A grand piano with classical music in Nathan Spearing's rental property.

Ep. 6 | Aesthetics: Enriching Your Life Through Beauty

What do you think about when you hear the word aesthetics? Do you want to check out or are you intrigued? In this episode, Nathan breaks down how focusing on aesthetics can enrich every aspect of life—from your heart and mind, physical appearance, home, community, and workplace. Listen in for practical ways to become a more capable and multi-dimensional person by embracing and cultivating beauty in your day-to-day life.

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Show Notes

This is the Life on Target podcast. I’m your host, Nathan Spearing. Today, we will be wrapping up our series on the four languages of agency. I’m glad you’re here with me.

If this is your first time, it may be fruitful for you to go back to the beginning of this series and begin in order. If you have been with me this far, you’ll remember that agency is your ability to act independently and make your own free choices within God’s created order.

And that’s what we’re about here at the Life on Target podcast: Giving you practical frameworks and tools to go out, be free, and to make your own choices in this crazy world right now.

So, the final language of agency is aesthetics or “qualities and ideas in a work of art or literature that relate to beauty in the nature of art.” That’s from Oxford’s Dictionary. And I’d like to encourage y’all not to check out because I just said the word “art” or the word “literature,” or used the word “beauty” in a sentence. These ideas can be something a little bit uncomfortable for the average American male who likes riverboat gambling and eating beef jerky, etc.—stay with me.

Why Aesthetics is Crucial to Agency

“We all have a need to be trained, to see, to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.”

Charlotte Mason

Aesthetics is an important part of being free and having agency because it adds a quality to every aspect of your life that is not often able to be interpreted practically. It may not have a dollar value, but it enhances everything. And as you’ll see, when we get farther into this and start applying it in different areas of life, will actually equal more money, which will equal more freedom.

So, let’s start this off and get into it with a quote from Charlotte Mason, who is founder of the methodology that we employ as we educate our children at home, she says, “We all have a need to be trained, to see, to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.”

Another passage I’d like to read is Psalm 19:1 continuing on a little bit:

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaim his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.”

Psalm 19:1–2

This scripture passage and this quote from Charlotte Mason, go hand-in-hand. There is a knowledge that is proclaimed in the created world, and we have to train ourselves to see it, and it can be hard for us to see it in the hustle and bustle of an instant gratification, get it for the cheapest price possible in the quickest, shortest amount of time culture that we live in. But as you’ll see, as we walk this out, it is important that we as individuals continue to improve and appreciate beauty in things and the need to create beauty in our lives.

Engaging with Beauty Via Solitude

One way I feel you can become more aware of the knowledge that is poured forth via nature, via the world around you, is to partake of an individual practice of solitude. And this comes from my friend Mike Irwin’s book Lead Yourself First, and it actually was picked up by Cal Newport in Deep Work and expounded upon there how a bunch of different world leaders made a practice of spending time alone to organize their thoughts.

And as I read this in Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work and was exposed to this idea, I implemented it when I was completing 75 Hard. 75 Hard is a toughness program that requires you to:

  • Do two, 45-minute workouts a day. One of them has to be outside.
  • Drink a gallon of water
  • Take a progress photo
  • Read 10 pages in a non-fiction, personal development book
  • Follow a diet with zero cheat meals
  • Drink no alcohol for 75 days straight.

If you miss one exercise, forget to drink a gallon of water, cheat on a meal, have a sip of alcohol, forget to do one exercise outside, or forget to take that selfie, you start over at day zero.

I can’t recommend this program highly enough to you. I have done some of the most demanding things in special operations—arguably the most demanding things in special operations, and this program is particularly beneficial to what is required to excel in life. And that’s the ability to execute tasks repeatedly over and over and over without compromise. Not for two weeks. Not for 30 days. But for 75 days as a foundation to continue executing every day.

Now that’s enough about 75 Hard for now. Let me talk to you about one practice that I implemented as part of that 45-minute workout outside. Ninety percent of the time I did it in solitude.

