” First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.” Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross
The image conjured up is of a fast-talking, cheaply dressed guy with a face unctuous and pocked with acne. He avoids eye contact but acts like your best friend even though you just met. He is not someone one would trust with important financial decisions.
This is how I picture the typical sales guy. Which is highly ironic since I have been in and around
Or, why i re-thought the value of identity.
It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
A couple months have passed since I spent a Monday night in the hospital so I could have a scan of
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely the were to crack.” – Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings.
My wounded friend sat across from me at the Fleetwood Diner one morning. He fidgeted. Every few seconds he grabbed the bill of his baseball cap and shifted it backwards across his head with both hands. Then he scratched his scalp before quickly replacing the cap.
We had been talking about his life. About how things had fallen apart for him. He had been forced out of his job because of his friendship with a guy who was arrested for doing some bad things. I won’t reveal any more because I want to protect his identity. It doesn’t matter anyway.
The point is that my dear friend, in his 40’s, divorced and in a less-than-fulfilling relationship with a woman for the past six years, was looking at rock bottom. Normally his sense of humor is as big as the Oscar Meyer hot dog van, but he didn’t laugh. He barely smiled. He was scared for his future.
“I just hate people thinking so badly about me,” he said.
His sorrow over how things had gone was as bitter as highway coffee.
He toiled for years in his field creating systems and award-winning programs to help others that now would likely be abandoned because none of his former colleagues would care as he did. He did a lot of good work that will be forgotten in all the recrimination for a massive lapse in judgement over how to pick friends. He is an involved, caring dad and has a strong community of friends.
His sorrow over how things had gone was as bitter as highway coffee. I steered the conversation toward the future.
“What is next?,” I said. “What are you going to do?”
Everyone has bad days. Sometimes we have bottomlessly bad days. Stretches of time where we feel completely lost. Where getting up and getting dressed and stepping into our busy lives is as hopeless as a crowded elevator that stops on every floor with mind-numbing muzak to boot. Where we can’t decide the next step for fear we will always make mistakes. And where we feel completely powerless to do a damn thing about it.
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, we think. Life isn’t supposed to be so hard.
I listened to a podcast recently of an interview with Casey Neistat. Neistat is a YouTube dynamo. He puts out a v-log, or video blog, doing at least one video a day. He has a coveted studio in Manhattan. And his videos cover everything from quick hacks to make existing products better to an epic adventure skiing through Manhattan during “Snow-geddon.” If anything Casey Neistat is as self-made as they come. He didn’t go to college. Today he speaks to executives at Google and Microsoft and others about creativity.
It’s when life is hard that you grow.
What struck me during the conversation was that Neistat wasn’t boastful despite the accolades his interviewer piled on. Instead he said what made him appreciate his life were the hard times. You remember the down times in life so much more vividly than the good, easy ones. It’s when life is hard that you grow. It’s the place character is built.
This is what the conversation with my friend at Fleetwood reminded me of.
Where do we get the notion that life is not ever supposed to feel shitty? Why do we hold onto expectations and enchantments so much even when they are falling apart? Why do we judge ourselves and others so viciously when we struggle? “I’m glad I’m not that guy,” we say.
I can look at my own difficulties in life and see it is true that when I was the most distraught was when something propelled me to change.
Being estranged from my oldest daughter…taught me some things about being a parent.
Being estranged from my oldest daughter for three years taught me some things about being a parent. It took me a while to understand, but I learned about being a better dad not just to her but to each of my kids and step-kids. Being fired or laid off three times in six years taught me something about being employed and how I want to work. I still think one of the guys who fired me is an asshole and I’m not alone in that but what matters is not that this organization didn’t want me to be a part of it any longer. What matters is what I did next and what direction I chose from there.
It was in my miserable divorce and aftermath that I learned about boundaries and personal responsibility and who I wanted to be in a relationship. Cancer and a pulmonary embolism taught me how precious and fragile life is and how to advocate for myself in a medical situation. A sawed off finger taught me about attention and focus and a little about what metal does to flesh.
My friend said I inspired him. He called me resilient. I sloughed off the compliment because I don’t see any other way to live. Things happen. Life happens. We are the ones who choose if something is bad or good. We get caught doing something unacceptable at work and our job gets taken away. It’s just a job. Get another or do something different. Do something about a relationship that doesn’t even come close to feeling good and never will.
My struggles have helped me grow, in effect become a better, more authentic person. Yes, they have helped define me. My life experience is richer because of the difficult times in my life. I am more sensitive, compassionate and dare I say wiser because I have had to let go of enchantments that life had to be a certain way. But it’s not the bad things as much as what I did next. More things will happen to me. I will likely label some “bad” and some “good.”
You are what you do. There is no other way. I love my friend and have enormous sympathy for his predicament. I’m also excited as hell to see what he’ll do with the lemons he’s been handed.
“I’m thankful for my struggle becaue without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” — Alex Elle, author.
Adversity toughens manhood, and the characteristic of the good or the great man is not that he has been exempt from the evils of life, but that he has surmounted them.” –Patrick Henry
Vin Diesel smirks from the cover of a recent Men’s Fitness magazine. He is all biceps and muscled shoulders. His white t-shirt is too tight. Under the title, “Diesel Strength: Vin’s Max-Your-Life Secrets”, he reveals what it means to be true in one’s “man-ness.”
Of all the more important things one could think about–including the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent momentous decisions–I find myself pondering what it means to be a man nowadays.
