Some days back, I had just stepped into a favorite coffee shop of mine when I noticed the owner, Paul, an Aussie who makes incredible coffee, clearing objects from the counter top so that an award might be prominently displayed: Best New Coffee Shop in Charlotte, 2015. I asked him how it came to be that such a prestigious title was conferred to his little shop. For the record, I like to ask Paul things because he has a cool accent. He responded:
“Just doing what my grandfather taught me: Head Down. Ass Up. Work Hard.”
Well said, mate! The beginnings of this article had already begun to stir within my mind, or perhaps these kinds of thoughts are more like lightning, finding a high tower to strike and working its way down to firmly grounded principles where, if found, it charges the mind and welds fast the structure. So, I asked Paul a second question, more sure of the answer I would get than I would have otherwise been.
“I bet you didn’t get that award by actively seeking it, did you. I mean, you didn’t come into work each day and say to yourself, ‘I really want to be the best new coffee shop in Charlotte,’ am I right?”
He knew what I was getting at. He said, and I paraphrase, “No mate. You gotta just focus on those 69 seconds that the customer is in front of you. The rest will take care of itself. Also, I drink a pint of croc blood and shave with a boomerang every morning.”
That last part may or may not be made up, but the sensible stuff he definitely said. I’m not saying he doesn’t drink croc blood and shave with a boomerang, I just mean I didn’t ask him that so I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide. Anyhow, Paul had uncovered an incredible secret to being successful in life, especially in regards to the things we are most passionate about. And, as much as I would like to credit Paul with this discovery and how it came about becoming an article, it was C.S. Lewis, an atheist turned Christian apologist\philosopher and writer, who got my wheels spinning on this idea.
First and Second Things
“The longer I looked into it the more I came to suspect that I was perceiving a universal law. … Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.” – C.S. Lewis, Christian Author and Philosopher, First and Second Things, 1898-1963
Lewis says that when we put first things (those which we care the most about) first, we may end up with some spoiled version rather than the purer thing we were after. Not to belabor the point, it may be easier to look at a few examples of this law in effect.
The man who seeks ease and makes it his life goal may get it, but in doing so, and avoiding hard work and hard lessons, he loses the thing that makes ease so desirable. Not to mention he becomes less and less able to defend his comfort from the seeming onslaught and progression of life.
It would be better for him to make his first thing a second thing and learn to love the hard work and challenges that come with living his life manfully. Then on occasion, he can truly enjoy some down-time.
The society which promotes equality over extraordinary does so at the expense of its greatest achievers. If by equality we mean viewing all people of the same worth and value regardless of color or background, then it cannot be achieved through social shaming or laws. A law which demands equality, by its very nature accomplishes the opposite of its intent. It effectively says, apart from outside pressure and enforcement, it is not likely that a certain class can be treated equally, thus giving special consideration to one group over another.
It would be better to stop preaching equality and find ways to get our back up against the wall with our fellow-man, engaged in meaningful work. When people are in situations where they need each other, they find ways to value one another.
Consider the man or woman who wants nothing more than to be loved and get married. Doesn’t it seem to be these people who go from relationship to relationship, never satisfied, then finally settle for someone far south of their expectations and pandering? The nature of such a person is off-putting and their need for affection is often draining.
What if they put their first thing (love, or rather need for love) second? Wouldn’t they be more likely to find a relationship if they stopped looking so hard for one and instead began enjoying life, became comfortable being single, and focused on something outside of themselves?
The example of the man who, for various noble reasons, pursues his career\hobby\passion with such zeal that after 10 years is burned-out and has neglected his children, is so common that it is nearly too cliché to use. However, this may be the very thing that most men relate to. When we put work first, success, whatever that may be, seems so close, yet we find it unobtainable — just one more promotion; just 1,000 more followers; just a few more months of overtime; these late nights will really pay off — and often we find it unsatisfying if we manage to climb to the peak.
How would things be different if we flanked our passions, instead of pursued them head-on? What does that even look like?
A Primer on Flanking
“Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so that a man cannot have his flank turned, cannot be out-generalled, but put him where you will, he stands.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Essayist and Poet, 1803-1882
The Flanking tactical maneuver is as old as warfare itself. If you’ve ever seen a Revolutionary War reenactment, likely on T.V., typically the British Army is advancing in a highly visible, open field toward their enemy. While this may seem to be a poor — if not altogether stupid — strategy, the goal was to establish conflict on the enemy front, keeping them occupied with forward pressure. Once the attacking army knew it could hold its front, it would deploy a swift band of soldiers, often cavalry, to the enemy’s sides, or flank. Unable to defend their open flank due to the constant pressure on the front, the enemy would be overwhelmed and defeated.
This strategy is used in everything from hand-to-hand combat to the conquering of nations. It is also an effective tactic in other areas of life as well, when some goal needs to be conquered.
How to Flank Your Passions
If you are processing this concept as I did when I first came upon it, the notion of putting first things second in order to achieve the first things, seems to hold a spot of vague truth, but isn’t completely clear on how one would approach this in an area other than combat. Keep in mind that if this tactic were always easy to sort out, it would not be a very effective battle strategy. After the battle is fought and there is a victor, it is easy to see how the defeat and subsequent victory came about, though in the midst of the conflict it may not be so well understood. Just as we had a few examples in the opening section, I believe more will help us begin to cement this way of thinking into our paradigm for manful living.
Leadership — To be an effective leader, don’t concern yourself with getting people in line and laying out the rules. Instead, find ways to serve. People will follow the person they have confidence in. This confidence is called respect, and it is earned.
Friendship — In order to grow and maintain a friendship you need to do more of the things that strain the bond. Give honest feedback, disagree, and challenge each other. As iron sharpens iron, you will see your relationship honed to a fine edge.
Energy and Testosterone — Getting regular doses of Testosterone from the doctor will work to boost your T-levels…for a while. But if you want more T, start doing the things that men with more T do: have more sex, lift heavy weights, hang with other men, eat right, sleep more, work up a passion about the things in life that ought to matter to a man. The same goes for energy. If you want to feel less tired at end of the day, do the things people with energy do: Turn off the T.V., do yard work or a hobby, go fishing, exercise, play sports, etc.
Marriage — Like friendship, a healthy marriage needs a good dose of honesty. However, in order to be personally fulfilled in marriage, you will need to sacrifice more: put your spouse first, give her more time than you expect in return, do the things she likes to do, give up some things.
Fitness — You want to be strong, right? You want to be healthy and fit, but for what purpose? Instead of going to the gym and lifting weights so that you can lift more weights, start doing those things for which your fitness would serve a purpose: hike, race, run, sport, hunt, climb, compete, and fight. The reason so many people can’t break through health and fitness boundaries is because the boundaries are perfectly fine for 95% of their daily activities.
For me, as a part-time writer and blogger, there is a big desire to see Wolf & Iron take off; to be able to spend more time doing the thing I feel called to do. However, focusing only on my own success — viewership, likes, followers, subscribers, etc. — leads away from the community building and pointing to other men which is my ultimate goal. Building up others and pointing out men that deserve recognition, while it is genuine, has become a flanking strategy.
Flanking your passions may simply be finding indirect ways of achieving your goals. For Paul, the coffee shop owner, this is hard work, focusing on the customer instead of the prestige and accolades. There is a strong tendency in men to compartmentalize and become singularly focused on a goal, while at the same time losing the original meaning and intention of our pursuit.
Flanking your passions not only requires creativity, but by doing so you’ll get a better lay of the land, and a more certain victory.