Themes That Make You Go Hmmmm
I’ve been mulling over some of what I’ve learned in 19 years dedicated to working primarily with men.
My first few years were focused on late bloomers who, like me, had their first child as they were hitting their own fourth (or later) decade. Down the road I opened the door just a bit wider, yet found I was still seeing similar patterns, hearing the same sort of histories, and dealing with many like issues.
While each man I’ve encountered has experience reflective of his own unique color, flavor and texture, there are common themes.
Of those themes, the most common live in the emotional realm.
No surprise there, given that most of us were steered away from allowing ourselves to feel much outside of two narrow frequencies: happy or angry…
But not too happy…
And definitely not too angry!
Along with distilling the broad range of emotion down to that binary, another limiter put on boys and men is an insufferable insistence and reliance on cognition and reason. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about thinking, logic and reason. To be fair, our between-the-ears education systems foist cognition on all, regardless of gender.
Yet there seems a distorted expectation that boys have a duty to leave all that emotional childhood stuff behind and replace it with a life of an unshakably rational mind. Seeing that, it’s hard to argue that elevating rationality so far above intuition, empathy, and emotion has worked out all that well for societies or humanity as a whole.
Don’t know about you, but I see a lot of raw suffering, to say nothing of polarization, out there.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that I’ve observed far too many men in deeply painful rational lock-down. They’re miserable and unable to logically explain what they’re experiencing, because they’re trying to think their way out of it.
The last theme, for today, at least, is the safe path to material success: Get a good education, get a good, safe job, make good, safe money, get the house, the partner, the requisite ABC and XYZ benefits and possessions, and after 40 years of work, you’ll be good to retire and enjoy your golden years.
First of all, many of the benefits and guarantees of long-term employment are hollow ghosts – relics of bygone generations that simply don’t exist anymore.
The rest of the path is overly simplistic at best. At worst it’s a seductive map drawn by and for someone else. Because it’s based almost entirely on material success, it leaves little room for personal expression and experimentation.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with material success, of course. Neither money nor “stuff” are inherently bad.
They are simply stuff.
What’s easy to forget is that is only a small portion of a greater whole that includes living with purpose. It also includes one’s personal preferences and desires, in addition to one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment.
Do some achieve all those things following the safe path?
Not from what I’ve observed in all these years working with men.
Of the many lessons I learned from my own father, one of the most valuable is that life is worth enjoying – and a vital part of enjoying life is doing work that pays in ways beyond simply covering the bills.
I say that knowing that not everyone has the privilege of being at complete choice about the work they do.
That said, one is always at choice about who they spend their away-from-work time with, where they get their information, and how they choose to respond to their circumstances.
Tony Daloisio, psychologist, author and recent podcast guest, describes opportunities to change one’s trajectory as “moments of truth”, citing Victor Frankl’s work. As Frankl is quoted: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Making clearheaded choices sounds easier than it is in practice, in no small part because we’re creatures of habit and want to feel like we belong.
And sometimes the choices that move us closer to our own fulfillment and deeper enjoyment of life also move us away from the comfort of other people.
It can be terrifying to step away from social circles, even when those circles have formed around a bond of agreed-upon misery!
For instance, ever hear someone, maybe even yourself, say something akin to, “I hate my job, my boss, and my company, but it pays the bills and I have friends there to commiserate with.”
So much painful logic, rationale, and disconnection from emotions in one short example.
What’s to be done?
Fortunately – and unfortunately – it all starts with awareness, then moves to making conscious choices.
I’m not going to say it’ll be easy.
It will, as Victor Frankl said so well, lead to growth and freedom, two things worth getting uncomfortable for – and seeking help for!
Note: Much of what is discussed in this article is addressed (and experienced) in depth in the IAM program. If anything I’ve written today sparked your curiosity, I invite you to give IAM a look and to reach out to me for a conversation.