February 22, 2011

A Man's Life, Personal Development

Craft the Life You Want: Gathering Your Tools

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Welcome back to our three part series on crafting the life you want. In this series of articles we’ve explored how the different aspects of a traditional craftsman’s vocation can be applied by every man to the task of crafting a remarkable life. In part one we outlined how to create a blueprint for your life. In part two we covered “setting up shop” or the importance of where you live. In this final installment, we’ll be gathering the tools we need to craft a life that’s in line with our goals, dreams, and values.

Every craftsman has a set of tools that he uses to shape and build his wares. Woodworkers have a selection of chisels and planes that enable them to sculpt their medium. For the blacksmith, the hammer and anvil allow him to complete his work.

Just as artisans need the proper tools to fashion their masterpieces, we need the right tools in our quest to craft an extraordinary life. Below, we’ve gathered a list of tools and resources to help you build a legacy and claim your place in the Guild of Greatness.

A Mentor

A young craftsman beginning his trade education would seek an apprenticeship under a master craftsman. Young men would often leave their own home to go live under their master’s roof. For the next several years, an apprentice toiled for free in the master’s shop. In return, the master craftsman passed on trade secrets and lead the young man on his quest to become a master craftsman himself. In many aspects, master craftsmen were more than just teachers, they were also mentors that guided young men through a rite of passage into manhood.

Today, many men have gone through life without a mentor of some sort, which is a shame, because mentors can be a valuable tool in crafting the life you want. Mentors have the experience and wisdom to give us sound guidance, direction, and advice. Mentors can also help us expand our point of view in a particular area in which we lack wisdom and expertise. Moreover, a mentor can become a good friend and confidant during times when we struggle and falter.

If you don’t have a mentor, I challenge you to make it a goal to find one today. Don’t know how? Well, you’re in luck. We’ve actually written a handy guide on completing this crucial task.

If you’re an older man, I challenge you to go and find a young buck that you can bring under your wing, err… I mean hoof, and provide some guidance.

A Mastermind Group

A craftsman often belonged to a guild where he found a vast resource of collective knowledge that he could tap into to improve his skill set. The guild offered an important sense of solidarity and camaraderie with other men. The modern man can imitate the craftsmen of old by forming his own guild of like-minded men who are also interested in crafting a remarkable life and mastering the lost art of manliness.

A few months ago we wrote about the modern day equivalent of the ancient trade guilds: the Mastermind Group. Mastermind groups consist of a few like-minded individuals who get together for the purpose of mutual improvement. In a mastermind group you can throw around ideas, discuss and debate, and receive both criticism and inspiration.  In short, it’s a place where you can safely get feedback and support as you grow and develop as a man.

You can start and belong to mastermind groups for different parts of your life. If you’re interested in starting your own business, you might look for other entrepreneurs who have the same interest and start an email group where you can bounce ideas off each other or help one another with business networking. If you’re a writer, you can start a group like The Inklings, the mastermind group of literary greats like CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.

Or if you’re just looking to improve yourself as a man overall, you can start a mastermind group dedicated to that vital purpose. Get a few men together who you think have the same interest in manly self-improvement. Meet once or twice a month over some drinks and food. Share your goals and get accountability from the other men. Perhaps every meeting one of the men in your group can teach a manly skill that he’s knowledgable about to the other men or each man can share a poem, piece of literature, or section of scripture he’s been thinking about. I guarantee that finding a core group of men that you can trust and respect will help you think of new ideas,  refine your existing ones, and keep you traveling down the path to your goals.

Journal/Pocket Notebook

When in comes to crafting a remarkable life, two of the most useful tools for me personally are my journal and my pocket notebook.

I use my journal to work out the big issues in my life. It’s my sounding board where my audience is my psyche. I have journal entries where I try to hone in on my life’s purpose. Other entries are dedicated to fleshing out solutions to problems I’m facing. Oftentimes, I’ll journal just to empty my mind and soul of the emotional or mental burdens that I’m experiencing at a particular time. It’s amazing how much better I feel after those psychic dumps.

Read our article on how to start a journal for more information on why and how to get into the journaling habit.

My pocket notebook has been an invaluable tool in my life as well. I really don’t have a dedicated purpose for my pocket notebook; rather, I use it to collect ideas, do calculations, write down interesting quotes I want to remember, keep track of my to-dos, write down my daily goals, and doodle when I’m bored. Everything is jumbled together in a chaotic and yet oddly effective fashion.

How does writing random stuff down in a notebook help craft the life you want? You never know when you’re going to get a million dollar businesses idea or an insight on how to improve a struggling relationship with your wife or girlfriend. We often think that we can remember these strokes of inspiration on our own, only to find that we have trouble recalling them later on. Don’t let the muses escape you! Write down any and all insights that come to you, as soon as they flash across your mind.

