During 20+ years in corporate America, I developed a few phases that I used on a regular basis. Usually these phrases were a humorous take on circumstances surrounding an experience or task. Sometimes they were more instructional in nature. Regardless of their intent or genesis they became well used in my corporate lexicon.
One of those favorites was “that’s form over substance.” Sometimes I would use it to assess an executive presentation that was more form — fonts, colors, styles, appearance — than real substance. More often it was a critique of something that I had produced that was good on form but lite on real substance.
Don’t get me wrong, form can be a powerful ally when creating a presentation. When the form is inconsistent or busy it can distract from the real content. All good presentations contain real substance, a compelling story if you will. Good form simply helps to tell that story.
This phrase applies beyond the world of corporate presentations as well. It is especially germane when it comes to living a life of significance and purpose. I realize that may have just elevated me to Captain Obvious status. Yet, so much of what consumes our life’s activities can be characterized as form over substance.
There are times in life when form is important. From how you dress or your body language, even the words you use, form can make a positive contribution to your success in life. However, a focus on form can distract you from the real essence of life — like missing for forest for the trees. And a pursuit of form will ultimately to lead to disappointment and leave you wanting more.
This is not what the Creator intended for us. We were made to experience the substance of life, which I believe comes down to one word — relate. My Mac Dictionary says the definition of relate is “make or show a connection between.” Using that definition, there are three important connections to make to experience the substance of life.
Relate with yourself — How you relate with yourself will determine much of how you relate with the world around you. If you embrace the deeper you, beyond your appearance or job title or possessions, you will find intrinsic value that isn’t tied to the circumstances or stations of form.
Relate with others — Relating with others on substance means looking past their form, whether skin color, or socioeconomic status, or any other label used for division and comparison. It is seeing value in who they are, rather than what they are. It grows from awareness that the substance that makes you truly valuable is the same that gives value to others.
Relate with God — We are ultimately spiritual beings, made in the image of a divine creator. When the absurdity and profundity of that grips your heart and mind, you opened up to connect with the source of life itself.
Recent studies have proven that good relationships are the biggest contributors to a healthy and fulfilling life. These studies show that men especially, in their final period of life, are looking back on their lives and acknowledging the essence of living is relationships.
So, is your life form over substance or substance over form? Wisdom and research both indicate that focusing on substance will put you on the path to a life well lived. But the choice is yours — what will it be?