Archive | September, 2010

Day 7: Create a Budget

7 Sep

“It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.” George W. Bush

California's 2010 state budget spiraled out of control - almost taking Arnold with it. Be stronger than Arnold, stick to your budget.

Today’s Mission: Create a budget.  A man is always in control of himself. He’s in charge. But when you don’t have a budget, your money controls you, instead of the other way around. You want to be the man with a plan, not the man floating along with his head in the clouds.

If you don’t keep a budget, you’re inevitably going to run into a situation where you don’t have a clue about how much money you have in your account. Not knowing how much money you have at your disposal can create a lot of unneeded stress.

Knowing exactly where your money is going increases your confidence. I think it has something to do with the feeling of control a budget gives you.  Plus, having a budget can help you make decisions faster and more confidently. Instead of hemming and hawing over every single purchase you make, you can just look at your budget, see if you have money available for it, and make your decision. (via the Art of Manliness)

Well it has been a hell of party around here during the the past seven days – full of resume writin’, shoe shinin’ and ball checkin’- and I’m about to throw the fun switch wide open with budget calculatin’.  Nobody said this project was going to be easy, but at least this mission will make me a richer man.  You too.

Right now budgeting for the modern man is easier than any period in recorded history.  Why?  Free, secure web technology.  Mint.com is to modern man what the wheel was to our (hairier) ancestors.  Mint takes 3/4 of the pain, time, and number crunching completely out of the process. It is the most useful web 2.0 site I’ve ever used.

Mint safely connects to all your bank accounts, investments, credit cards, debit cards, loans, etc.  It tracks all transactions, categorizes them, and presents up to the minute data on your entire financial portfolio.  Think of it as a simpler, automatic (free) Quicken.  Mint also has built in budget controls that allows you to set individual spending goals, set alerts for overspending, and view your  spending trends versus the rest of the country.  It is the bee’s knees.

"Uga Buggah, Mint!" This guy uses wheels and Mint.com. Now he's the richest man in Caveman City.

The only cavet for using Mint for budgeting is that it can’t automatically track your first-person cash transactions.  I use my credit card for almost all my transactions (to get points and also for budget tracking), so this is not a problem for me.

Random Personal Spending Stats for 2010 YTD

$163.22 average for groceries per month.
$8.93 average for Dunkin Donuts per month.
$42.35 spent on Pizza in August (might explain low grocery bill)

The most useful feature of Mint for me is its ability to show how much I spend on a particular type of recurring, variable expense (ex. All restaurants, or just meals at ‘Subway’).  This makes it easier to trim my unnecessary expenses.  No man (caveman or otherwise) should be spending $387.52 at Dunkin Donuts for FY 2009 – I’ve spent $80.37 in FY 2010.  Now, get budgeting!

Full Mission Brief:
Create a Budget
(from the Art of Manliness)

Day 6: Update Your Resume

6 Sep

“Now joblessness isn’t just for philosophy majors.” -Kent Brockman

This precocious fella didn't update his resume - and his father paid for it big time.

Today’s Mission: None of us need reminding that the economy is in the tank right now.  In this tight job market, every small thing can mean the difference between landing a job and being unemployed.  And having an updated, sharp looking resume is an essential part of networking like a man.

Even if you have a job, it’s a good idea to update your resume. Why? Well, first, there’s a chance you could lose your job, and you want to be able to start looking for new work immediately instead of having to spend time working on your resume. Second, perhaps a better job opportunity will show up. Many times, such opportunities are time sensitive, meaning the first to get his foot in the door usually gets the job.

We all need to be ready for these opportunities when they present themselves by having resumes that are ready to be printed off and placed in someone’s hand. (via Art of Manliness)

I know, I know – updating your resume is as much fun as watching paint dry with CSPAN3 on in the background.  Unlike the current “Party of No” on Capitol Hill, we here at Better Man are the “Party of Yes” and you can’t filibuster your way out of this piece of career legislation.  Still grumbling are you?  Well what if I told you my resume is a lobotomizing 12 pages long – all while being the proper length for my respective employer – the U.S. Government.  Checkmate, get started.

(For the record: Real men write their OWN resumes – then get consulting help from others.)

So you’ve primped, pressed and polished your new (updated) resume with results-oriented language, concise descriptions of previous responsibilities, and highlighted your professional strengths.  What next?  Here is what I do.

