Three Things I Learned from My Barber

My barber, Nick, is one of my favorite people. He's a lunatic, and a wacko, and an incredible barber. I've been going to him for years, and I can't picture myself going to anyone else.

He's an old-school Italian, and you could imagine he's straight out of a movie: he's got espresso waiting for you when you come in, he's always got the front door open so he can holler at passers-by, and he's always talking about his cousins, and it seems like he has at least 400 cousins, and a lot of them are named Michael. He's a character, and I love him. He's the best.

I used to think he was just a funny guy—someone who could tell a great story and entertain you while you got your haircut—but it turns out he's actually a lot more than that. He's said a couple of things over the years that have made a great difference in my life, and while they're usually said off-hand, or at the end of some tall tale, I've noticed that some of the things he's said are incredibly wise. In fact, I've taken a few bits of his advice and incorporated them into my personal philosophy.

I figured they're thematically relevant to Rough and Tumble Gentleman, so I figured I'd write them as a post. Hopefully they'll help you as much as they've helped me.

​"If you're gonna be successful, you've got to look good."

Nick says this a lot, and it's not an unreasonable thing for a barber to say, no? He's a professional groomer, so it seems rational. It's almost like a sales pitch—"You better look good, so you better come back here!"

But the first time I heard it, I thought, "Nah." After all, a man's potential isn't wrapped up in how he looks, but what he does, right? You don't have to look good; you just have to BE good.

I think that women get the message—a lot more than men—that they're going to be judged on their looks. And, while it's absolutely unfair, I think there's truth to it. If you're a heterosexual guy and you think back on your first crush, chances are your crush was physically attractive. We notice looks, and while most men (and women) don't let looks determine their opinions of people, there are plenty of studies that say people DO judge people based on appearances.

And while men also face scrutiny for their looks—if you've ever had a really good-looking friend who got a loooooooooooot of attention from females, you'll realize that looks matter, and matter a lot—I don't think that men are told that their success is tied to their appearance. I never felt that way, anyway, and we all know some pretty ugly dudes who have become successful and attracted the attention of surprisingly attracted females.

Because men get the message that "your success isn't tied to your looks," I think a lot of them fall into the trap of thinking, "I don't have to go crazy about grooming; I can mail it in, and as long as I work hard, everything will turn out OK."

I used to think this, believe or not, but I was absolutely, absolutely wrong. Looks don't matter, really, but your grooming matters, and it matters a lot.

Close your eyes and imagine a successful person. Someone who's really got it together, who's at the top of his field, has a beautiful girlfriend/wife/partner, and has created a great life for himself. Take a closer look, and ask yourself:

Is that person a slob?

Probably not.

I've actually seen this in my own life. The most successful men I know go to extensive lengths to keep themselves up. They eat right, they work out, and they are fastidious about their appearance.

Grooming matters.* It's a message to the world that says, "I take myself seriously, and you're going to take me seriously, as well." It doesn't take much effort after you've developed a routine, and in a little while you'll find that you're feeling better about yourself, you're more motivated, and you're being more particular about other parts of your life, as well.

It's an easy way to make your life better—so jump in! You'll be glad you did.

*So, I will list two caveats to the "Grooming matters" rule. There are two jobs where you can look like a slob, and it can work in your favor:

Absent-minded professor, or brilliant scientist, or something like that. One of those guys where you say, "Oh, that guy is so smart and so involved in his work, he forgets to shower," and/or

Starving artist. Those guys can get away with a lot. We've created a lot of romanticism about someone who's willing to pursue beauty at the cost of material things, so starving artists can sometimes get away with the "disheveled sexy" look.

So, if you're either of those, maybe you get a pass on the "good grooming gets you ahead" rule.

But, you know what? Even if you fall into one of these categories, I would say that dressing well and grooming well is still a plus. How could it hurt? It can't.

So pay attention to your appearance, and put in the effort. It matters. Wear good clothes, take care of your body, and shave. Look good. Your success depends on it.

​"Every man needs to know his community."

Nick said this a few times, and I dismissed it. As far as the people in my life are concerned, for most of my life, I've been concerned primarily about my friends. My crew. The guys I know better than anybody else in the world. Why would I need a community when I've got my crew?

I'm (currently) in my 30s, so I'm right on that line between "young man" and "middle-aged man." And as I've grown older—this is sad but true—my friends and I have grown more distant. We're still close as ever, emotionally, and as soon as we're all together we're right where we left off. We'll be friends until the day we all die, and I have no fears about that.

But after you all move out of the apartment you all shared, and after a couple of guys get married, and after a few of us moved a few towns away—it gets a little harder for everyone to get together. You don't see everyone so often.

That's why it's so important to be connected to people in your community. People who live close to you, who you can hang out with at any time.

