Man Up: A Guide to Modern Manliness

If you pick up a Men’s magazine in any given month, you’re likely to come across an article about what it means to “be a man” in today’s society. Now, if you’re reading Muscle and Fitness, you’re probably going to find out about how being a man means staying fit and pushing your physical “manliness” to new heights in the weight room. If you’re reading Esquire, being a man probably has more to do with what’s in your closet than what’s in your head. And I’m sure you could probably even find an article about what a man should be in technology magazines, hunting magazines, and maybe even a Playboy.

The point is, with all this conflicting information out there, men are likely to try and spread themselves too thin (both mentally and physically) by trying to be somebody else’s version of what they think a man should be.

Now I am by no means old enough to write a “this is what I’ve learned in my years” kind of an article. What I can write is a a list of simple truths that can apply to any man’s life no matter what age. Being a man isn’t about being stronger, smarter, more able to survive in the woods or even who has the longer……resume. It is about being comfortable enough with who you are to acknowledge your strengths and showcase them, recognize your weaknesses and work on them, and being able to handle whatever comes your way when life happens around you.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Are you a computer-whiz? Does your life revolve around sports? In order to build a foundation in life, you have to know what you’re working with. Knowing yourself means you have to be honest with yourself, flaws and all. If you can’t walk into a room and strike up a conversation with every single person there, then you’re probably not going to be a good sports agent. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up your dream of signing the next LeBron James, but it does mean you have to work on some things before you can expect to make it in that industry. Knowing yourself means

Stand up for yourself and your family

There comes a point when being right is less important than standing up for yourself or your loved ones. The only time in life this does not apply is Jeopardy. Life is a playground game of dodgeball and you have to pick your team. Your wife, your kids, your friends and your family are your team. Sometimes your coworkers are on your team, and sometimes they’re on the other team. Sometimes your wife and your mother seem like they’re on different teams, but that’s when it’s your job to remind them you are all on the same side. The point is, if someone you care about is being attacked, or you can tell they are uncomfortable, then stand up for them.

Be Accountable

If you tell somebody you are going to be somewhere, be there. If you tell somebody you’re going to do something, well you know. Sometimes, we fall into this trap of trying to please everyone around us and we end up letting more people down because of it. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you can’t do something if you know you wouldn’t be able to do it. Now, don’t take the easy way out and just refuse everything asked of you to protect yourself from letting people down. Do what you can to help where you can, but know that people will understand if you have to say “no” every now and then.

Be assertive

When you are young, your parents probably told you that you could be anything you wanted to be. Now, you read success stories and you hear people say “if you want something, you have to take it.” I know someone who has a masters degree and assumed that entitled them to a great job. This person is smart, but is not at all ambitious and is consequently working an hourly without much room to grow. Don’t let someone else take something that you want. Whether that is a girl, a job, or anything else in your life you have your eye on.

Be focused

Have you ever watched a TV show and noticed how much “chatter” there is around what is actually happening? “Chatter” is visual busyness. If you’re in front of a TV, turn it to Fox News or CNN. You’ll probably see something like this:

Where to go when you need scores, stocks and infotainment all at one time...
Where to go when you need scores, stocks, weather and infotainment all at one time…

Now that is an exaggeration, but it’s not too far off from reality. Don’t let “chatter” into your mind. If you are doing something, then just do it! Turn off the TV. Turn your phone on silent and let Twitter update without you for a few minutes. You’ll amaze yourself with what you can accomplish if you put your mind to something and see it through.

Think before you Act

For that matter, think before you speak too. For whatever reason, people think that the quicker you answer a question the more believable you sound. This is wrong. Take a minute next time someone asks you something and allow yourself time to process what they are saying. Think about what you want to say, then articulate it. If actions speak louder than words, do yourself a favor and make smart decisions instead of quick decisions.

Believe in Something

I will never say you have to believe in God. I believe that is up to each person to decide for themselves. But even an atheist needs to believe in somethingBelieve in yourself. Believe in the government, or the Yankees or even in the idea that Tupac and Biggie are somewhere on a beach laughing at the rest of us. The point is, you have to believe in something in order to ever get anywhere. Belief begets purpose, and a man without a purpose is a waste of space. Don’t be that guy who moans about how empty life is and how we are all just here and then we aren’t.

But don’t Believe Everything

Being a man means making up your own mind about things. Gone are the days of teachers telling us what is fact from fiction. Likewise, the days of mom and dad telling us right from wrong are over. Your life if full of questionable content. The New York Times released a study where they found the average American is exposed to anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 ads per day. Conservatively speaking, lets say you sleep 6 hours a night. That means in the 18 hours you are awake every day, you will absorb an ad every 5-10 seconds. Think about that. Every ad is full of “9 out of 10 doctors recommend” or “studies have proven.” Give yourself some perspective when it comes to making decisions and don’t let anyone but you influence what matters to you.

