Man's Life, Personal Development

Craft the Life You Want: Creating a Blueprint for Your Future

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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:

  • Husband/Boyfriend
  • Father
  • Son
  • Brother
  • Friend
  • Grandson
  • Manager
  • Employee
  • Leader
  • Disciple
  • Artist
  • Student
  • Photographer
  • Writer
  • Soldier
  • Landlord
  • Coach
  • Teacher
  • Citizen
  • Mentor
  • Mentee

Finished? Killer-diller.

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?

Now take a piece of paper and write out each one of your roles in a nice column. Leave some space in-between so you can write a paragraph or two underneath each role.  Underneath each role, write out what you want the people you affect in that role to say about you when you’re dead. Be as idealistic as you want. For example, underneath my Husband role I’d write something like this:

I want Kate to remember me as a caring, patient, and loving husband. I want her to say that I made her laugh each and every day. I want her to remember all the fun adventures we went on together and those quiet moments when we just hung out on the couch or took a walk. I want her to remember me as her rock during all the hard times.  I want to her to say that I helped make her life magical.

Take as much time as you need. Really ponder about what you’d want the different people in your life to say about you.

If there’s a role you currently don’t have, but want to have one day, write it down and establish a purpose for it. Let’s say you’re single,  but you’re looking to start a relationship in the future–write down “husband/boyfriend” and what you want your someday significant other to say about you at your funeral. Then start living your life in align with those standards and get out there and start looking for that lucky lady.

Define Goals For Yourself

Our roles as men are often others focused, but in order for us to serve others effectively, we need to be on top of our game personally. That’s why we need to also establish goals and purposes that focus on ourselves and our progress as men.

Make these BIG long term goals; goals that really stretch you. And make sure they’re YOUR goals, not the goals that you think you should have. (Remember, don’t should on yourself!) If you want to travel the world  with nothing but a backpack, that’s great. But if you’re more of a homebody and would be happier advancing in your current career without having to re-locate, that’s fine, too.

Below I’ve listed some broad areas in which a man could set goals for improvement. Go crazy when brainstorming your goals. Just sit down with pen and paper and write down any and all of the things you’ve ever wanted to accomplish. We’ll whittle the list down later.

  • Health
  • Career/Vocation
  • Financial
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual
  • Travel
  • Social
  • Lifestyle/Where You Live

Alright, so by now you should have a pretty hefty bucket list of stuff you want to accomplish in life. Now, under each broad category you’ve selected, narrow your goals down to the five that you will focus on for the next five years. Remember, these are big goals like paying off your debt or starting your business or publishing a book.

The stuff you’ve written down is probably really broad like “Lose weight” or “Travel the world.” These aren’t the most inspiring or useful goals. As every corporate motivational speaker has pontificated: Vague goals produce vague results. Yeah, it’s cliche, but it’s true.

Take any vague goals you might have and re-write them so that they’re laser specific. Our goals need to be measurable and have a deadline for completion. If you want to lose weight, state how much you want to lose and the date you want to lose it by. If you want to pay off your debt, state the exact amount you have to pay off and the date you’ll pay it by.

And I don’t know how much of this is New Age/The Secret bull crap, but according to neuro-linguist programming, stating your goals in the present tense has more of an impact on your brain than stating goals in the future tense. I don’t know. If it helps, awesome. If not, no loss.

Here are some example goals:

  • On or before June 6, 2011, I weigh 175 pounds.
  • On August 31, 2011 or sooner,  I can perform 25 pull-ups.
  • I have paid off $30,000 worth of debt on December 31, 2015 or sooner.
  • I run my own blacksmithing business by June 30, 2014.
  • I live in Vermont in a small cabin and make $60,000 a year selling homemade maple syrup and moose skin rugs by April 1, 2015.

Define Your Current Reality

Before we get to where we want to go, we need to know where we’re at right now. Take a look at each one of your roles and the life areas where you’ve established personal goals. Write down your current reality in regards to each one. Be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t sugar coat things. It won’t do you any good.

Let’s use the Husband role as our working example:

Things are pretty good with Kate and I. We rarely argue, but when we do it’s over really dumb things. There has been a romantic disconnect between us since the birth of our son. We’ve been so busy being parents, we haven’t had time to be a couple. I know Kate would like some more romancing.

Your descriptions of your current reality don’t need to be well-organized. It could be just a series of bullet points or a stream of consciousness paragraph. So long as you don’t pull any punches, you’re golden.

Establish Specific Action Steps

With our current reality analyzed, we’re now going to set some very specific actions to fulfill our purposes and goals.

Create a heading for “Action Steps,” and under it, write out all your roles and your personal goals. Underneath each role and goal, write down five specific actions you’re going to start taking today to achieve your purposes.

Let’s continue with the Husband role as our example. My purpose for my role as a husband was this:

I want Kate to remember me as a caring, patient, and loving husband. I her to say that I made her laugh each and every day. I want her to remember all the fun adventures we went on together and those quiet moments when we just hung out on the couch or took a walk. I want her to remember me as her rock during all the hard times.  I want to her to say that I helped make her life magical.

What specific actions can I take today to move me from my current reality to something that’s more in line with this ideal reality? Here’s five I thought of off the top of my head:

  1. Book bed and breakfast for Kate’s birthday.
  2. Plan camping trip for just Kate and I for April 15-16.
  3. Buy Kate some flowers for Valentine’s Day.
  4. Leave her a love note twice a month.
  5. Find a babysitter for weekly date night.

Repeat with each role and personal goal.

Review Frequently. Amend When Necessary.

Congratulations! You’ve drafted a blueprint for your life.

You should be feeling less anxious and restless and more grounded and centered.

But crafting the life that you want isn’t a one time thing, it’s a life long process. Just as master craftsmen review their blueprint frequently,  you should review your life’s blueprint on a regular basis. Frequent review will help keep you on track with your goals and purposes. I like to review my blueprint at least once a month. Some people do it quarterly, while others do it weekly. Find a schedule that works for you.

And just as master craftsmen change their blueprints in the middle of projects because they encounter unforeseen issues, so should you amend your life plan when necessary. Again, your roles as a man will change throughout your life; you’ll achieve goals and will need to establish new ones; goals that were important two years ago, stop being so important anymore. Perhaps you can set up a yearly ritual where you do a deep review of your blueprint and make changes to it for the coming year.

That’s enough yapping. Time to get to work. I’d love to hear about your life’s blueprint. Share them with us in the AoM Community. I’ve established a discussion thread just for that.

Craft the Life You Want Series:
Creating a Blueprint for Your Future
Setting Up Shop, or The Importance of Where You Live
Gathering Your Tools


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