Our Clothing Choices and Self-Respect

My wife and I recently spent the Valentine’s Day/President’s Day weekend in the new Guitar Hotel at the Hard Rock, Hollywood, Fl.

It was a fun weekend filled with laughter, intimacy, and connection. When we do trips like this we enjoy dressing nice and basically acting like adults sans kids for few days. I will expand in a future post on the importance of doing this periodically, and the positive effect it’s had on our marriage.

While we were walking from our room to dinner at the Italian restaurant on the casino floor we both noticed something interesting. Since it was Valentine’s Day, there were many couples walking around. We both noticed that, generally, the woman half of the couples were dressed well, usually wearing some kind of nice dress and shoes, and hair done up. The male halves, on the other hand, looked different. For the most part, they were not dressed well, nor were they groomed well, and the incongruency between how they presented themselves and how their wives/girlfriends did was jarring.

I fired off the following tweet without really thinking:

Soon after posting that my phone started blowing up with notifications. I apparently struck some kind of a chord and likes, retweets, and comments starting coming in. 

Some people agreed with her and some had alternate theories. One defended his right to wear sandals whenever and wherever he wanted. One woman believes I made the whole thing up and I was projecting some of my own insecurities (I’m still trying to figure out what that means since my wife doesn’t dress me, and I was dressed well).

Whatever the explanation, what we noticed does seem to be a problem today. One of the commenters expressed a view I think that is shared by many married men. He said he’s married, and he doesn’t give a fuck how he looks.

Indeed.

Men, we can do better

I am ashamed to say that if this were two years ago, I probably would have looked as bad as many as these men did. I would have thrown on my going out uniform consisting of a pair of badly fitting khaki chinos (always too long and bunching up on the bottom), a black polo shirt with a visible t-shirt underneath, and bad Payless footwear.

Why was that my uniform?

Because I simply didn’t care. I guess I subconsciously held the same view as the aforementioned commenter that since I’m married it simply didn’t matter. 

To me, clothes served the simple function of simply making me look presentable and it was my goal to spend as little as possible on them. I would wear these cheap ill-fitting clothes until they started to fray, and the soles of the cheap shoes started to come loose.

After all, I was a man and if I gave too many thoughts to what I wore I would somehow be less of a man.

This is how I went through life.

And, I now know it was the wrong attitude.

It demonstrated a veritable lack of self-respect.

I’ve learned that how we present ourselves to the world demonstrates the amount and quality of self-respect we have.

Why would anyone take me seriously if I don’t take myself seriously enough to even try? In a sense, like many of these guys I saw, I had simply given up.

It took my discovery of self-improvement Twitter to understand that how we present ourselves tells the world – and ourselves – a story.

To be clear, I don’t spend hours dressing myself, and I dress very simple now. Fitted shirts, slim-fit pants that I get tailored to ensure they don’t bunch up, and quality-footwear and outerwear is all it really takes to stand apart from the crowd.

I’m now not afraid to spend some money on better quality clothes.

In short, I now give it thought, but not an inordinate amount of thought.

And yes, there are times I will ask my wife if the blue shirt or grey shirt looks better or whether the double monks or Chelsea boots go better with the pants I’m wearing. I do appreciate and consider her opinion, but I’m not bound by it.

I do believe that she is right in some cases. There is some mate guarding that takes place where a wife jealously guards her relationship and wants to keep her man looking less than optimal to ensure no other woman looks.

Men generally want our wives to look hot and get a sense of pride when other men look. It’s a way of showing off. I’m coming to learn that a lot of women don’t look at it the same way and do engage in mate-guarding.

I also believe there is a tinge of competition anxiety. The woman knows she’s supposed to be the center of attention and wants to ensure she always is. So, she can’t be upstaged by her husband.

Both scenarios assume a level of insecurity on the woman’s part, and a lazy attitude on the man’s.  

Many men, also, simply don’t know how to do better. We are taught at a young age that we aren’t supposed to care how we look, and we internalize that and opt for pure function. This was always my problem. I simply didn’t know how to look good.

In this respect, the archetypes that Tanner Guzy speaks about often (refined, rugged, and rakish) really helped me nail down my own personal style, and I shop with that in mind.

Starting Over

About nine months ago I made a big decision – I gave away or threw away almost every article of clothing I had and started over. Some of them, I’m ashamed to say I had for a decade or more. Gone were my ill-fitting pants, crappy shoes, and oversized shirts.

I started buying new stuff and, yes, I spent more money than I am comfortable spending on myself. But, I see it as an investment in myself and it was important to smash through that comfort zone.

Along with my physical condition and my new style, I notice that I’m treated differently than I used to be. I’m not ashamed to say I have more gravitas, and no longer feel insecure when I’m out. I may not be wearing the most expensive clothes, but I have more self-respect, and this is communicated to the world.

Lifting weights and improving our style is the easiest way to improve our self-confidence. If you ask me to go anywhere I can probably put together an appropriate outfit for the occasion that will look better than most.

Self-improvement takes many forms. It includes our physical condition, our mindset, the people we surround ourselves with, and our clothing choices. I know that if I go to a Valentine’s Day dinner wearing poorly fitting cargo pants, a football jersey with another man’s name on my back, and sandals that I’m failing the style part, and failing myself.