Be Kind

Unless you are a UFC fighter, than there are very few things in life you can’t do while being considerate and thoughtful. And just because a man is kind does not make him weak. Be aware of the differences between being kind and being a pushover. Be kind, but know when you have to take a stand and when you have to say no to someone. Being kind makes you more likable, which makes people want to be around you and get your opinion on things. You will meet more people, and your kindness will give way to a more positive outlook on things.

Have perspective

Having perspective allows you many things, like never over looking people, never underestimating people, and always seeing a situation in more than one way. A lot of men think that being driven means you have to be so focused on the end goal that you lose sight of the people and places along the way. Be driven, but don’t be blinded by the light at the end of the tunnel. Be focused on where you want to go, but remember that there are plenty of ways to get there.

There is no handbook to what being a man is in today’s world. Everybody has to find there own way and there isn’t a self-help book or seminar in the world that will hand you what hard work allows you to earn. Being a man means being comfortable with who you are, and not letting anyone else’s ideas of what you should be or who you should be get in the way of what you want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thinking Systems

Lately I have been reading a book all about how people think. I won’t go into too much detail about it because, frankly, I don’t understand a majority of what I am reading. Basically, it talks about how people have two “thinking systems.” The first system is very much a reactionary, instinctual, you know it as soon as you see it type of process. When you’re waiting at a stop light and it turns green, your brain does very little processing before it tells you to push the gas pedal. The second system is your critical thinking system. It does things like multiplying numbers bigger than 3 and estimating how long it would take you to drive to Orlando for a family vacation.

[Side Note: I drove to Orlando for a family vacation. It takes about 15 hours with a dog and you should get an audio book. Definitely get an audio book. I digress…]

Thinking about thinking got me thinking about how men and women apply these two systems in their everyday lives. The name of the book is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. When I saw the title, my immediate gut reaction (System 1) told me that my wife is a fast thinker and I am a slow thinker. I thought the book was going to confirm what I already knew in that some people have the ability to process information much quicker than others to come to a logical conclusion about.

For example, I rarely fight with my wife because she has a remarkable ability to think logically in the heat of the moment. She can remember countless examples of very specific instances when I said something a certain way or refused to do something when it needed to be done. She can recite entire conversations we had months before where I had contradicted whatever my current position happened to be. I, on the other hand, have a hard time remembering much more than, “I do remember saying something about that…” or “I’m pretty sure that what I meant when I said that was…” What it comes down to for me is that I know better than to try to call my wife out on anything beyond catching her red-handed in the act, which she is way to careful to ever let happen.

Now, if we were to schedule a fight for 8:00 pm, and I was presented a list of her arguments well in advance, I think I would have a pretty good shot at winning my case as to why I shouldn’t have had to take the dog out this morning despite the fact that it was my day to do so.

“Well, babe, having taken the dog out the two nights prior should have bought me some chore-equity. Not to mention the fact that I have this email from you dated 1/23/2013 stating that you owe me for buying you flowers.”

What the book is actually about is how we put these two systems to work. Remember, System 1 is your reaction and “know it without thinking about it system” and your System 2 is your critical thinking system. We all have both systems, but some of us are about to lean heavier on one system or another at any given time.

My wife has the strong System 1. It’s not that she can win an argument against me, but she can make important decisions on gut reactions. And I admire this about her because my System 1 doesn’t work the same way. I have a relatively strong System 1, but not in the same way she does. My system 1 recognizes meaningless facts like where Istanbul is located on a map or that a flush beats a straight in a game of poker. I don’t have to think about it I just know right away that Istanbul is to the right of the Mediterranean Sea and I don’t like my 9-10-J-Q-K when 4 diamonds are on the board and someone bets big into me.

Here’s a good example of when the same question draws out differing systems:

Where do you want to go to dinner tonight?

Me: well let’s see. We haven’t had Chinese in a few weeks, but I had pasta last night and I would probably get something with noodles if I went Chinese. OK so rule that out. Sushi would be good but I don’t get paid for another week and we would probably run up a big bill.  Same goes for seafood. So lets factor out expensive places. Mexican could be good. It’s cheap. OK so Mexican, or… I guess we could split something at a seafood place…

Her: I want sushi.

I really appreciate this aspect of how she thinks. I will go months without buying new running shoes despite the fact that I ran a marathon and a half-marathon last year and my feet hurt after every time I run. I will convince myself why I don’t NEED new shoes and how I could better spend my money. By listening to her sometimes, I get things I want and, more importantly, things that I need.

Now, it’s not like System 2 isn’t equally as important in our lives as is System 1. For instance, I control the finances. I can sit at a spreadsheet and map out our next 3 month’s expenses and I can know that we will be financially tight these next two months, but come June we will have some extra spending money and can go on a weekend get away if we wanted to. My wife has a very hard time with this. It’s not that she cannot think critically or couldn’t sit down and figure our finances out. She could if she wanted to.

System 2 is much easier to train than is System 1. System 1 is much lazier than is System 2, but we can always practice patience. Now, just because I say that is it lazier, doesn’t mean that it is somehow less important than a System 2. It only relies on gut reactions, instincts, feelings and anything that doesn’t require you to furrow your brow. We cannot practice how we react to questions or situations where we rely on our instincts.