It is a running joke between my wife and I how manly I am compared to the average guy. On one end are men like Vin Diesel or her perennial favorite, Matthew McConaughey, once her gold standard in masculinity. On the other end are gay men in film and entertainment like Anderson Cooper and fashion icons like Tom Ford with more style, class and something else essential in the rubric of manhood, authenticity.
My wife kids me that she wants me “just this side of gay” which is not meant to be a slur. Quite the opposite in fact. To she and some of her friends, gay men embody more style, have better grooming than the average “manly man”, are funnier and are generally more authentic with their feelings. Gay men are not caught up in appearing tough.
To be a real man, I must be as cool McConaughey, as bad ass as Diesel, as stylish as Ford, as funny as Key and Peele, all while maintaining the sensitivity of a golden retriever…
You might see the enormity of my challenge. To be a real man, I must dance along a line: as cool McConaughey, as bad ass as Diesel, as stylish as Ford, as funny as Key and Peele, all while maintaining the sensitivity of a golden retriever.
Between us, my wife and I have four daughters and one son. It is important for my daughters and for my son to see what authenticity looks like in a man just as it does in women. This includes kindness. I am trying to teach our kids the right way to treat people under all conditions. My wife and her friends sometimes chide me for being a softy. My demeanor is deliberate; Kindness and sensitivity are just right. They are as masculine as strength and grit.
I want my children to grow up with a sense that chivalry and equality can exist in the same household. In a world of rudeness and self-absorption I want them to see that kindness and style are cool. That women don’t have to always be feminine and masculine at the same time in order to compete with–and attract–the manly men they will work beside in their careers.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire the tough guy heroes actors like Diesel play. In fact, one of my favorite movie roles is Diesel’s Riddick. Don’t even get me started on Fast and Furious. Car movies rock.
There is, however, something in our DNA as a culture that speaks out of both sides of its metaphorical mouth: We say it is cool for men to freely express their feelings while in the same breath we make fun of it as weakness. It’s okay to have style that stands out but too much attention to dress and we’ll call you gay. Not in a complimentary way. We want strong heroes but we say men who exhibit too much strength “need to get in touch with their feminine side.”
No wonder it’s so hard.
It is not beyond me to be sensitive. I can cry. Really. This made me cry: Drew Lynch: Comedian with a Stutter Wins over America’s Got Talent Judges Ondine, a beautiful movie with Colin Farrell as a down-in-his-luck Irish fisherman who catches a mermaid in his net, made me ball. In fact, I have a reputation for being really sensitive.
Like some gay men might be.
Before you dismiss me as a whiny, confused baby boomer, you have to consider I also do guy things: I mow the lawn. My puny biceps, built from years as a runner and cyclist, bulge as I wield the Craftsman weed whacker like a maestro.
I go up on my roof to clear leaves. I know which end of the hammer to hold. I build with the focus and skill of an experienced contractor. (okay, I’ll admit this is an exaggeration. I’m more like those DIY’ers begging the guy at Stadium Hardware to help me out of a jam I’ve created in a home renovation project gone awry). I am pretty competent around power tools, though those who know I had a little accident recently and there is now one less power tool in my quiver (see Everything Seems Like It Used To Be Something Else).
Just like Diesel, only me.
In recent years I have upped my fashion game. Deliberately. I have a rule: Never be the worst dressed guy in the room. Even if I’m only slightly better dressed than other guys, that’s okay. I notice the nuances of how guys dress and where they go wrong.
I have a rule: Never be the worst dressed guy in the room.
I check out men’s fashion on Pinterest and in magazines. When I dress for work I choose specific combinations of pants, shirts and ties, even socks and shoes so that I can convey a certain look. Is my deliberateness in choice of dress gay?
To me, a sense of style, sensitivity and kindness are the badges of an evolved man. They have nothing to do with sexuality. Displaying kindness even in the face of the judgement is as masculine as muscle.
Kindness is opening the car door for my wife, listening when she speaks, giving her the last Oreo (most of the time). I participate in folding the laundry and doing dishes, vacuuming and cleaning and thank her in front of them when she does all those chores. I am not saying other men don’t do these things and more. I am not better than anyone. And I know my daughters have other male role models in their lives; my ex’s husband appears to treat my daughters’ mother with kindness and respect.
I show my kids simple things like opening the car door for my wife, listening when she speaks, giving her the last Oreo (most of the time).
Ultimately, it’s about not judging people on their appearance, but on their Behavior with a capital “B”. Can we appreciate an individual’s approach to style as well as their emotions without questioning their sexuality? Can we as a culture disconnect sexuality from a judgement about masculinity?
When I cut off my middle finger in a table saw a couple weeks ago, the pain was off the charts. I didn’t cry a tear. Is that manly enough?
Ultimately, it’s about not judging people on their appearance, but on their Behavior with a capital “B”.
I smile when my kids notice my efforts. My stepson regularly opens my wife’s door, his sisters’ doors and mine. One moment he rushes ahead to hold the door and won’t relent until we pass. The next we discuss his favorite tool brands (“Dewalt is my favorite, then Porter-Cable, then Kobalt,” he tells me.) This lesson has stuck.
To me there is nothing more powerful than a man living his truth. I only know Vin Diesel the actor not the real man inside. So he can punch harder, kill more aliens, and drive faster than I ever will. He is a man’s man. I will never have his biceps nor his six pack. I’m okay with that. As long as I earn the respect of my wife and my kids for the kind of man I am, I can live with not being a super man. A gentle man is just fine.
“This is the test of your manhood: How much is there left in you after you have lost everything outside of yourself?” –Orison Swett Marden