I also know that if I drop off or pick up the kids from school in my pajamas looking like I just woke up that I’m sacrificing some of my own self-respect. It is not about impressing other people, since when everyone else is wearing pajamas in that situation I’m not impressing anyone by looking neat and put together. In fact, the opposite is probably true.  

Despite what others might think, the style part is so easy. For most occasions, no thought is involved other than which v-neck t-shirt or Henley I want to wear, which pair of well-fitting jeans, and which shoes. The personalization part is also easy. We know what we like. I know my own carries elements from several of Tanner’s archetypes, and I decide what to wear based on that.

Let’s all do better and step up our games. Being married or in an LTR doesn’t mean we have to fit into the cultural narrative of the sloppy dunce dad from so many TV shows.

The world will take you more seriously and, guess what, your wife or girlfriend will probably also want to step up her own game to keep up with you. This will inure to your own benefit.

Most importantly, you will feel better about yourself, and that is priceless.

Dressing well doesn’t have to break the bank. I personally use Rakuten (formerly called eBates) when I shop to get cash back. Two weeks ago, $100 appeared in my PayPal account as a result of shopping I did the past few months. If you join using the link above you will receive a $10 bonus after you spend $25.

For guys who lift, the best jeans out there I’ve found are from Barbell Apparel . Use the code JACKED for 10% off.

Crush Your Ego

“Ego” is the Greek word for “I”.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ego as: “the idea or opinion that you have of yourself, esp. the level of your ability and intelligence, and your importance as a person.”

Why are we so unwilling to accept criticism, even of the constructive kind, and so loathe to change our opinions in the face of evidence that contravenes our opinions?

Our ego, of course.

We all have some kind of inflated opinion of our ability, intelligence, and importance, and when we admit that maybe we are wrong about something we often feel attacked or unworthy.

Our ego is always present, and always protecting its turf, which is our own perceived self-worth. If we question our own importance, abilities, and intelligence, we question our very core.

Thus, we will cling to our opinions and fight to the death to preserve the identities we have constructed for ourselves.

We begin to identify with our beliefs about the world and about ourselves. These beliefs become “us”.

But, have they really served us well or do they inhibit our growth?

Crushing Our Own Ego

I am well aware of the need to crush my own ego, so I can live more freely and continue to grow, and it has been a process I have been undergoing for months.

It is not easy.

Sometimes it is painful.

I understand that I have made myself the center of my own universe for my entire life, and it has not served me well.

This needs to die.

I am not the center of the universe and no one owes me a damn thing.

I am not special and need to get over myself.

I now understand that, paradoxically, when I complete this process I will be able to truly live without preconceived, and often erroneous, notions of how the world should work and my place in it.

At some point in the past year, I became tired of living in “bad faith.” My simple understanding of this existentialist concept (and I know it’s much more complex), is it refers to how we act inauthentically to fit in to social expectations and norms. We don’t act in ways true to ourselves, and thus are not truly free because freedom implies the ability to be our true selves and act accordingly.  

We become slaves to others and their expectations because we want and desire their approval more than anything else. Our ego, thus, gets intertwined with this inauthentic edifice around ourselves we have painstakingly constructed and jealously guarded.

Knocking that structure down becomes exceedingly difficult because it has been with us for our entire lives. It is, in effect, our security blanket, and we fear the process of creating ourselves anew.  

For about a year I’ve known I needed to do this work on myself because I’ve been living in bad faith.

This realization was necessitated by a crisis, but not an acute one. Instead, it is one that has built up for more than a decade and cuts to the core of how I understand myself and the people closest to me.

The Work On Myself

While the work of crushing my own ego and remaking myself is not yet complete, I have made great progress.

Below are the steps I have been taking.

I am the first to admit, that I am not always successful and, at times, backslide into old ways of acting and thinking. The process is not a linear one; it has peaks and valleys.

No one said that undoing decades of constructing and defending my ego would be easy.

Remove unnecessary hobbies or actions from life

When you think about the things you do reflexively, consider how many you do because you truly want to, and how many you do because it is a societal expectation or just something you’ve always done without considering the reason why.

I realize I’ve wasted time, effort, and energy on trifles. I have settled for mindless pursuits and, in the process, missed numerous opportunities to live, learn, and love.

One small example is I no longer watch professional sports. I am not suggesting that everyone has to do this, but for me it’s something I never truly enjoyed, which made it an unnecessary part of my life.  

It is something I did because it is what is expected of men in America, and because it gave me something to talk about with other people. To not feel left out, and to fit in I watched sports.

At the beginning of the football season, I made it my mission to not watch a single down of a single game, and I succeeded. I didn’t even watch a moment of the Super Bowl.

Remove people from my life

We are taught the subtle and sometimes not so subtle message that having a bigger social circle makes us more valuable. We strive for popularity.

I’ve come to the realization that life is too short, and time is too precious to waste it worrying about and especially trying to please anyone who brings negativity or provides no value to my life.

And, oh have I expended much energy and time in this pursuit.

Time I can never get back.

Lest you think I am all negative, I am trying to double down on those people and relationships that are positive and do bring value to me.

I now know it’s not the number of friends that are important, but the quality of those relationships.

I would rather have one or two close friends who bring positivity than one hundred people who claim to be friends but are actually fair-weathered acquaintances.