So, I was able to have 75 days of almost an hour outside. I’d go outside, and I’d take my phone and stick it in the mailbox. And look at what time I was starting my work out before taking off on my run, or I would do weighted vest, walks through the woods and things. And I’d take off up into the hills or into the into the woods that are pretty close to our house that have a trail system. Then, I would be able to just think, and it is amazing when you set your phone down and you go into the woods, how naked you feel. And those of you that have tried to practice a digital restraint or put your phone on Do Not Disturb or in a different room, realize the insidious nature of the smartphone and how it has come into your life and almost feels like it’s a part of you and how you go to it.

Solitude Helps You Have a Clearer Mind

So, I start to think, “Oh, I gotta call this,” “Oh, I don’t have my phone. I gotta write this.” And so also taking a notebook to be able to, like we talked about in organizational skills, having a pile of index cards or something where you can externalize what’s going on, what bandwidth your mind is thinking about these tasks. And you can put them down on paper and free your mind up to focus on things.

It was incredible how beneficial and how much I looked forward to those 45 minutes without any way to get in touch with people and without them being able to get in touch with me. And to just walk in the woods. And I felt like as I went through this challenge and continued to do it my mind became clearer.

And I actually started to think about business problems and relational problems with people better because my thoughts were organized. When I got rid of the noise, when I was in a beautiful setting of God’s creation and nature, I was able to think well. And I actually had some pretty amazing business ideas, and some things to execute them.

Creative solutions came to me because I was in these environments to have God’s knowledge poured out to me like we saw in Psalm 19. So, I put myself in a position to get that knowledge. And I don’t want to freak y’all out. Some of y’all out there that have that religious doctrine that makes you uncomfortable when we start talking about mystery, when we start talking about beauty—you need to get over it. This is what God has done in nature. And it’s beneficial to you. And you can get that knowledge if you put yourself in a position to hear and to see it that way. So, that is an exercise in taking care of yourself and controlling yourself.

Aesthetics and Physical Appearance

Now we’ll move into the physical aspect of things. Now that we’ve moved from the mental benefits. Taking care of yourself, exercising, and being fit, changes your appearance. One of the things that people talked about when we were doing this challenge—my wife and I were both doing it—we were drinking a gallon of water. They said our skin was glowing. So, exercising, having solitude, and drinking water, changed our appearance, and people were visually able to tell something different about our appearance. And this goes into dressing well. Not in a spirit of “Look at me, look at how good I am. I’m so fly. I got all the brands on,” all that kind of stuff, but a lot of times people will say, “Oh, I don’t really care about fashion. I don’t really of care about how I look.”

It really is disrespectful to people around you to not take care of yourself and to not even try. I mean, it’s like leaving your house a wreck when you have somebody over and not doing the work to clean things up because you’re entertaining them.

Now that doesn’t mean that you never have anybody over because you can never get your house clean enough. We’re going the wrong way. But at the same time, taking care of your personal appearance, via exercise, via eating healthily, all that is beneficial. It shows other people that you care about them. And it’s necessary.

Getting Flak for Dressing Well

Quick story. One of my friends and I used to always show up dressed nicely when we would travel for military training. We’d go to training events, and we’d travel on commercial airlines. We would dress not in military uniform. We’d pack our training gear in bags. And my friend and I would get so much flak from our fellow commandos because we had on a nice pair of dark washed jeans, a nice sports coat that fit us well, that wasn’t just baggy, and we didn’t have the braided belt from the nineties with an extra foot hanging off the side or whatever. We actually bought clothes that fit us well. And we dressed well.

And when you’d look at a lineup of 50 dudes, they’d all look like they were straight out of the 80s or like they hadn’t done the work. And you could tell a difference in our appearance, and we’d take flack for that. And my friend’s response was, “Look, as a man, being a manly guy, I don’t concern myself about what other people call manliness. I just do it because I’m a man. I do it. It’s manly. And I’m not gonna let you dissuade my way of being stylish, presenting myself in a professional way. And I don’t care if you make fun of me, I’m just gonna do it.”

