Sep 26, 2008

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The Circle Game


I often get asked, “What exactly do you and your guys do when you get together?” 

      My answer is usually, you just need to be there to get it.  Sometimes it is easier to explain what we are not.  I cringe when we are referred to as a “group”.  In my mind that connotes some sense of self help or a place for men to gripe about their day.  That’s not us.  We prefer to use the term team to capture the essence of our circles. 

       Teams tend to have a purpose.  Ours is to ensure that men succeed at what ever it is they set out to do.  It is not always the same for each man and we don’t get there by offering advice or how to’s necessarily.  No one is touting a vision of what men or any one man should want, do or aspire to be.  Rather we ask a man, what do you want?  No what do you think you should want?  For example, I have witnessed men come to understand that their job, relationship  or even their lifestyle is just not working for them.  So to some extent we are in the business of getting to the ugly truth. 

    Then we try to get the man to get a handle on why he wants what he wants.  Oftentimes men, and women for that matter, find that they are chasing something that they are really not committed to, so it is no wonder that they eventually fail at attaining it.   How many times do you need to declare that you want to lose weight before you realize that you are perfectly happy with your love handles?    We work hard at getting to the “why” and sometimes it gets ugly because I have often found the answer I initially give to the why question is not really my core truth.  It might be tempered by a sense of obligation, a desire to be liked, or colored by what I have been marketed to believe I want but it usually is not enough of a why for me to fight for it.  My guys will see through that.  For example, when I was in New York at a very large and powerful law firm, I got to appreciate that the power, prestige and money no matter how attractive it seemed on paper was not enough to keep me happy at the end of the day. 

     And when I discovered that it was not because my men had any clearer sense of things than I did but because through the diversity of opinion that came out of that circle some thing clicked for me.   In part it was hearing what wasn’t or hadn’t worked for other men, or maybe it was hearing a man talk about the heartbreak and the joy of being a father, something was not even on my radar at the time.   In retrospect, a lot came to me from someplace totally unexpected.  I remember when I first joined my men’s team, as men introduced themselves and what they did for a living; there I was calculating in my head their net worth.  At that first meeting I got this perverse satisfaction from the belief that collectively, the six of them maybe made what I did in a year.  But over time I got to ask myself, so what?  We butted heads often enough for me to start questioning my comfortable little world and all the assumptions I was making around happiness.

      Which brings me to another thing we are not, we are not a circle of friends.  As a matter of fact, I have had men on my team that I just don’t like and often times that at first
I can’t understand.  But I have come to respect them and to trust them implicitly when they proved to be men of their word.  And of course not even man turned out to be men of integrity, and there were lessons in that discovery as well.    There is a way of being amongst us that is just palpable to a stranger.   It is bond built on trust and strengthened by consistency.   Friends want to be liked; we just strive to be respected.

       That brings us to the third prong of the game.  A man states what he wants, comes to understand why he wants it and then we ask, “so what are you prepared to do to get there?”  If we are anything, it is a circle of men who gain honor by keeping our word.   Since keeping your word is so important to us, we strive to ensure that a man knows what he is committing to.  The initial commitment may come easy for the man but the job of the men of the circle is to inspect that declaration to ensure that it is grounded in reality. 

            For example, a man says he wants to get in shape, understands it’s important because he wants to be able to have the stamina to run around with his kids and declares he is going to lose 20 pounds in the next six months.  So we ask, “When is the last time you lost 20 pounds in six months”?  Or ever?   Usually the answer is never, so we engage the man in a reality check.  What do you need to know and do to make this happen?  Usually the honest answer is “I don’t know.”  Which is another thing our circle is, a place where men can embrace their ignorance, not as a bad thing, not as something to be ashamed of but as an opportunity.  In the not knowing lies the opportunity to create something out of whole cloth.  And our circle offers a place to brain storm, to hear of other men’s struggles or successes and to pick the pieces that fit.

    And then comes the game plan.  And it is usually an aggressive game plan.  Because we pride ourselves in being a place where men can fail and can do so brilliantly.  If you think about it there is little to celebrate solely because you easily attained something you knew you could do.  There is often little chance to learn from easy success.  But failure?  Oh boy!!!  It means you are in the game and every time you stumble you learn a better way to take that missed step.  The circle works because you not only have men who witness your travails and do so without judgment but men who are enthusiastic about getting you off the ground and brushing the dirt off and getting you back in the game.  You don’t get docked pay for failing in the circle, you don’t necessarily face ridicule.

      And when you win,  there is no jealously and no one upmanship.  There is just a sense of a collective job well done.  Enthusiasm is infectious and winning is a wonderful drug.  So at the end of the day we are a circle of men who love the high of witnessing other men winning in their lives.  The competitiveness is not the driver; rather it is the sense that every man in the circle had a hand in the success.

  1. Howard-

    Sounds great. It really does. The only problem is finding such a group. Every one that I’ve personally ever heard of wasfocused on recruiting people for organizations like Sterling or Mankind Project which I have no interest in attending.

    Obviously this is from my own local experience. I’m sure there are such meetings in other parts of the country, but for many of us it’s difficult finding this type of support without being involved in one of the above (or similar) groups.