  1. Send it to friends and trusted coworkers for constructive criticism.  Even better, befriend the HR lady/guy and ask for their professional opinion.  Write them a thank you note afterwards.
  2. Create a unique, albeit subtle visual identity for your resume using white space and typography.  Hiring officials see thousands of the same, bland, cookie-cutter resumes every day.  Make your resume unique in some way – but keep it professional.  Comic sans is for chumps.
  3. Print on a cotton-derived paper with a watermark.  Instant class and sophistication.  Your resume will now look and feel head and shoulders over everyone else on the table.

If you’ve already got a solid job (or tenure) you still have a responsibility to maintain your resume and track your professional accomplishments.  This has two benefits:

  1. It will help you update your *next* resume with relative ease.
  2. It allows you to document the quality and quantity of your work for your supervisor (and for yourself).  Here’s how to do it.

Each month I take 15 minutes to brainstorm my significant projects/ideas/accomplishments/training over the last month and I enter it into an ever-growing Word document.  Then I voluntarily submit a condensed version of this document to my supervisor before my end-of-year review.  Keep your statements objective and to the point.  Example:

  • Attended week-long training, earned certification as an Interpretive Ranger Coach/Mentor.
  • Completed DOI B3 Aviation Safety Training, 2010 Wildland Firefighter Refresher.
  • Organized, instructed (2) CPR/First Aid Classes for 21 park employees.


"What did I accomplish at work today?"

This past summer I was responsible for developing and evaluating nine other park rangers during our busy summer season.  I quickly learned it is impossible to track of all of their accomplishments.  Now, think of your own supervisor.  It is possible that he or she didn’t catch some of your work as well.  A good supervisor should accept an objective year-end summary because it gives them a better chance of arriving at a fair, accurate employee evaluation.

Still not getting good evaluations from your supervisor year-after-year?  Well, now you have an updated resume waiting in the barn.  Good man.

Got a resume tip for your fellow man?  Please share it below.

Full Mission Brief:
Update Your Resume
(from The Art of Manliness)

Day 5: Start a Book

5 Sep

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” – W. Fussleman

Today’s Mission: 1 in 4 American adults did not read a single book last year. Those who did read books were usually women and older folk. This doesn’t bode well for younger men.

Don't piss off Levar Burton. Read man!

Start a book. Any book. Pick one of your favorite novels from high school or college. Choose a book that you’ve been forever meaning to read and have been continually putting off. Pick a book from the Essential Men’s Library.  Drop everything and read for at least 30 minutes today. Your brain and soul will thank you later.

The first book I can recall reading was Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” and I suppose you might argue that was the most important book I ever read.  My mom (who has just started reading this blog) might set the record straight on the “first” book once and for all.  But I digress…

So why should I (we) bother reading at all?  I’m going to channel my inner Letterman and give you my own top 10 list for why you should read – today!

Top Ten Reasons Man Should Read Book

(Use your inner cave-man voice)

  1. Chicks dig it.  A man reading is a curious, attractive sight.  Women frequent bookstores.  Three words:  Oprah’s book club.
  2. A useful man is a handy man.  There is no skill, task or lesson that reading a book can’t teach you.
  3. Books are free and cheap.  Visit your library or browse the “used” section on Amazon.com
  4. You can read and enjoy a book anywhere.  The beach, camping, commuting, by a fire, even in the tub.
  5. A book makes a great companion.  You’re never alone when you can delve into a book and explore the stories, characters and settings within.
  6. Reading improves your ability to write and comprehend information.
  7. Improves your concentration and focus.  Reading is also the easiest and simplest way to become smarter.
  8. Makes you a more seasoned, wiser man.  The most successful and influential leaders, businessmen and even casanovas were voracious readers.  Read about the lives of men you admire and emulate them.  You’ll achieve great feats.
  9. Truth really is stranger than fiction.  You can learn about the most fascinating, exhilarating events that have occurred on planet earth via a simple book.
  10. Makes you a super-star conversationalist.  Why is the “renaissance man” such a compelling figure?  Because he’s well-read and knows something about everything.  Talk to others about some of the books you’ve read – and ask them what they’re reading.

I read every Hardy Boys book as a kid, mostly while listening to Michael Jackson. Double mystery!

So far this year I’ve read 23 books, not too shabby.  Tonight I’m starting “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  This book is well recommended by friends/family (#26 on Amazon) and is an inspiring story of school-building in Afghanistan.  I follow the geo-political issues in Afghanistan regularly but this book should give me a rare glimpse into Afghan life at the grassroots level.