Statistics Show that Personal Appearing Affects Professional Growth

I read these different statistics. I’ll post the link in the show notes. Ninety-three percent of executives say that an employee’s style of clothes influence his chances of getting promoted. That’s from The Washington Post in 2015. Of ninety-five percent of employers surveyed, personal appearance is a contributing factor when determining whether the applicant is suitable for the job. That’s from Forbes in 2015. Ninety-one percent of employers interviewed believe that grooming and what an applicant wears shows his attitude towards the company, while ninety-five percent say personal appearance affects their opinion of the applicant’s suitability for the job. Of the 501 hiring managers surveyed, seventy-five percent said wearing the wrong clothes is the number one mistake made by millennials. That’s from Forbes in 2012.

So, like it or not, your grooming standards, your clothing, your personal appearance affects your ability to get hired, your ability to get promoted, and your ability to make money, to provide for yourself, to have financial resources that you can put towards things to get more time and to get more freedom. So, start working on that and don’t worry about people making fun of you. They can make fun of you when they’re still broke and you have freedom and you’re using your time for things that they can’t because they’re still a slave to the corporate machine.

I want to conclude that one story. I would argue that my friend and I, that were wearing stylish clothes and that were concerned with our appearance are making more money than most of those guys that made fun of us and have more freedom in what we’re doing than most of those guys.

That’s anecdotal, and I can’t prove that in court, but we’re doing pretty well financially and professionally. And there’s not really a way to track where all those guys that were making fun of us are, but I believe that was indicative of our mindset and our ability to continue to grow and to care about our appearance and to have success.

Aesthetics and Cultivating a Hospitable Home

Now let’s move from the individual application of this to the home. Many of you will understand this, but imagine you have a perfect room that is like a Pottery Barn room, that’s just got all the furnishings.  And like walking into one of those home stores, there’s a counterfeit feel to that room or that home because it’s not authentic. It’s just too put together. It’s too perfect. And Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in the book Blink about how renowned sculpture appraisers can tell, even though something is a perfect copy of the original, they still have the ability to–with their gut—to know it’s a counterfeit.

People have the ability to detect that when you go into your home, there’s a meta-narrative to your home. Everybody has had this experience where you walk into someone’s home and the tension is super thick. My pastor talks about this. You feel it in the air, the energy that is put out in this home. And even though the home is clean, even though there’s a smile, we talked about this in, in People Skills, (previous episode,) there’s a lack of authenticity. There’s a counterfeit aspect to that. And you’re able to actually detect that beauty or that tension, that lack of beauty, that unrest, when you walk into different rooms. Being a good person, being someone of character who is obedient to God’s law gives you this ability to create a home and a space where the meta-narrative that other people feel is beautiful.

Good Food and Hospitality

And part of that is just like with communication, some of it being non-verbal and some of it being verbal, that’s the same with your home and your atmosphere of your home. Also when you apply yourself to create a beautiful meal or a tasteful meal—my wife prepares this over time for people, we use good ingredients to serve people, the good wine, the tasty meals with good ingredients, the good cuts of meat—and incorporate that with how you style your home and, you create this meta narrative of your home that is beneficial to people and they can feel it.

One real quick note about that. When you take time to prepare a great meal, to source quality ingredients from afar— I’m not trying to misrepresent. I don’t really prepare a lot of meals. I’m really kind of the guy that gets brought for the pragmatic, make some pasta, warm up, some sauce that we already have and get the kids fed—my wife does this. But whenever time is spent, her time is spent creating a great meal, other areas of our house may get messy. We may have to push some stuff into the master bedroom and shut the door. The laundry room may be a little bit messy. The floor may not be mopped, etc. because a limited amount of time that we have was put towards creating a quality meal and that’s okay.

You can see areas of your life take a hit in the way that they’re ordered when you focus on other things. And I would encourage you to do that. Let some of those peripheral things of your life, go and intensively focus on creating a great meal and sharing it with people, and just see how the genuineness, the lack of counterfeit feel that you get from walking into a furniture showroom actually is beneficial for your life and for other people.

