You took the plunge and fully developed and cultivated that lip music or chin forest. You went all in on the Movember and No Shave November challenges and pushed the razor blade aside for the better part of 30 days – and actually took a deeper dive into your own personal health. You battled the itch of the growing stubble.

Now what the hell do you do with that Chia Pet on your face?

There’s a big difference between just not shaving and actual growing a full length, unadulterated beard. It takes practice and patience and even some strategy to go from a five o’clock stubble to Gandalf-worthy legendary crumb catcher.

I found this out first hand throughout the last 30 days while I got my amateur beard on, much to the displeasure of the wife. I went from full on baby face smoothness to the shrubbery of facial pubes.

At first, it was awesome. Like, I’m just gonna not shave for an entire month? Yeah, I’m on board. I’ve been taking the razor to my face for the better part of 20 years so I’m totally down with freedom for 30 days (yeah, I started shaving at like 15 … back then it was cool … now it sucks).

Day 1 of No Shave November and smooth as a my baby’s bottom.

Along the way, I faced that initial and unavoidable itch. The itch subsided and it was on to the awkward phase in between that five o’clock shadow and cookie dusting greatness – it looked more like a patchy bunch of face pubes from a dude that was tired of shaving.

About a week or so into the process and I’m not loving the stubble. Not gonna lie.

And then one day I woke up and had chin moss strong enough to provide a decent layer of warmth for the oncoming winter. It was a new texture for the daughter to experiment, and eventually tug on … not pleasant. But then if you aren’t careful, your beard grows long enough to face ridicule – like that time my friends (and even my wife) said I looked more like a terrorist than a well-groomed GQ cover model.

That’s the thing: to go from amateur to pro-beard status, you need to understand that it takes a lot more than just putting down the razor. You actually have to spend some time to make this look good and to actually care for this newfound man hobby.

Getting my cover dude look on for the final product. I make this look good.

Now, as the calendar turns from November to December, men around the world are faced with an important decision: do you stay or do you go?  The amateurs can now officially return to fresh faced status and have a cheek as smooth as your baby’s bottom.

For those looking to add a little more professionalism to their grooming game, it’s time to learn how to maintain those soup strainers to look more like a modern man and less like a disheveled caveman.

Find your inspiration
Pick a style and let that be your motivation when growing the facial hair. Look to celebrities and determine if you’re looking for more of a Rollie Fingers stache or a Idris Elba scruff or even a Drogo-like flowing wonderment. But once you pick that style, have some patience. It’s easy to want to start shaping your potential beard from day one. But, resist that urge and wait to see what the reality of your newly growing hair will present. While you were truly hoping for a Sean Connery style perfection, your face may only be worthy of Keanu Reeves style patchiness. Be prepared to wait it out the full month and roll with the punches.

Beat the itch
Brace yourself, not only is winter coming … but the irresistible urge to scratch like you developed some strange STD of the face will challenge your commitment to the bearded cause. Hopefully you’ve already blazed passed this important step, but too many men sacrifice the cause because they can’t handle the itch. The solution is to keep on keepin on. The longer the hair grows and the longer you stay devoted to the end game, the sooner that itch will subside. You can soothe the itchy skin with some lotion – yes, the whole metrosexual trend thing is over … if you aren’t moisturizing now, you’re just plain dumb.

Treat your beard
You wash your hair on top of your head, right? Good. So do the same with your facial hair, too. Hit it with shampoo and conditioner about as often as you hit your scalp – for me, that’s about twice a week. But don’t stop there. Use a trimmer to keep all of the hairs at even length; scissors will help trim the hairs around the mouth (your wife will thank you for clearly up the scratchy kisses from your new smooch stifler); beard combs will keep it looking well-kept and have the hairs properly brushed.

Soften the beard
Grow it. Wash it. Trim it. That’s not enough. You still need to go the extra mile to get that perfect well-groomed flavor saver. And that means investing in some good beard oil. It will soften the hair at the follicle and prevent the growth of a brittle mess. This is especially true for my fellow friends in cold weather where the dry climate and wind will screw up your scruff in no time. Hydrate with the beard oil to prevent dry skin, flaking and even dandruff of the face. For the DIY’ers, you can even make your own concoction with taking a drop or two of essential oils (tea tree oil, lavender and rosemary are great) and adding it to a tablespoon or two of a carrier oil like coconut oil and apply to your face a couple of times per week.

Once that scruff grows into a manly beard, you need to learn the rules to the bearded man road. Don’t look like a homeless dude with some scraggly bush covering half of your face. Yes, it does take some time and yes it does require some patience, but by applying the proper maintenance techniques, you’ll quickly learn that even though it takes some time and dedication, growing a proper beard still beats daily shaving … any day of the week.