Learn to Say “No”

The word “no” is now a regular part of my vocabulary. The fewer commitments and promises I make, the more time I will have to improve myself and spend with those who deserve my attention.  

I simply don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and anyone who asks something of me.

I know this may sound like a lack of empathy or an anti-social attitude, but it’s not that at all because I expect others to treat me the same way.

Just because I receive a text message, an email or phone call, it doesn’t mean I have to drop what I’m doing to handle it.

No one else owns my time and energy, nor has a right to it whenever they want it, and I owe no one explanations for my unavailability.  

Experience the Created World

I need to get out into nature much more often. Living in the city, I am not surrounded by magnificent mountain vistas or abundant forests, so this can be a challenge. Even when I hike in the woods near my house, the cacophony of vrooming vehicles is still omnipresent, making it difficult to truly melt into it.

There’s a certain sense of freedom that comes over me when I’m out in nature. I’m sure it is evolutionarily programed into all of us. Unconstrained by the four walls of a man-made structure, we are free to ponder creation and our place in it, and truly experience life.

I know this has been missing from my life, and I know some of the greatest freedom I have felt has been experiencing – truly experiencing – creation.

Love Unrelentingly

Although the word “passion” is, in popular parlance most often used in the context of sexual or romantic love, the definition is deeper than that. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is “a powerful emotion or its expression, esp. the emotion of love, anger, or hate.”

Living with passion means that we allow ourselves to experience the power of our emotions. One of those is love.

I have been working on this intensely in my own marriage. I want my wife to ignite in me the highest highs, and she does. I want to feel the deep bond and connection, the desire to bring out the very best in each other.

In short, I want to feel.

This also, conversely, includes the lowest lows since everything is not always perfect, and the you cannot experience highs without also experiencing lows.  

There is nothing worse than indifference for another person because that means all passion is extinguished and, I know it sounds weird, but I would rather that she hates me than feels indifferent about me. At least with hate, I know there is passion still there, even though it is negative.

If she were indifferent it would mean I am no longer a blip in her mind.

For us, we are at the point, after twenty-five years, where we often finish each other’s sentences and thoughts.

We lift each other up.

We desire the best for each other, whatever that may be. Sure, there is an element of selfishness still; I think it is impossible to totally eliminate that, but as time goes on I know our passion continues to grow.   

Let Go

We all have past actions that cause us shame. We have all made poor decisions that, when we dwell on them, cause us to shake our heads and wonder what we were thinking. Some of us, who are prone to excessive self-analysis and self-criticism, have a difficult time with this, but I am now more certain than ever of the need to work exceedingly hard on this.

This may be the most important thing we can do to crush our own egos, and it is also one of the most difficult.

I now know that it is a form of arrogance when I ascribe to past versions of me the same values I now hold as a result of my life experiences and the learning I have done since then.

We need to let the past go.

It is said that the past is dead, and we have to internalize this. If we don’t we end up with a lifetime battling ghosts. 

The past is the past. There is nothing we can do to change our actions, nor those of anyone else.

Failing to let go of the past imprisons us in the worst form of solitary confinement, and unless we do something about it, it ends up mutating into a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Without doing it we lose the freedom to live, to grow, to love, and to enjoy each fleeting moment.

That is profoundly sad, and a true hindrance to any growth. 

Don’t dwell on the future…too much

I am one of those people who, when reading a novel, is anxious to get to the end. I want to know what happens now. There have been times I’ve read entire books and missed many of the details because I have been so focused on the conclusion and rushed through it.

I need to remove from my mind excessive thoughts of the future. While it is important to make plans for growth and improvement, an excessive focus on what is to come makes us overly attached to outcomes, instead of focusing on the journey.

This single-minded focus on the outcome sets us up for disappointment since other people don’t always act the way we want them to act, and things will never go exactly according to plan.

This causes anxiety and worry and prevents us from living and experiencing each present moment.

The funny thing is that once those future situations come that we worry about so much now, we won’t really experience them then either since we will be living even further in the future by then.

It is important to stop to smell the proverbial roses and focus on the here and now without trying to control the future.   

Have Gratitude

We all must be grateful. This means we have to stop seeing the negative in situations, and more intensely and intentionally fight to see the positive.

I recognize that this is especially true when thinking of my own life. I dwell on what I perceive to be the negative aspects of myself and my situation and ignore the positives. This causes anxiety, sadness, and lack of motivation.

Forgive Ourselves

Very often, the person most hard on us is us. We imprison ourselves with our own second-guessing and have nightmares of our poor decisions.

We need to be less hard on ourselves and, while acknowledging our errors, accept them, transcend them, and recognize they are but a mere stop on the road to our final destination.

Forgive those close to us who have wronged us

A necessary component is having empathy for that person.

It is very likely that your loved one who hurt you is also living with the knowledge and pain of what he/she did to you and is also having trouble forgiving themselves for it.

Truly and unmistakably forgiving will set us free and eliminate bottled up tension that is eating us alive.

I know, for me, this has been a difficult process, way more difficult than I thought it would be; but necessary.

Without it, much of this other work becomes impossible to do.     

Ask for help

We must not be afraid to ask for help. Very often our egos and inflated sense of self prevents us from doing this. We think we have it all figured out or have the ability to handle every situation on our own.

We can’t, and we don’t.