And one way that my wife and I talked about to practice this is buying something kind of funky or different for your foyer and furniture. And I’m telling you, guys, if you go home to your wife and you say, “Hey, let’s allocate a couple hundred bucks and let’s get a new, cool foyer table,” or “Let’s look at getting a piece of art or a funky lamp or something. And let’s get a nice candle that puts off a good scent. And let’s, let’s work on just the feel you get when you walk in the front door of our house and let’s buy something. Let’s spend money on something of quality and change the feel of that.”

Even just for your own benefit. Every time you walk in the door, you’re going to experience it a different way. Or maybe every morning for breakfast, you guys have the, the cheap orange juice, the stuff that you mix with water, or even just the purchased orange juice. Try doing fresh squeezed one morning or something like that. And just experience a high-quality surprise thing in your life.

I guess you can probably tell that our thing is food and ways to enhance life with good taste. Try it, see how it is.

Focusing on Aesthetics Blesses Your Community

Now to transition this application of it in your home to your work and your community. We are Airbnb hosts. We have multiple Airbnb properties, and our methodology of the home comes out in how we stage, in how we photograph, and how we market our properties. And let me tell you, they’re killing it. And we get so many texts from guests that check in, even on our small, like what you would call economy Airbnb. We’ve sourced some funky little pieces of art. We have different games. We have selected books that are thought provoking and we mix them up. My wife will go in and change the way that they are and swap them out with other books.

And that’s a little bit of extra work, but people notice. People walk in, and in a sense, are getting an extension of our household when they come into these spaces. And the result is 4.97 reviews and hundreds of reviews and immediately when people check in they say, “Oh my gosh, this place is amazing.” And this results into us making more money. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re buying a funky lamp or you’re putting in a weird end table, or you’re changing out a chair for a nice leather chair or different things like that. It can feel like, “Oh, this is taking away from my bottom line. I should just be keeping that and saving it or spending it on a new investment.”

But taking the time—as our property is continuing to make money—to invest back in them, to invest in the space, to create these areas is where, when people are traveling, they come in and it equals money. It equals good reviews. It equals growing our investment portfolio. It equals me having to spend less time on work just to make a dollar and to be able to sit here and give podcasts and bring you in on our method for business that will equal you making more money and equal you being able to go out and be more free and have control over your time and not be a slave to the corporate machine.

Generating Beauty in the Workplace

So, we talked about the home being part of our business and our work. I used to struggle as a general contractor. It just seemed like “I gotta get to something else.” “This is just, this is temporary. I can’t stand it. I don’t like working for clients.” But then realizing that a remodel or an addition or framing could be art, as an ability to create beauty for clients in their home, completely enabled me to say, “I’m doing this for the rest of my life. This is going to be a part of my business, part of my vocation forever.”

My ability to take my mindset for aesthetics, my mindset for beauty, and to create rooms that are art for families, for hospitality to happen. So, I would encourage you to—where you are—even if it’s the most mundane data entry side of things, to figure out how to frame it, where it is art, where is beauty and to be creating. And if it’s something that is literally sucking the soul out of you, look for a way to move into a vocation or move into an area where you can create.

 I’m reading Ignore Everybody. It’s a book about creativity. And he specifically talks about staying in your day job and realizing that that gives you so much time to do beautiful things or to do creative things or rewarding things with the rest of your life.

So even then framing that say, “Okay, this is mundane. This is difficult, but it gives me the, the ability to spend the rest of my time on things where I don’t have to worry about it making money. I can actually truly be creative and do things that feed my soul and feed other people’s soul via this lifeless soul sucking job.”

And not to disparage the work too much, but I’m saying literally, wherever you are, that was my initial, mindset, like, “This sucks. I don’t like construction, but it’s paying the bills.”

Look for ways that you can be creative and create art in other areas of life. Like we talked about in the organizational episode, this how much time is in the week that you waste and that you don’t spend well. So, figure out how to create and to create art in other areas of your life.