This, perhaps more than anything else, is the real value of a local barbershop: you'll get to meet and befriend your neighbors. On any given day, it'll be full of people who live near you. People who are experiencing the same local events as you. People who your probably have friends in common with. I don't have proof of it, but when you're in an environment like a barbershop, the Six Degrees of Separation you usually experience drops to one or two degrees of separation. And I love that: whenever I walk into my local barbershop, I always think, "Someone in here knows someone I know," and I'll say about 75% of the time, I'll end up talking to someone and find out we have a friend in common.

It's up to you to meet people, of course—you'll have to put yourself out there and strike up a conversation—but you'll be in an environment where you can meet people in your area.

Believe it or not, I'm a member of an archery league with a couple of guys from my neighborhood (an archery league is a lot like a bowling league, but instead of rolling balls, you shoot arrows. It's awesome). And those guys? I met them at the barbershop!

Every man needs a community.

​"You got your job and you got your spouse. That's all you need."

This, perhaps, is the biggest gift from Nick—the most simple, and most obvious, piece of advice, but it's something I think about every day, and share with others whenever I can. It's surprisingly profound, and I think most of my current happiness comes from this simple bit of guidance.

I've gone to Nick for years, and when I was graduating college—this is a while ago—I was a little intimidated about getting my start in the world. I was overwhelmed and not really certain what kind of career I would have, and where my life would take me. I asked Nick, "You got an advice for me?"

He actually stopped what he was doing, got really serious with me, looked me in the eye, and said:

"You got your job, and you got your spouse. That's all you gotta worry about. Those two things will bring you all the happiness in the world, or those two things will make you want to jump off a bridge."

I thought that was a little extreme, but for some reason I remembered it. I tucked it away, figuring I would think about it when I needed to. Nick clearly loved his job, and whenever he spoke about his wife, it was clear how much he loved her, so maybe he was onto something.

A few months later, I ended up finding a job. It was a finance job—I grew up near NYC, where there are (or were) a lot of finance jobs—but that was a stretch for me, because I was an English major in college. But I was young and smart enough and up for anything, and when I looked up the salaries of the people who had been in the field for a few years, I found out they made well into the six figures, I thought, "Well, I might as well give this a try, right?"

I think my job title was "Associate" or "Executive Associate" or "Junior Associate," but it might as well have been "Serf Dog / Peasant Slob / Unwelcome Mat," because basically I was a servant to a guy who had a bunch of accounts. I got coffee, made copies, put together reports, and did all the rest of the mindless work that a 10-year-old could do, all while trying to learn the business.

Eventually, I got the hang of it, and I began putting reports together, coming up with sales ideas, and meeting with clients.

I paid my dues and I eventually got promoted, and guess what? I was never more miserable than I was at that job. It may have been the worst period of my life, and it was easily the worst two years of my life. I worked all the time. I had no time for people I loved. I never got to work out.

And the worst part about it—far and away, the worst part about it—was the people. The people! Some of the worst people I have ever met. Back-stabbers, racists, lunatics—you name a type of villain, and I met him/her at this firm. I had more than one person tell me directly, "I live to make money," and more than one person tell me, "I hate most people." Nice folks.

I don't have any proof of this, but I'm pretty sure one of the executives was a sociopath, a la American Psycho, and if you told me he had a collection of skulls in his office, I'd believe you.

In retrospect, it's kind of funny, but at the time, it was pure, undistilled misery. I woke up with dread in my stomach, and I fell asleep with regret in my head. Every day.

By the way, if you work in finance, I mean you no disrespect. The world needs (responsible) banks to provide loans and liquidity to our economic systems, and there were plenty of people at that job who were honest, hard-working, good-natured folks. But there were plenty of lunatics, and man—that was not the industry for me!

I quit after about three years, and I took some time off. I was living at home during those years, so I had some money saved up, and I traveled a bit. I got back in shape. I read novels and poetry and felt human again. I eventually got work at a magazine, and about six months in, I realized, "Wow... I like this! I like coming into work in the morning. This doesn't make me want to curl up in a ball and cry at the end of the day. I'm proud of what I do. I want to do this, or some form of this, for the rest of my life." I found a job that brought me joy, and I've never looked back.

And as for my wife... well, she's the light of my life. She's not perfect, but she's perfect for me. I could start writing about her, but that would be a very, very long post.

So Nick's advice—basically, find work you love and a woman you love—was pretty incredible. I actually learned later on, in graduate school, that Freud—for all his lunacy—was the originator of that bit of knowledge. "Love and work, work and love—that's all there is," he said.

I don't know if Nick read the collected works of Freud, or if he was simply as insightful as the man who founded modern psychology, but I've found that they were both right. You may have money, you may not; you may have health, you may not. But if you got a good partner and satisfying work, you're lucky beyond compare.

​I Hope That Helped

I don't write too many posts like this, but it occurred to me that it could be helpful to some of our readers. So, remember: look good, make friends, and find a satisfying job and a worthwhile partner. Love and work!

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