Whether from loved ones, friends, or even strangers who care, I can’t do things alone and need to ask for help when needed. Sometimes it’s just words in a text message that help us cut through the noise and see things in a different way.

I mention this because this happened to me. A good friend of mine helped me solve a problem that was vexing me for many months with exquisitely timed words in a text message.

We have to understand that we don’t have all the answers, and we have to be willing to accept how much we don’t know.

I understand this requires a certain humility that can be difficult, but when we accomplish it we take a big step in crushing our egos.

Embrace solitude

I know I need to accept and embrace being alone sometimes. I have never lived alone, nor been alone for extended periods of time. I think this has resulted in a situation where I am uncomfortable with myself when I am feeling alone, a sense of loneliness. This leads me to overcompensate and rely way too heavily on my wife for affirmation and validation.

This is too much pressure to put on another person. No one else is responsible for your happiness or comfort, and it’s unfair to put them in that situation.

Embrace your time alone and learn to become comfortable with yourself as a companion.

Conclusion

I know from experience that crushing my ego is not an easy task. It has been cultivated for 42 years and it gives me comfort. But, I also know it has not served me well.

It has led to poor decisions.

Faulty ways of thinking.

Hurting the people I love most.

I am still in the midst of annihilating my faulty ways of thinking about my own abilities, intelligence, and importance.

This process, which is not yet over, is leading me down a path that is allowing me to live a more loving and authentic life.

I am not sure where it will lead and what will be left of the me I’ve lived with my entire life at the end but, I’ll accept the uncertainty and I am embracing the process of crushing my ego.   

It is important. It is necessary. It is right.

*I am thankful to the men in the Fraternity of Excellence for discussing many of these issues with me since I joined in October. If you are looking for a brotherhood of like-minded men who are all working towards becoming better versions of themselves and provide support to each other, I recommend checking it out for a month. Joining was one of the best decisions I made.

The Iron Code

I’m going to steal Henry Rollins’ term and use the “The Iron” here. I know some gyms exclusively use bumper plates, but you’ll just have to accept my use of The Iron” to refer to all gyms for now.   

I’ve lifted in many different gyms while traveling. Some big, some small. Some with new fancy equipment, and some with old stuff that has seen better days. Some clean, and some that probably haven’t been scrubbed in a few years.

No matter where I go, there’s a universal code, a sort of Iron Code. It’s an unspoken Code, but it universally exists.

I feel comfortable in any gym I go to. I don’t have to speak to anyone, and I usually don’t except for logistics – i.e. asking how many sets someone has – but I know we are all there for the same reason.

Wherever I have trained while traveling, whether for a day or a week, it’s clear each person in there is trying in some way to improve themselves, to level up their lives.

They are dedicated. They are driven. They are motivated.

In short, they are my kind of people. Each person lifting in every gym has choices and options. They don’t have to be there. They could take the easy way out, like so many other people do, and accept the status quo.

They can stay unhealthy and overweight, but they want something better for themselves. They don’t want to stay average.

Our specific goals may differ; some may be interested strictly in weight loss, some in health, and some want to get jacked as fuck, but whatever our goals we are all looking to improve some aspect of our lives.

We all get some kind of positive physical and mental effects that keeps us coming back for more.

I know that whenever I walk into a new gym, I may be out of sorts because I don’t know where anything is and don’t see any familiar faces, but I know I am amongst friends. I know, whatever our specific goals may be, that our general goal of self-improvement is the same.   

My Most Recent Time in the YMCA

My most recent experience was in a YMCA in Central Florida. It will be my gym home for a week. Thankfully, it is among the nicer YMCA gyms I’ve been to. It has all the equipment I need.

The average age of patrons is probably around 75, but age means nothing when it comes to the Iron Code. My goals definitely differ from most of the patrons in there, but it doesn’t matter. The facility is alive, and I felt that. From the ladies waiting for their Yoga class to start, to their husbands bench pressing light weights and encouraging each other, to the older gentleman with a full tattoo sleeve on both arms in the squat rack, they all make the choice to not take the easy way out, to continue their daily self-improvement.  

Those are the kind of people I want to be around. No socializing is necessary. We all know implicitly that everyone else in there is a follower of the Iron Code.  

I will close with my favorite quote from Henry Rollins’ famous Iron And The Soul, which has always reflected my own view of my gym time:

“The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”

My Review of 31 Days to Masculinity

If you are among the millions of people who have read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, then you are already familiar with the general format of 31 Days to Masculinity, (paid link) a comprehensive guide to help men live more authentic lives by Hunter Drew.

The premise is simple, the book is anything but.

You are going to go through a chapter a day without looking ahead to what is coming next. Each day there is a reflection on some aspect of masculinity, and challenges to perform based on those reflections.

The format is not too different from The Purpose Driven Life, but the content is not quite the same.

Each day includes a physical challenge (hint: it’s a lot of pushups) and usually a mental challenge, though there are several additional physical challenges thrown in the mix.

The mental challenges are meant to be difficult and force you to confront and challenge some long-held assumptions you might have internalized for decades.

They force you to think about yourself, how you think, how you treat those you love, how you approach your life, and how you view your place in the world.

Some of the challenges include physical calls to action. For example, on one of the days you are asked to break out of your routine and do something fun that is different than the usual with your family. Sounds simple, but it may not be for those who are stuck in certain familiar routines.   

