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A Recipe for Mettle Polish

A Recipe for Mettle Polish

Mettle 1. n. courage, fortitude, pluck, ardor, verve. 2. on one’s mettle, in the position of being ready to do one’s best.

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Metal and mettle both rust if neglected. They lose their shine. They become tarnished and weakened. People who have lost their mettle no longer have sufficient courage or enthusiasm to take on the world and rise above the challenges it brings them. They become dull, apathetic, ready to accept second or even third best.

How can you see whether this is starting to happen to you? Here’s how to make a brief audit of the state of your mettle: a way to inquire into the health of your inner spark, the part of you that can transform your life and outlook—if only it still has enough strength to do so.

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1) Do your actions match your values? A sure sign of inner corrosion is when you are ready to betray your personal convictions in the name of expediency.

Everyone has to make compromises from time to time, but some values are too important to sidestep for the sake of fitting in, making money, or having a quiet life. No one was ever moved to do their best, or overcome a challenge, by compromise or taking the easy way out. Only ideals inspire. Lose those ideals and you lose most of what makes you who you are. You become an obedient robot.

If you realize that you’ve given up on things that really matter to you—that compromise and accommodation have become habitual—ask yourself this the next time you look in the mirror: Can you still respect the person you’ve become? If not, it’s time to change. Those values and ideals are still within you, waiting to inspire you again.

2) Are you wasting time on goals and activities you really care little about? You have this one life, this one chance to live in a way that will make you feel proud, win or lose. Every moment spent on some activity that means next to nothing to you is a moment you could have allocated to living your dreams.

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Take a good look at your life. Is it what you want? Is it going in a direction that you believe is important? When you are old, will you recall this time with pleasure—or with sadness and amazement that you could have wasted so much time for so little that truly mattered?

While you still have the time, stop and review what you are doing. If necessary, reverse course. Do it now. Your hopes and dreams are too important to throw away through neglect or fearfulness. Time spent on activities that you don’t value is time stolen from your life.

3) Does your life add energy to this world or suck it away? Are the people you interact with enlivened by having you around? Or are you an energy sink: a presence that draws energy and liveliness out of everything, leaving it grayer and duller as you pass along?

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People who are truly on their mettle—people who spread enthusiasm, fun, excitement, and ardor for life—pass through this world leaving everyone that they meet feeling just a little better, brighter, more energized as a result.

Any internal tarnish doesn’t affect just you. It lowers the spirit of everyone who must deal with you. Have you ever been served a meal by a waiter who was miserable, glum, surly, or apathetic? The kind of person whose mere presence robbed the food of some of its taste? And have you even encountered the opposite: a waitress clearly enjoying her job, lively, enthusiastic, ready with a big smile and an infectious cheerfulness?

Which one are you? Which do you want to be? What will it take to bring back the smile to your face and the spring to your step?

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You can let life’s problems and cruelties rob you of your mettle, your shine; or you can devote time regularly to polishing away the smears and stains, so that your courage and enthusiasm to live life as you believe it should be lived can shine through again.

You can only find happiness and satisfaction by starting with the life you have today. No one can do this for you; each person must find his or her own way. If what you have is dirtied and dulled, that’s still where you must start from—right here, right now. Until you clean yourself and restore your mettle, your spirit and ardor, you’ll either stay in your present position or decline still further.

Life is good only when you make it so. That’s a task for which all of us truly need to be on our mettle.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to save yourself from being hooked again and Binocular vision. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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