Schools and education couldn’t be more important for the future success of this country.   Afghanistan is home to one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates (72% according to the CIA) and the inability to read fuels poverty, drug-trafficking and the insurgency.  I’ll attempt to offer a review of “Three Cups of Tea” after I finish it.

For the record, I’m not enthusiastic about Kindles, eBooks, and the like.  There is nothing classier, more durable and trouble-free than an old-fashioned paper book.

What are your favorite, must-read books?  Comment and share your suggestions below.

Updated: An astute female reader agreed with point #1 and wanted to share this link.

Full Mission Brief:
Start a Book
(From the Art of Manliness)

Day 4: Testicular Exam

4 Sep

“Attention restaurant customers: Testicles. That is all.” –Peter Griffin

John Kruk checked his balls, beat cancer, and almost won the World Series. Do it!

Today’s Mission: Today we’re going to examine ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean our balls. Why, you may be asking, are we doing this today? Well, testicular cancer is the most common malignancy in young men between the ages of 20 and 34. It’s also is the number one cancer killer among men in this same age group.

The good news is that if detected early, testicular cancer is almost always curable. But in order to detect cancer, you need to know what to look for and also how to look for it.

This is the sole mission over the next 30 days that could save my life – or yours.  If someone told me 10 years ago that I’d be writing about my testicles on the internet someday I would’ve said, “No kidding?  Nuts!” Jokes aside, this is a damn important mission for all male readers.

Read the instructions below for the basics of the self-exam.  Still hesitant?  Tell your significant other that you’re proactively looking after your own health.  They will be pleased…and they might even offer to help!

Testicular Self-Exam Basics

Perform at least once a month. It’s best to perform the exam right after a hot shower.

1. Stand in front of a mirror and check for any swelling on the scrotum’s skin.

2. Exam each testicle with both hands by rolling the testicle gently but firmly between your thumb and fingers. Don’t worry if one testicle feels larger than the other. That’s completely normal. Fast fact: A man’s left testicle is usually larger than the right one. While you’re rolling each testicle in your hands, look for hard lumps on the surface of it.

3. Don’t confuse the epididymis for a lump. The epididymis is the spongy, tube-like structure that collects and carries your sperm to the prostate. You can feel the epididymis on the top and down the back side of each testicle. This isn’t the sort of lump you’re looking for.


General Anthony Clement McAuliffe famously rejected German calls for surrender by writing the note, "To the German Commander, NUTS!, The American Commander" during the Battle of the Bulge.

4. If you notice any sort of hard lump on your testicle, don’t freak out yet. Just contact your doctor immediately. Complete and accurate diagnosis can only be performed by a trained medical physician.

In addition to lumps on the surface of your testes, be on the look out for these signs of other problems:

•    Sudden acute pain during the self-examination could mean you have an infection in the epididymis or it could mean the spermatic chord is twisted up and blocking blood flow to your testicles. If you feel pain during the exam, go see the doctor.

•    You feel a soft collection of thin tubes above or behind your testicles. It’s often described as feeling like a “bag of worms.” This may indicate a varicocele.

More information at the Testicular Cancer Research Center.

I’m in the clear – this calls for a beer.

Full Mission Briefing:
Testicular Self-Exam
(via The Art of Manliness)

Day 3: Reconnect with an Old Friend

3 Sep

“The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.” -Abraham Lincoln

Myself, Jamie. Masters of our High School domain.

Today’s Mission: Your task today is to make like the “men of old” and reconnect with an old friend, either by letter, phone, or email. Wild dogs shall be released upon any man who attempts to complete this task via Twitter.  

Men back then were just like you; they made close friendships and then often went their separate ways. The difference is that they made the effort to stay in touch. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were apart from each other for 14 years, yet they kept their friendship alive by writing 158 letters to each other.

I’ve been looking forward to writing this entry since I first conceived of the project.  The prospect of reflecting on years of quality friendship and its immeasurable experiences released enough dopamine to lift my (freshly polished) shoes off the ground momentarily.  Hyperbole this is not – this is Jamie.