I was fortunate enough to do my 31 Days as part of a group for the December of Discipline campaign. This gave me extra accountability with a group of men who started the program at the same time as I did.

There are several rules for the 31 days:

  • No masturbation
  • No porn
  • 100 pushups per day (though that number does go up)
  • Start reading a book
  • Start giving genuine answers to people in your regular life
  • Start to remove a vice from your life
  • One chapter a day. Do not skip ahead.

This will not be an exhaustive review of 31 Days to Masculinity. I’d rather not give too much away, and let you experience it on your own. Instead, I will offer a few reflections on my experiences in December. 

Reflections on 31 Days to Masculinity

Day 1 starts the month with a goal setting exercise where we wrote down 3 short term and 3 long-term goals. This was more challenging than expected because we were also asked to include three roadmap actions for each goal. It’s easy to say “here are my goals;” it’s a different story when you must articulate how you are going to get there. This means our goals must be actionable.

This focus on action sets the tone for the rest of the month.

We are not here to talk.

We are here to act.

Acts non verba.

Setting goals without a plan to achieve them is just a form of mental masturbation meant to make us feel good about ourselves. It is not action. Several times throughout the 31 Days we review those goals and the progress we are making. This accountability to ourselves is so important.

I have rarely been challenged in body, mind, and spirit like I was during these 31 days.

The pushups, which for me were the easiest part, actually got tedious by the last week. I started dreading each up and down, and by the end of the month each set was an interminable slog of mental torture.   

I vowed to myself at the beginning to be completely honest with myself and with the other men doing the challenge at all times.

Some of the challenges brought me to dark places.

From confronting how I treat my finances and my time, to being asked to spend time completely alone, to reflecting on grudges I hold and being asked to let them go, to reflecting on my own mortality, each day carried a new angle that forced me to look deep inside myself, and have the kinds of uncomfortable internal conversations that we usually try to avoid or self-censor.

Some days were not easy.

Some days I didn’t want to think about certain topics, and I certainly didn’t want to reflect on and write about them. 

I did it anyway.

One of the most difficult parts of it was the frequent negative visualization exercises. While I have performed positive visualization as a way of preparing for sports games, I had never performed negative visualization before. During these exercises, I visualized all kinds of bad and horrific things befall my wife and kids.

As was stated in the book, “In order to truly appreciate what you have, you must lose it.”

Indeed.

I was forced to confront the loss of everything dear to me day after day.

And it sucked.  

But, I realize it was necessary.

And after the day’s exercise was over, I gained back everything dear to me.

I can say that after all these negative visualization exercises, I truly started to appreciate the life I have much more than ever, and my love for those in it increased even more.

I realized that I have taken so much for granted and I have failed on most occasions to appreciate the life I have and the people in it. 

This is one exercise that I am continuing to do even after the 31 Days, albeit on a more infrequent basis.

The book is meant to truly challenge all the men who go through it. It is meant to be hard. Some will not be able to last more than a few days before saying “Fuck This,” and quitting to crawl back sheepishly into their comfort zones.

In order to become more authentic men, however, we have to overcome and shatter our comfort zones into pieces.

All of them.

In this instance, comfort is our enemy.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Comfort” as “the pleasant and satisfying feeling of being physically or mentally free from pain and suffering.”

In short, when we live in our comfort zones we live in a pleasant place free from any form of pain or suffering.

Is this really a place conducive for personal growth?

No, it’s not.

We all know that it is in the struggle where we truly experience growth.

Catholic tradition includes the concept of “The Dark Night of the Soul,” that spiritual crisis and periods of darkness Catholics believe is necessary and inevitable for those on their path towards union with God. This Dark Night” was experienced by many of those now venerated as Saints, most notably by St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Likewise, the classic “Hero’s Journey” is a narrative arc that traditionally includes a protagonist (the hero) who goes on some kind of adventure away from home, experiences a crisis situation, and ultimately wins a victory and returns home transformed into a better version of himself. If you read books or watch television, you are familiar with the Hero’s Journey, even if you’ve never called it by name.  

In the struggle, we achieve growth.

To grow, we need to break free out of our comfort zones, and 31 Days to Masculinity forces us to do that.

I can say without hesitation that since going through it, I am living more authentically; and certain weights that I’ve carried on my shoulders for years are now lighter.

I confronted myself.

I eliminated negativity.

I broke down walls that artificially existed in some relationships.  

Just Do It

To truly understand the program, you have to go through it yourself. It is not a book to simply read. You must immerse yourself in it, and you must experience it.

If you do not want to go through it alone, there is a dedicated channel inside the Fraternity of Excellence to get the program for free and it includes accountability with other men doing it as well.

I encourage you to sign up for the Fraternity of Excellence, an online brotherhood of men who challenge each other daily. There are very few male-only spaces left where men can work with another, challenge one another, and support one another, and this is one of them.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

You Are Vulnerable. Do Something About It

I am by no means a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) expert.

It has been years since I’ve trained and, although I keep saying I’m going to get back to it, thus far I haven’t.

Although I haven’t trained in a while, I still carry with me many lessons from my time on the mats. Foremost among them is a recognition of just how vulnerable I am in a physical altercation.

