It all started last Sunday with a glance in the mirror — so many things start by glancing in the mirror.
If you've seen me lately, you know that I've been "letting myself go," as some people might see it.
Truth be told, I just like my hair long, and I like to have a beard.
So, it's not that I've forgotten to shave, it's just that I like me this way.
But that leads me to the mirror.
When my hair's short and my beard's well-trimmed, I have very little maintenance work to do.
Typically, I get toweled off after a shower and shake my head.
Then, I look in the mirror and do what I call "the rustle," where I run my hand through my hair while shaking my head.
Then, I declare my primping for the day complete.
Last Sunday, though, when I looked in the mirror, I thought, "Oh my, I'm having a bad beard day."
Sometimes, depending on the angle the water hits my beard while I'm washing it, the mass of curly hairs clumps together in such a manner that it just looks downright awful.
Sunday was one of those days.
And as vain as it sounds, there was but one solution to fixing this problem: I had to brush my beard.
That's right, I got the brush out and spent a few minutes fluffing, and then brushing to make it look as if I hadn't been fluffing.
Growing this beard was supposed to make me feel more like a man, but all this time in front of the mirror makes me feel less and less manly, I must say.
And on top of it, I'm going through hair care products like it's nobody's business!
Ultimately, I'm pursuing the "perfect, manly beard," but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, I end up ditching the effort.
You see, it wasn't just my beard that was bothering me Sunday, it was my "mustache" as well.
Now, typically, I wouldn't need to put mustache in quotation marks, but if you'd have ever seen my attempt at one, you'd know why I did.
As far as I can tell, there are at least five levels of bearddom, and each man comes to a point in his life where he's content where he is.
• The clean as a baby look: Some men feel no desire to ever grow the slightest bit of stubble. Shaving every day is right up their alley.
• The goatee: Classy when trimmed, messy when not, the goatee is a perfect transition for all ages, young to old, who are looking to dabble in the world of facial hair without diving chin first into it.
• The chops extended look: I have huge sideburns, and I've always been proud of them. And as it turns out, I'm a fan of connecting them to my goatee, as well. It makes for a fairly-manly-looking beard.
• The fu manchu: As a hopeful beard grower, this is a phase I've never been able to achieve. It turns out, connecting the mustache to the goatee is not as easy as it looks.
• The holy cow look at that beard: This man's never seen a razor he liked, and that puts him atop the beard charts.
I'm usually perfectly content stuck in the chops extended look that I've spent the majority of my adult life growing in, but every once in a while, I think, "Wouldn't it be awesome to jump up a class or two?"
And therein lies the problem: When I try to grow out my mustache, it looks creepily gross.
So many guys can pull it off, but for now, I'm stuck in the shaggy-haired, brushing-my-fluffy-beard stage.
And I'm OK with that.
But what all of this beard pondering has made me realize is that sometimes, when it comes to making it to our final destination — the holy cow look at that beard in this case — we have to put up with the land between.
When you set out on a trip, the destination is always fun, and sometimes, part of the ride is.
But if that ride is long enough, the land in between drives you crazy while you're craving the destination.
Sure, my story about my bad facial hair day is a fun look at the situation, but everyone has a "land between" story to tell.
Some have more than one, and for the most part, they won't tell you happy stories of their time between jobs or houses or whatever their final destination is.
I guess that until we learn to be content in the land between, we'll be stuck in one of two places — daydreaming about how good things used to be or daydreaming about how good we could have it if everything just fell into place.
My beard — or my lack of ability to grow 'stache-connecting facial hair — does not define me, though it can make me easily identifiable (just ask any of the members of ZZ Top).
For now, I'll keep striving to work my way up the beard-man ladder, but I'll also admit that I'm content with being stuck in the middle somewhere.
Now, I just need to work on making that the case in all areas of my life.
Besides, with a great beard comes great trimming responsibility.
Shave safely, my friends.
Zak Lantz is the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit and a growing beard fanatic.