Also, writing down and reviewing your goals each day will keep them fresh in your mind and subtly shape your daily behavior so you stay on track.

Online Tools

Several online tools exist that are designed to help you craft a remarkable life. Here are a few of our favorites.

Stephen Covey’s Mission Statement Builder. This is a fantastic tool to help you create a blueprint for your life. It’s based on Stephen Covey’s system as laid out in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It takes you step-by-step in establishing and defining your life’s roles, purposes, and goals. When you’re done, you can print off your life’s mission statement for future review and re-drafting.

Achievr. A free tool that guides you in establishing S.M.A.R.T goals; goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. After you’ve established your goals, Achievr will help you track your progress with a daily diary.

Weekplan. In our article on creating a blueprint for you life, we talked about the importance of weekly reviews in crafting the life you want. The weekly review is a time for you to evaluate your progress as a man during the previous week, and establish your action plan for the coming week. Weekplan is a free online tool that helps you plan your week out using the roles and goals you’ve established in your life plan. I can’t recommend this tool enough. I love Weekplan because it does what I’ve been doing with pen and paper for years and puts it in an easy to use, well-organized online format.

Don’t Break the Chain. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Men who leave behind a legacy have forged positive habits that carry them to greatness. My favorite tool to help me form good habits and break the bad ones is Don’t Break the Chain. It’s based off of Jerry Seinfeld’s personal system of getting into the writing habit.

Seinfeld would hang up a big yearly calendar on the wall. Every day he sat down to write, he would make a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day,” Seinfeld said. “You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

It’s simple to use and free.

Joe’s Goals. Joe’s Goals is another goal/habit tracker. It’s very similar to Don’t Break the Chain. A nice added feature is you can easily share your progress with a friend for extra accountability. Joe’s Goals is free.

Suggested Reading for Crafting the Life You Want

There are mountains of books out there on the subject of crafting the life you want. Here are a few of the books that I have found to be the most helpful in my journey in discovering my life’s purpose and achieving goals. I’d love to see your suggestions, so please share them in the comments.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. No book has helped me more in discovering my purpose as a man than Man’s Search for Meaning. Written by Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, Man’s Search For Meaning starkly lays out the vital importance of having a purpose to live for and the ability to find meaning in life in the harshest of circumstances. If you haven’t read it, read it. If you’ve read it already, re-read it.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This book has been a business bestseller for nearly three decades. And for good reason. 7 Habits not only explains the theory behind a purpose driven life, but also provides tools to help you put theory into practice. My planning and goal setting methods are heavily influenced by this book.

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer and Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy. Do you feel like you’ve found your calling in life? Are you just working at a job or are you fulfilling your vocation? These two books aren’t perfect but are the best that I’ve come across on the topic of finding and living your calling.

Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’ve incorporated several of the principles and methods in Getting Things Done into my personal planning system. While 7 Habits of Highly Effective People does a good job of helping you plan long term, it doesn’t really focus on how to plan and handle small, yet essential tasks. Getting Things Done fills that gap. I wouldn’t have made it through law school without this book.

Goals! by Bryan Tracy. My goal setting philosophy is greatly influenced by this book. Bryan Tracy lays out a step-by-step method that will help you create effective goals in your life.

The Most Important Tool of All

You can find a mentor and join a mastermind group. You can write down your goals and read a million books about how to fulfill them. But if you lack one thing, you will never, ever go anywhere in life; without this tool you are destined to live out a life of mediocrity. This essential tool? Discipline. Without discipline your dreams will never move from intention to reality. Making goals for yourself is the fun part. Reading books about your goals is the fun part. But then you need to take action, embrace no, focus, hustle, and push through any obstacle you encounter.

Readers often ask me, “But, Brett, how do you become disciplined?” You just do. You decide you want something bad enough to do whatever it takes to get it. There are no easy short cuts or formulas. When part of your brain wants to mindlessly surf the internet, there needs to be another part of your brain that shouts, “No! Keep working.” When one part of your brain hits the wall, whether you’re writing a paper or running a marathon, there has to be another voice in your head that yells, “No! We are not giving up. Keep pushing until you break through.” You build discipline in the same way you build a muscle; you start by being disciplined in the little things, and in that way create a reservoir of strength to meet the bigger challenges that test you as a man.

That’s it men. Let’s roll up our sleeves and unroll our blueprints; pick up our tools and swing down our hammers. Let’s work each day on crafting a remarkable, extraordinary life.

It’s your turn now. I know you all have tools that you’ve used in crafting the life you want. Please share any online resources or books you’ve read that have helped you in defining your life’s purpose and fulfilling your goals.

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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