So what does it all mean? Nothing. And everything. We are are capable of making gut decisions and also thinking critically about what needs to be done. I think that my wife and I work so well together because we each allow each other’s strengths to shine and lean on each other when we need to. I don’t know that men or women tend to think one way or another. I think most people would presume men think one way and women another. I think what it comes down to is that everybody has their own affinity for how they think and how they can best navigate through daily decisions.

Ultimately, understanding how our minds work is the most important thing.  And equally as important, for those of us in relationships, is the ability to recognize how your partner’s mind works. I know my System 1 isn’t as strong as my wife’s so I know it’s better not to try to take a stand during an argument unless I am really sure of what I want to say.

Now, if you want to have a rational discussion about why we should go out for Mexican tonight…

The diver stands tall, looks down, and begins to…

I have tried this blogging thing in the past. When I graduated college, I did so with a major in journalism and had no intentions of ever becoming a journalist. I think what appealed to me most about blogging was the fact that it was a lot like journalism, only you didn’t have to interview anybody. I have always been a good writer, but the problem I had with interviews was that I had already created the story in my head and would want to get my interviewees to say exactly what I wanted them to say and how I had it drawn up in my head.

“Can you take a look at this list of answers to questions I emailed you earlier and read lines 1-5 out loud into this microphone please?”

Anyway, my biggest hurdle as a young writer was this idea I had that you had to be an expert on something in order to validate having an opinion on it. My first blog was called “Political Cupcakes,” and I wrote about 3 entries from notes I took while accompanying my mother to right-wing Tea Party meet-up’s around central Ohio. Now, I was neither interested nor educated on politics, the Tea Party, meet up groups, anyone (aside from my mom) in the group, who the Speaker of the House was or even what everybody seemed to be so upset about at the time.

**I think it was taxes, but it might have been healthcare?

Anyway, I thought that I could just listen to what everyone was talking about, interpret some of the things the more charismatic people were saying and turn it into a blog. I was going to be the “Voice of the Tea Party!” Well, it turns out that these meetings were extremely boring and it usually ended up going down at a Panera bread where only 5 or 6 people would show up. We would grumble about taxes for a few minutes then talk about Mary’s daughter’s prom the weekend before or how much better Panera used to be before they started popping up everywhere.

Needless to say, “Political Cupcakes” never took off.

So with one failure in the books, I took some time off from writing to explore some of my other lifelong dreams like working in chain-restaurant kitchens and moonlighting at chiropractor offices for a third-party company that measured the strength and flexibility of people with neck and back problems. Eventually, I landed at a pretty decent job and was ready to pick back up the pen and see what else a more matured, veteran-version of myself had to say. At the time, my mother owned a weight-loss clinic, and while I wasn’t overweight by most standards, I decided to take the 10-week program and write about my experiences. I wanted to know what those who went through the program felt. I wanted to experience their hardships and struggle, as they struggled, with eliminating my favorite foods from my diet and regularly drinking a powdered food that was literally called “medical food.”

So I began a blog entitled “12 Almonds” because, according to the program, the suggested serving size was 12 whole, raw almonds. Every week I would write about where I was at mentally, physically, and emotionally. I would title each entry things like “The First Almond: The Beginning.” I was wrapped up in being creative and thought that if I made a product that was shiny and clever that people would eat it up.

The blog went well enough. By this time, I was using Twitter and Facebook was being consumed by the masses, so I had a fair amount of readers that would comment.

**Side note – I lived for those comments. Since it was about weight loss, very few people had anything negative to say and I celebrated each comment or “Like” as if it were a tiny victory on my way to success.

Anyway, while I was interested in nutrition and health, I don’t think I ever believed that “12 Almonds” had any kind of real staying power in me as a blog went. I mean, I did the program and learned a lot, but wasn’t sure how I was going to steer that ship towards something I really liked.

So I took some more time off from writing. I found a new job, got married, did some things in life. I am sure that as I continue to write, I will elaborate more on myself. But for this entry, I wanted to lay out where I’ve been (writing-wise) and where I see this blog going.

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned from past blogging is that you DON’T have to be an expert to talk about things.

I am curious about a lot of things and I intend to comment on all of them. I am fascinated at the way people think; how decisions are made and what drives us to formulate opinions is something I hope to explore from time to time.

I am still interested in health and nutrition. I have been a vegetarian for about 2 years now and am very excited about what I have learned and how I feel after having converted.

I love running. I do my best thinking when I am able to clear my head for an hour and be in my own world. I imagine that the songs playing in my ear are a soundtrack to my life when I run and I seem to take the world in differently when I put miles behind me.

I have a dog and am starting a new life as a married man and I feel like excitement and opportunities are there everyday and if this blog doesn’t achieve anything else other than chronicling how I feel and what I think at this time in my life then I will still consider it a success.

So cheers to something new. Whether it is marriage or a new job opportunity, doing something new can only open doors. My hope is that this blog will become for me a creative outlet that lets me think critically and comment casually on where I am at this point of my life.

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