BJJ is different than many of the more traditional martial arts. In BJJ, from the beginning you are actively sparring against resisting opponents, “rolling” in BJJ parlance. In some other martial arts you might learn different movement patterns that include kicks and punches, you might also learn to dramatically break boards, but you often never get to test your skills against resisting opponents who are also trained. That can breed an overconfidence since you are never quite sure where you truly stand.

Rolling lets you know exactly where you stand. After all, what good is knowing how to perform particular techniques if you are unable to pull them off against actual opponents who are fighting back?

While rolling you can’t hide from your opponent or from yourself, and your weaknesses will be exposed.

If you haven’t sparred with resisting opponents you truly have no idea where you stand, and you have no clue of your true vulnerabilities.

How Tough Are You?

Every man likes to think he is physically tough. That’s part of being a man. But what we think is reality is often very different from the truth.  There is often a false confidence and sense of bravado that infects many men, especially when they are putting on a show for a woman.

If you have never been in a physical altercation scenario against a grown adult, you likely overestimate your own abilities. This overestimation can be deadly for you if you aggressively go after a trained individual. This obviously doesn’t only include someone trained in BJJ, it also includes boxers, Muay Thai practitioners, MMA fighters, judo players, and those trained in other legitimate martial arts.

Men who have never trained simply cannot imagine a scenario where they can be physically dominated, particularly by someone smaller or less physically imposing than they are.

Those who train know better.

They’ve likely been choked and had their arms almost ripped off and been forced to tap by those with more skill hundreds of times.

This act of physically submitting in a fight to another man humbles you like nothing else does. It shows you that there is always someone more skilled and tougher than you are. How can you be overconfident when you’ve been humbled so often?

The average wannabe tough guy doesn’t get to experience this forced humility on the mats in a safe and controlled way and doesn’t realize how easy it is for a man who has trained to obliterate him if he chooses.

We’ve all been out somewhere, perhaps at a bar, where there is a loud drunken tough guy challenging all-comers. It is very likely such individuals never trained, which is why they have no respect for the fighting abilities of the other men present. It simply never crosses these fools’ minds that they would have no chance against a trained individual.

Don’t be that guy.

Recognize that you are vulnerable, and if you want to decrease that vulnerability, start to train.

You will get defeated, often. That’s good for the soul and is the best teacher of humility there is. Embrace your vulnerability and take steps to mitigate it by training. You will tap often. You will have aches and pains. You will get discouraged. But, you will get better. And, as you get better you will improve your abilities to protect your family and yourself.  

Just whatever you do, don’t be that guy with an outsized confidence that hasn’t been earned on the mats, in a ring, or in a cage.  

I intend on getting back on the mats to continue the process of increasing my own humility in the near future.    

My Childhood Encyclopedia Set

Growing up I had an encyclopedia set on shelves in my bedroom.

I don’t know how they got there or when they got there. They were just always there. 

The set was a bit out of date, but I credit that encyclopedia set with instilling in me the love of learning and reading that I’ve always had.

I devoured that entire set, probably reading the entire thing several times throughout the years.

It became a trusted friend, a comforter when I was feeling down, and a source of discovery and joy. While learning something new probably doesn’t compare to Columbus’ first sight of land, in my childhood mind new discoveries in those books probably carried equal excitement.  

Today we have instant access on our phones to whatever information we want whenever we want it. It’s a different world. The difference is my encyclopedia set didn’t come with the distractions that my phone does.

Growing up in the 1980’s, however, my encyclopedia set put the whole word at my fingertips. I spent countless sleepless nights on my bed getting immersed in various topics with the soft lamp light glowing dimly, while staying as quiet as possible so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake.

One topic, particularly in history, always seemed to lead into another, sending me down various rabbit holes as I sought to make sense of whatever I was learning about. The best part was, after years of having them on my shelf, there were still nuggets in there I had never read or had forgotten.

I still remember the used book store smell when I cracked a volume open. Even today, when I sense a similar smell it transports me back to those sleepless nights reading alone by lamp light.

It strikes me that children today will never get to experience this. After all, who still has encyclopedia sets in their homes when we have Wikipedia on our iPads? Kids today, even if they are interested in learning, face the danger of distraction on their devices.     While so much more information exists in cyberspace than can ever be put in actual books, the fact is the books don’t have cat memes, social media, or Roblox to provide distraction and instant dopamine hits.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I realize now that my time alone with my encyclopedia set was learning for the love of it.

I loved learning alone with total freedom. At the same time, I hated the stifling school environment where the learning felt forced and was simply not fun.

I guess, in a sense, my time with my encyclopedia set was a more intellectual version of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for me where I was free to intellectually transport myself where I felt led.  

This is completely different from the curricula-based school environment where children are trained to be subservient cogs who will eventually trade their time and souls for money in our modern-day economy. They don’t learn to love learning for the sake of learning and exploring the world and their minds.  

It was freedom, and it taught me that learning is fun.

I am so grateful that my parents put those books in my room. I know that is the reason I enjoy reading and learning so much still to this day. I also know it’s the reason I still know, to this day, a whole host of random facts.

This love of learning just to learn is something I try to instill in my kids, though it’s hard because of the constant distractions that bombard their minds constantly. It’s a struggle, but it’s one we as parents should undertake. If kids are not taught that learning can be fun, despite what they experience in school, they will never develop intellectual curiosity and a sense of wonder at the world as a whole.   

That’s tragic.