Jamie and I have been friends for almost half of our lives – beginning early in high school and continuously accelerating ever since.  We effortlessly made our own girlfriends jealous of our friendship, laughed until we made ourselves physically ill, wrote correspondences as erudite as Jefferson and comedic as Carson, and jammed to music so anachronistic that we could have DJ’d your parents’ prom.  We are a force of nature – and typically people find us hilarious or amusingly obnoxious.  We wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Man, the Myth: Jamie

Today I had the pleasure to reconnect with my oldest and arguably best friend over breakfast, a visit to a National Park, miles of driving and a trip to the movies.  We hardly missed a beat after not seeing each other for the past 3 months.  We discussed our siblings, our parents, our friends, women, politics, the Apollo program, Pat Tillman, Jan Brewer’s hilarious retrograde amnesia, our physical aches/pains, car repair and our growing “old man-erisms.”    Seeing my old friend today was a rejuvenating breath of fresh air with a cleansing hint of nitrous oxide.

There are not enough pages on this blog to detail our relationship with one another so I will focus on one facet of our relationship:  authenticity.  Jamie and I have shared an unusual level of forthrightness, trust, loyalty and mutual understanding since we first met in 10th grade.  We’ve been sincere with one another and shared our feelings in both good times and bad.  We are real – in an age where “reality tv” is the antithesis of reality, “social networking” masquerades as a relationship builder, and definitions of masculinity shift towards 6-pack abs and “testosterone-enhancing” materialism.  He drives a Geo, I drive a 14 year-old Camry…but our lives are “rich” in countless ways.

The male friendship has continued to evolve and respond to changes in society since the beginning of civilized time.  Aristotle viewed male friendships as “the most fulfilling relationship a person could have” and even extolled the virtue of the “heroic, platonic” male friendship over marital (female) love.  My how things have changed.

The man friendship underwent some serious transformations during the 20th century. Men went from lavishing endearing words on each other and holding hands to avoiding too much emotional bonding or any sort of physical affections whatsoever. Fear of being called gay drove much of the transformation. Ministers and politicians decried homosexuality as being incompatible with true manhood. And like most deviant behavior in the 1950s, homosexuality was associated with Communism.

Additionally, market economics began to influence male friendships. The Industrial Revolution and ideas like Social Darwinism changed the way men viewed each other. Instead of being a potential friend, the man next to you was competition. The world was an urban jungle and the man who looked out for himself was the man who was going to eat. It’s hard to develop the cutthroat instinct needed to destroy the competition when the competition happens to be your bosom buddy.

Increased mobility during the 20th century also contributed the decline in man friendships. When you have to follow your work, it’s hard to set down roots and make true friends. (From “The History of Male Friendships“, the Art of Manliness)

I highly encourage you to read the entirety of “The History of Male Friendships” for a refreshing perspective on the virtues of man-to-man friendships.

Jamie and I continue to chart new paths for our friendship as our lives evolve.  We don’t see each other as much as we used to and our priorities have changed as our careers, relationships, and families continue to (naturally) occupy more of our time.  I sincerely hope that we make up our (lack of) quantity with quality as we grow older.

Friendship, like agriculture, requires lifelong cultivation and an awareness of the many “seasons” of our lives.  That said, Jamie’s got plenty of flannel outwear to share and my grandfather worked decades for John Deere – we got it made.  We’ll be harvesting the fruits of our friendship through our sincere labor for season after season.  Thanks Jamie – any man would be privileged to call you “Friend.”

Full Mission Briefing:
Reconnect with an Old Friend
(via The Art of Manliness)

Day 2: Shine Your Shoes

2 Sep

My shoes. I'm going to need more polish.

“Clothes really do make the man. Naked people have almost no influence in society.” – Mark Twain

Today’s Mission:

Shine your shoes.  Get out every pair of dress shoes that you own and get them all into ship shape condition. Having a closet full of shined shoes ensures that you are ready for any occasion, at the drop of a hat. Plus, shining your shoes is the kind of quiet, repetitive activity that will calm your mind and soothe your stress. (From the Art of Manliness)

I’ve never been a man that put too much stock in fashion, clothes or trends (when plaid shirts come back into fashion I’ll be ready).  However, I’ve always enjoyed good suits, new pairs of jeans, solid brown shoes and a fresh haircut – those have always made me feel like a million bucks.  Shoe polishing seems like a natural extension of my conservative style, an activity where leather, polish, cloth, horsehair bristles and the occasional open flame combine with elbow grease to rejuvenate a trusted old friend – a pair of shoes.  Some of the pairs in the photo above I’ve owned for more than 7 years and I’m not giving these friends up anytime soon.

