Our brains tend to process our reality based on a combination of what is happening now and the scattered memory of our life. We rarely think back to what it may have been like for our parents as children or much beyond that. It’s difficult to see any link because we have a difficult time contemplating anything beyond our own existence. However, our DNA and our psychology go back millennia. We are the culmination of all of our ancestor’s biology and experience. Therefore, it’s important to explore not only what is happening now, in this life, but what has shaped us throughout time. Let’s go back to the beginning.
According to the earliest fossil records, most scientists believe that we (Homo Sapiens) have been on Earth for about 200,000 years, but we didn’t fully transition out of the Stone Age until about 5,000 years ago. Prior to this, we mostly lived in very small communities using a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. To put this in perspective, if we were to say that the average age for reproduction of our ancestors was 25 years, we are looking at only 200 generations of man between now and the Stone Age. Isn’t that crazy?! If you were to line up your ancestor’s shoulder to shoulder, you could potentially be talking to a Caveman in no more than 200 conversations.
So, why does this matter? It matters because we haven’t had much time to figure out how to adapt to the complexity of modern life. We now live in a world where we don’t have to struggle to survive, where our partners are looking for more than just “food on the table”, and where we are told to prepare for things like retirement, owning a home, and “our child’s education”. WTF just happened? This is why the old saying, “All a man needs is sex and a sandwich” makes so much sense. For thousands of years, our job was to go get food and reproduce. That’s it. But fellas, I believe that in this day and age, not only are we capable of more, but that we truly do want more than our antiquated, uneducated, barbarian predecessors. Here are the four struggles of the Modern Man and how to “grow” past them.
Comparing to Others
In our earlier years of existence, we lived in small tribes where the hierarchy was simple. The bigger, stronger men caught more of the food, mated with more of the women, and beat down anyone who challenged them. If you wanted to move up, you basically had to kill or severely injure your opponent while risking your own life in the process. As we became more sophisticated, the struggle for power became larger and battles were fought, not by one man, but by armies. Still, the results were the same. You had to fight for your place or you risked losing all your freedom and possessions.
Today, there are still parts of the world that work like this, but not in the modern-day society that we live in. However, we still tend to think and behave as though everything we value is attached to our social status. Having the big house, nice car, and “trophy wife” are stereotypical desires that underscore much of how we function as men. Let’s be honest, we are constantly comparing ourselves to the other men around us. We are “comparers” by nature.
Way back when, emotions were not of much use to men. Our job was to feed and protect and that was it. If we fed our family, fought for our women, and taught our sons a few things about being a man, we were successful. Women were in charge of raising the children and tending to their emotional needs. As many of the women tended to group together to raise their offspring, they inevitable began to learn tools to support each other emotionally. This dance has been going on for thousands of years.
According to an article published in Psychology Today (Who is More Likely to Leave a Bad Relationship by Elizabeth McClintock Ph.D.), women end marriages in about two-thirds of divorces. Deeper research suggests that men are more emotionally dependent on women because women give more emotional support than they receive versus men who receive more than they give. Women tend to have other people in their life who support them emotionally while men often rely solely on their partner.
It’s not that men are just selfish, emotional leeches. We often aren’t parented in a way that supports emotional growth and our culture certainly doesn’t support emotional sensitivity in men. Even our cartoon superheroes tend to “go at it alone”, pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and portray immense physical and emotional durability. Many men’s emotional growth is stunted at childhood and we are left feeling mad, good, stressed, and sometimes, sad (if it’s bad enough). We tend to deal with things on our own and through distraction. Porn, sex, alcohol, nicotine, eating, and raging at the gym can usually get men through most situations without needing to delve into the emotional aspect.
Finding a Purpose
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the pyramid is built from bottom to top as follows: Physical, Security, Social, Ego, and Self-Actualization. In our earlier years of development as a species, physical and security needs took up the majority of our time. Our purpose was essentially to stay alive and the reason could have been as simple as us wanting to avoid the pain of starvation and hypothermia. As our society grew, it became more complex and we started to have more time to explore social, egoic, and self-actualization needs.
We already have several purposes in life. That’s what gets us up in the morning and drives most of our daily activity. However, why do we fall into anxious and depressive cycles if all of our external needs are being met? It’s because our need for creativity and self-development is not known or being honored. Whether we are “successful” or not by society’s standards makes no difference if we are not feeling fulfilled and purposeful. This can start to affect us at any stage of our life, and it usually shows up most in our career, relationships, and health. If we discover what we truly want in each of these areas, we will begin to live a life full of purpose.
Asking for Help
Surviving the plains of ancient Africa with only rocks and sticks was no small feat. There was no 911, Google, or assault rifles. We were left all alone to protect our tribe and ourselves. It was a kill or be killed kind of world and it came from all angles. Between our neighbors, apex predators, illness, and the weather, just about anything could take us out. Only the strong survived, and there wasn’t anyone around to ask for help. Leaders emerged and they were worshipped for their ability to solve problems and take care of themselves.
This is still much the attitude of the modern man. If you are hurt, if you don’t know something, or if someone else needs help, you are supposed to figure it out. If you don’t, you are weak, stupid, or selfish. You are not a man. Ironically, feminine insults are often implicated as a way to demean and belittle ourselves and our associates. If you ask for help, then that means you have given up and that any newfound success cannot be owned. It is somehow honorable to carry our burdens with us through life as if we are a martyr for this false identity of manhood.
How to “Grow” Past the Struggle
Since the dawn of Man, we have battled to figure out how this world works and to create lives that we enjoy. There have been wars waged, lives lost, and emotional pain inflicted on countless numbers of our fellow men. And, for the first time in our history, it is possible to have it all. We can have the safety, the relationship, the career we love, and the life purpose. So, what do I do? How do I “grow” past the struggle?
The first step is to “wake up” from the Dream. Turn off all the distractions and tune-in to what it’s like to be you, right now in this moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? And finally, what do you really want? Shine your light on your life situation.
The second step is to create space and compassion around where you truly are. Don’t BS yourself or shame yourself. You are where you are and that’s okay. It’s been a long time coming and you have survived and overcome mangy obstacles in life to get to where you are today. Your future will not be decided by your resources, but by your resourcefulness. Each moment is impermanent and each moment is an opportunity to do things differently.
The third step is to explore. You only have one life, so have fun with it! Go into the dark caverns of your psyche and look around. Float into the clouds and see what life could like look from above. Spend intentional time putting the pieces together and begin to build the type of tribe that will support you in becoming the man you want to be.
The fourth step is to take action. When you are feeling truly heart-directed, it’s important to put your Dreams to work. You have to be willing to look like a fool and fail in order to reach your Dreams. You have to be willing to put it all on the line for what you want. What do you have to lose if you go for it? And what do you have to lose if you let your desires collect dust on the shelf?