Letter to a Young Soon To Be Father

On July 4, 1996, my oldest daughter was born. I was less than a month away from my nineteenth birthday, and my then girlfriend – and now wife – was seventeen.

We’ve come a long way and have truly beaten the odds, considering the circumstances, and I wouldn’t change a thing about our life.

When my wife tells people that we have a 23-year-old daughter, a 9-year-old daughter, and a 5-year-old son, she typically gets asked, in a whisper and with a conspiratorial tone, “From the same father?”

And, she answers “yes, of course.”

Frankly, it’s an insulting question, but I understand why it’s asked.

We are an outlier in many ways.

Teenage pregnancies happen. It’s a reality of life. When it does, typically there are few resources available for the boy, no one to talk to, nowhere to turn. They are often blamed for what happened, as if he was some kind of predator that created the problem on his own.

The girl has resources she can access, and it is made clear to her that whatever happens next is her choice.

Whether the boy stays with the baby’s mother or not, he will be affected for the rest of his life.

I’ve written the below letter to encourage and provide practical advice to soon-to-be teenage fathers:

Dear Soon To Be Dad:

I know you are experiencing a whole host of emotions right now. After all, you are still a teenager, and you have hopes and dreams for the future.

Perhaps, like me when I was in your position, you have no experience taking care of an infant. You might still think of yourself as a kid. You might just know you aren’t ready for this.

You want to pursue your dreams, and you are trying to figure out how you will accomplish them when you will have to financially support and co-parent a child. You realize that your freedom of movement and to do what you want will be affected.  

Perhaps you just aren’t ready to settle down. You don’t want to stop going out. You don’t want to tell your friends “no” when they ask you to do things.

Perhaps you are worrying where you will get the money you need to help raise a child when you don’t have any skills or the right education yet.

Perhaps you and the mother simply don’t get along. It may have been a hookup with a girl you have no intention of ever marrying. Shit happened and here you are. 

Perhaps you are depressed, sad, anxious, angry, fearful, or a combination of all these emotions.

This was not part of your plans. I’m sure, like most, you’ve dreamt of having a family; but certainly not like this when you weren’t ready emotionally, financially, or professionally.

And, I understand that you have nowhere to turn for guidance or assistance or to just talk about the feelings you are experiencing.

Society tells you that every major decision about that child is the choice of the mother, and that you are superfluous, except for the financial support you will be legally required to contribute.

I’m here to tell you that your life, while it may change, is not over.

I’m here to tell you that you can have a future.

I’m here to urge you, regardless of how you and the mother get along, to be a major part of that child’s life.

Children desperately need their fathers in their lives. 

When fathers are involved and invested our society is better off and the child has a better shot at having a good future. 

No matter what happens between you and the mother, be a Dad.

Take that job incredibly seriously.

I won’t lie to you. Life will be difficult. You may miss things that other guys your age are doing. You may have to work a second job to help provide support. You will have no clue what you are doing. Good luck changing that first diaper, getting peed on, and having projectile spit-up sent your way.

And, I have a secret, though society tries to suppress this truth from you. Men and women are different. Their maternal instincts kick in very quickly, really while the baby is growing inside them, and they just seem to know what to do. For us, it can take a little more work. Don’t blame yourself for that. Blame evolution. Despite that strive to be as good of a father as possible. 

Here are four suggestions to any soon to be father who is still a teenager and is scared and confused.

Always remain in your child’s life.

You and the mother might want nothing to do with each other.

Fine.

No one is telling you to run out to marry someone you are not compatible with. In fact, please don’t do that. Don’t get married just because your family expects you to, her family demands it, or you feel it is the honorable thing to do. Stay with the girl if you have a deep bond with her, and you believe based on your experience together you are compatible and can make your relationship work. 

This is so important. So many people in your position rush into a marriage situation that neither party was ready for, if you do this you will likely create a negative situation for all three of you.

Whether there is a future relationship or not, keep the child separate from that. That child did not choose to be born. 

Your son or daughter needs his or her father.

Period.

Only you can provide the masculine leader in that child’s life that all the research shows is so crucial for the child’s future development. Don’t cede that role to the child’s mother who is ill-equipped to provide such leadership.

Do what you need to do to be in that child’s life, and don’t let yourself be bullied into sacrificing any of your rights. In fact, you know you will be on the hook for money but know that is the bare minimum of your responsibilities. Be fully and unreservedly in your child’s life. Be a Dad.  

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know there are few resources out there for you. It sucks, but it is the way it is. Talk with men who have children who you respect. Seek them out. Even if your own father is not in your life, or isn’t worthy of emulation, find a father-mentor who will listen to you and help you through your struggles.

Depending on your particular situation, you may need legal guidance to protect your rights to be in that child’s life. Do whatever must be done to ensure you have the ability to be an involved Dad.

Make time for yourself and create your own identity.

Just like marriage, fatherhood is one aspect of your identity.

It is one aspect, but it isn’t your entire identity.

This is so important. You have to discover and develop a sense of who you are, what your values are, and define and implement your mission in life. This can only be done by you on your own.

Enjoy your hobbies. Read and engage in self-improvement activities. Do activities alone or with male friends. Pour yourself into making money and building a career or business.  

This will make you a better father and man.