I was 18 when I bought my first pair of brown shoes at a department store in Barcelona, Spain.  I was clueless regarding footwear at the time and my female traveling companion insisted that I couldn’t walk around that country with sneakers for two weeks – I’d stick out like a sore American thumb.  She was right and I haven’t looked back since.  You’d be hard pressed to find me wearing anything but brown shoes these days – I love ’em.

My big introduction to the art of shoe polishing came when I started work with the National Park Service.  As a ranger you are expected to brandish a smile, a crisp uniform, and shinning boots on a daily basis.  One of my early supervisors, Ranger Smith, took shoe polishing to a level that I hadn’t thought possible.  The man reveled in the daily shine he imparted to his Vasque Sundowners via his patented “flame polishing” technique.

Ranger Smith - The master of "flame polishing"

This involved lighting a tin of Kiwi polish on fire, waiting for it to liquify the top layer of polish, and then rapidly applying it to the boot.  It is fun, it works well (the hot liquid polish deeply penetrates the leather), and it looks sharp.  My tip: After regular polishing is complete, buff to a shine, then apply another thin layer of polish, spritz with water, and buff again for a more mirrored finish.  Real mirroring takes hours – and panty hose.

So what does shoe polishing have to do with becoming a better man?  I think it represents the value of preparation, pride in one’s appearance, and the proper care of one’s possessions.  I’ve always heard a woman can tell a lot about a man by his shoes.  After my experience in Spain I’d give this axiom the benefit of the doubt.  Shine your shoes fellas.

What value does “shoe shining” have in your life?  Share by commenting below.

Full Mission Briefing:
Shine Your Shoes
(via The Art of Manliness)

Day 1: Define Your Core Values

1 Sep

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”
– Roy Disney

Today’s Mission: Discover, clearly define, and write down five core values crucial to your life.  Defining your values gives you purpose, prevents you from making bad decisions, boosts confidence, and simplifies your life.  Read the Full Brief below if you still need convincing.

Right out the gate Day 1 has been a thought-provoking exercise that I will undoubtedly revisit (and revise) over the course of the next 30 days.  The earliest “values” that I can ever remember being articulated as a kid were recited by my dad, my scout leaders and fellow scouts over the course of Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.  The “Scout Law” was repeated at least every Thursday night at our meetings and multiple times over the course of camping trips and scout camp.  I’ll say this, I’ve know many former scouts who can’t remember how to tie a sheepshank or build a monkey bridge – but I’ve never met a scout that couldn’t enthusiastically recite the Scout Law (typically as rapidly as humanly possible).  It stuck.

The 12 Values of the Scout Law

My initial interest in the The Scout Law didn’t extent past its rote recital, but as I grew older I developed a sincere appreciation for those values – an appreciation that was typically gained by experiencing the antithesis of the Law in some aspect of my life.  I fondly remember speaking with my Mom for guidance during college and exclaiming, “You know…I could lead a damn good life by just following the 12 Scout Laws.”  She agreed.

Life has grown more complex since my scouting days and I’ve cultivated new values over the course of relationships, family and career.  There also been numerous times where I’ve fallen short of abiding by the Scout Law, and have had to be reminded of them through my mistakes and missteps.   A Bowline knot was always heralded in scouts as “the mother of all rescue knots” because it never slipped and always stuck.  The Bowline reminds me of the Scout Law because even when I have slipped in life those values always stuck – and rendered assistance when I needed help.

My Core Values

Now posted on door.

1. Integrity- Be honest with yourself and others.  Say what you do, do what you say.  Keep your word.  Be real. Don’t compromise your values, identity or health.

2. Knowledge- Make reading a lifelong, indispensable habit.  Be curious and seek more knowledge.  Always ask questions.  Share what you know with others.

3. Relationships- Your ultimate happiness and satisfaction is based on relationships and experiences with other human beings.  Seek out new friends, be loyal to your family, support the people around you, and be grateful for all of the above.  Love.

4. Wellness- A sound, strong body supports a sound, strong mind.  Work out.  Don’t eat food substances your grandmother wouldn’t recognize.  Therapy isn’t a dirty word if you need it.

5. Discipline- An invaluable, required tool for your life.  Damn hard to acquire, practice and keep.  I’m still trying.  Discipline comes more easily with small, repeated practice.  Pays huge dividends over the long-term investment that is life.

What values are important to you in your life today?  What values have you learned through both good and bad experiences?  Help others grow their own values by commenting on this post.

Full Mission Briefing:
Defining Your Core Values
(via The Art of Manliness)