Practical Ways to Implement Aesthetics in Your Life

Quickly, a few ways that I’d like to encourage you. My wife and I discuss this and the fact that she is my aesthetic muse, the creativity and beauty muse for me. Looking at aesthetics from an input/output perspective. So, this is your prescriptive: to look for ways that you can input beauty into your life, ways that you—we already talked about the practice of solitude, getting in nature, being observant of the knowledge that is poured forth in creation. I’d encourage you to do that, to make a regular practice of that. Even if it’s not solitude, if it’s taking your family on a walk and looking and stopping and watching the sunset.

Also turn off the news, turn off the podcast that’s just yelling at you. (Not this one, listen to this one every single time and tell your friends about it.) But other podcasts that are just stressing you out and making you upset about the state of things, turn it off and put on a classical playlist.

Listen to Great Music

And this can be difficult for a lot of people, but I’d say let’s look at Yoyo Ma’s Bach cello suites, and just listen to them—not on shuffle—just listen to the whole progression as originally meant to be played in order with the prelude.

Immerse Yourself in a Redemptive Story

Another thing that I like to do as kind of a refresher is to turn on Les Misérables, and to listen through that in order. So you kind of have that narrative specifically, the part where he steals the silver from the monastery and is forgiven. And that being the pivotal moment. The guy touches his soul with forgiveness, and he is able to out of that, go and build and grow.

So, those are some ways personally that I, if things are kind of getting crazy is to stop that input. This is not necessarily solitude because I’m being influenced by this music, but it’s helpful to put something on that is restorative and helps me.

Read Stimulating Books

Another way to input is Austin Kleon, he is an artist. He’s got some books, and I would encourage you to get them hard copy, but he also has all three as one Audible purchase. The books are Steal Like an Artist, Keep Going, and Show Your Work. They are visually stimulating as far as the way that he’s laid out the type and everything. And in his blog, his email list, he’s consuming and putting out all kinds of things to encourage creativity and his saying is “Make good art, make good art.”

So those are some ways to input beauty, to allow the meta-narrative of the universe, the meta-narrative of beauty to influence you positively. And then, like I said, how are you creating, what are you creating beautiful? And that can be as simple as you have a couple kids. And that is how you’ve created beauty. You’ve created some souls, some immortal souls, and you’re cultivating them.

So, that could be the output: you’ve created this child, and they’ve been given to you and cultivating that and realizing that it could equal messes. I used to get really mad because my kids would get in there with scissors and glue and markers and paint, and it’d just be all over the dining room. And my wife would say, “That’s creativity. This is them manifesting at need or that ability that a child is so good to just create things and to not worry.”

Practice a New Creative Skill

And that would be a good way to close out with this G.K. Chesterton quote,” if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” and that’s not meaning to be mediocre in the way that you do things, but to take a risk.

And even as an adult to start playing a musical instrument, to start learning to sing, to start learning to paint, to draw—these things that can be difficult for you to do at first and actually really, really bad when you start. But that it’s worth starting, it’s worth doing because of the benefits for your soul.

So, kind of a, a monumental task for somebody that particularly is challenged in the area of aesthetics to relay this to you, but remembering that it is going to be worth it, not necessarily immediately in a monetary way, but I hope that I have showed you how, as you apply this methodology in your life, as you start to focus on beauty, as you seek solitude to order your thoughts, as you care about your personal appearance, as you make good food, as you cultivate creativity in your work, that it will equal more pay, it will equal raises. It will equal better relationships simply by putting forth the effort in these things that don’t have immediate benefits.

So, I encourage you to go out there and do it.

Let me know how it’s going. I particularly would like to hear from some of y’all. What did this make you think? How did this change your mindset a little bit? And send me some of your art that you guys create. Tag me. Let’s see what’s going on. I want to see how we’ve influenced your life. And if you went home and told your wife, “Hey, let’s buy a new piece of furniture for the foyer,” what her reaction was and how, how awesome it was and how much better your life is made.

Again, as always, you’ll find the show notes at our website, Spearing.co. Please share this with one person or maybe two, or maybe your whole social media following if this was beneficial to you.

We’ll talk to you next time. I think we’re going to pivot going forward into some practical business stuff, some personal mindset and development things, talking about real estate, construction, and small business. Stay tuned. Thanks.

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