Ultimately, you must make necessary sacrifices for your new family, but you must not self-sacrifice your entire independent existence away.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Continue to pursue whatever career path you have in mind. Get the training you need. Make it happen. If you don’t do these things, you might carry a sense of resentment around with you, and always wonder “what if?”.

Keep your good friends close, and let any toxic ones go.

You will likely lose friends.

Let them go.

If any of your friends can’t handle the fact that you have a new set of responsibilities and try to convince you to shirk them, get rid of them.

With that said, it is so important that you have male friends. Figure out which of them are worth keeping around because they will be supportive of you and your mission and allow you to lean on them for support.

You may need to vent. Maintain friendships where you can do that with trusted males who have your best interest at heart. 

Conclusion

The fact is many men have been in your situation and have thrived. It is possible.

View your current situation as a gift that you have been entrusted with. That child will change your life for the better if you embrace – truly embrace – your role as Dad.

While you now have a great deal of responsibility at a young age, never, ever forget that you are not alone.

Sincerely,

Someone who knows how you feel and cares

To join a private online community of men of men who can help you, The Fraternity of Excellence can help.

adventure

My Personal Declaration of Independence

I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was a month away from my 41st birthday. 

Usually when you get to that age inkless, you remain that way. 

Not me. 

I’ve come to realize that my tattoos – nine as of this writing  – represent something deeper to me than mere self-expression. 

Instead, they are, in a real way, my personal Declaration of Independence.

What am I declaring my independence from? 

From the need to seek the approval of others.  

From the overwhelming desire to somehow “fit in” for bosses, co-workers, acquaintances, and anyone else who is not part of the small circle that makes up my immediate family and even smaller circle of true friends.  In “fitting in” I now recognize that I sacrificed part of what made me, me and I sublimated the parts of my personality that others might criticize just so I could meet their expectations.

From the stress of always having to be on guard and wear a mask to avoid the fear of judgment. 

From avoiding conflict at any cost, including my own self-respect. 

It seems hard to believe, but I spent about 40 years like this.  

Trying to fit in. 

Afraid to express my true self for fear of judgment and condemnation.

Afraid to take professional risks because of fear of failure. 

From the only perspective that matters, my own, my tattoos represent my statement to the world loudly proclaiming that I simply don’t care for their expectations and judgments. In short, I simply don’t give a fuck, I’m a free man, and I won’t live to please anyone else.  

As Mark Manson pointed out in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, we have to choose what we give our fucks about because some things deserve our time and attention and some don’t.  

And I realized somewhere around my 40th year that I gave way too many fucks about what other people thought of me, even though most didn’t really care about me or my well being. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I recognize it clearly now. 

This manifested in different ways, but all of them included some form of avoiding conflict, spending my energy hiding my true thoughts to fit in, melting into the shadows in many social situations to avoid being noticed, and failing to take actionable steps to improve my situation and follow my own dreams. 

I remained content with the status quo, even though it was an inferior way to live, and I felt stifled, like an automaton who existed purely to please others. 

While I’m not the smartest person out there, I’m not stupid either. I am able to state my positions on a variety of issues and show why I believe my position is the correct one. 

But, by and large, for about 40 years I held back. I gave a fuck. I was not allowing myself to be independent. Why? Fear of change. Fear of judgment. Fear of taking risks. 

When I experienced this shift in my thinking, everything changed. I am now willing and ready to take risks, and seek them out. I don’t want to fit in; in fact, I want to be weird and considered “out there.” I identify with the dreamers and doers, including those considered outside the mainstream or on the fringe. In fact, these are my people, and perhaps they have always been. These are the people who are doing something, and also don’t give a fuck about what is expected or demanded of them.   

These days, I hope that anyone who actually would judge or condemn me, does. Their opinions are like wisps of smoke rising from a candle flame, barely perceptible and quickly evaporating into nothingness. 

I’ve developed enough life experience to understand that anyone who claims to have it all figured out is probably more lost and fucked up than anyone else is, including those they criticize for not fitting in. Many of those who present with their shit totally together are playing a grand hoax on the rest of us.  

If conflict over important topics come, I now welcome it. I don’t seek it out, but I’m not going to avoid it to keep the peace. I simply don’t give a fuck.

My tattoos, which all, in their own way, carry deep meaning to me, and me alone, represent this Declaration of Independence, and it took me some time to  understand why all of a sudden I felt the urge to get one after the other. After all, they do hurt and can be expensive. Under my old ways of thinking, I would be crushed when anyone expressed to me any disapproval of my choices, especially for something personal like a tattoo. I embrace the ink in my skin as symbols of freedom from the fear of judgment. In fact, one of my recent tattoos I put on my wrist where I can’t hide it. Don’t like it? I don’t care. I won’t give it a second thought.    

That’s liberating.

Sometimes a tattoo is just a tattoo. Sometimes it’s a symbol of independence from a form of slavery, which is exactly what seeking approval and validation from others is.

I hope one of the lessons I impart to my kids so they don’t waste forty years is to blaze their own trails without fear.  

To accept being considered weird if that’s what it takes to follow their dreams. 

To understand that if someone is human it means they have their own past issues, present problems, and anxieties about the future, so it is unnecessary to stress about their opinions or judgments. Those who you want so much to seek approval from are no better than you. 

To think for themselves, even if their opinions are not popular.

To declare their independence early in life and never look back. 

And, if they want to get tattoos, get them. I want them to live life on their own terms.