One Man’s Musings On Man Camp

What is a man? Not in the narrow gender definition. The more open to interpretation definition of a man. Someone who has masculinity and vigor flowing through their veins? What does that look like? Who do you think of when you think of that version of a man?

And why are they a man? What is it about them that makes them a man?

Finally, would you believe me if I told you that a group of 25 men got together in Austin, Texas and explored that very question?

Because that’s exactly what happened in Austin, Texas at an event known simply as Man Camp, run by my friends John Romaniello and David Dellanave.

For a weekend 25 guys got together to eat bbq, lift weights, shoot guns, talk about literature, being more empathetic, learning from others, and being better men in general.

But wait, none of those things fit together.

In the media, men are often portrayed as the bumbling idiot around the house who can’t do anything but speak in monosyllabic words and it’s seen as a victory if he’s able to watch the kids for a few hours without the kids turn the house into a complete shit show.

Case in point:

He’s seen as someone devoid of all feelings and the ability to relate to anyone but other men on a similar social level. He’s often portrayed as effeminate, weak, and unsure of himself and his place in life.

And why that is a damaging portrayal and idea to spread is exactly what we talked about. We also talked about some of the traits that we believe a modern day man should have. And while all of these could apply to both genders, they seem to be stripped away from men more often than women.

I’m lucky enough to know and have known a number of great men in my life. Men like my Dad, my great grandfather, Roman, and others. And there’s one thing these men have in common that runs counter to this portrayal: they give a shit.

They care about learning, growing, and helping others. They’re humble (yes, even Roman), selfless, kind, and happy to give their time freely to those in need. They are skilled in a variety of aspects, be it working on a vehicle or simply watching a child without the house burning down around them.

I look at that as what a man is today. But I’m lucky. I’ve always been around shining examples of what it means to be both a good man and being good at being a man. Not many are lucky enough to have had that example. And that’s why the media’s portrayal of men has become so pervasive.

This toxic portrayal of the bumbling effeminate idiot becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy over time. Men are lacking a positive image in the media to look upon as an example of how to be. As such, this bumbling portrayal seeps into the subconscious, and over time manifests itself in meek millennial men who can’t make a decision to save their life.

I am not delusional enough to think that in this one piece I have all the answers as to what a modern day man should look and act like. That’s not the point of this. The point is to give you a glimpse into what we spent the weekend talking about, and in turn hopefully spark some thought of your own on what you as a man, or the men in your life, should be striving for.

What follows is a series of traits that we all agreed modern day men should have. These are all traits that we agreed on, and unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut portrayal in the media of what these look like in a modern day. However, chances are you probably know some men in your life who embody these.

Testosterone.

One of the biggest issues here? Testosterone and mindset, which are intimately connected.

Dr. Jade Teta gave an outstanding talk in which he delved into the deep science behind why men need to pay attention to their biomarkers, testosterone especially. This is something we more or less understand, but hearing him speak about the insidious effects of low testosterone, and how to remedy those negative effects was outstanding.

But he didn’t stop there.

The most interesting part by far was him inextricably linking testosterone to mindset. Both feed into each other, and if one is failing the other is likely to follow. If you’re weak and beat down by the unrelenting pressures of life, chances are that your testosterone is going to follow. Which becomes a real cluster fuck, because with low testosterone you’re going to have less drive to dig yourself out of that hole.

On the flip side, if you’re full of vigor, look at every challenge and setback as an opportunity to learn and grow, and are constantly on the hunt to bring more to this world, you’re likely going to have correspondingly high testosterone levels, which in turn will make you want to do more good.

So how do you develop that mindset?

One method we practiced was incredibly simple, but not at all easy. Create your own honor code.

Build out your own personal values. What is it that you stand for? What values will you defend to the end of your days? What issues will you take up the fight for? What sort of credo will you use to guide every single decision you make in this life?

Creating that code isn’t easy. But it is transformative in that it truly forces you to look at your life different.

Here is mine. Take a look at it, and feel free to use it as a model of your own.

What I hope is that by paying attention to your mindset and becoming in tune with your own set of values and honor code, you’ll begin living a more fulfilling life. Things will become clear.

I also hope that it will make you more capable of being able to understand the plights of others and understand that we as men owe it to ourselves to at least try and understand others. Which brings us to our next point.

Empathy.

In a world where the current media environment serves up hot takes faster than McDonald’s can turn out a Big Mac, people constantly air their microaggressions on Twitter, and outrage porn is a real thing, practicing empathy can be hard.

We can’t understand why some people feel the way they do, act the way they do, or say the things they say. To us, things are so simple. Just don’t be offended, don’t take something so literally, and the list goes on.

And this is why it’s all the more important you try and put yourselves in the shoes of others. Work to understand their view. Why are they doing the things they are? Why do they act that way?

Once you can begin to do that, you allow yourself to have an open and honest conversation about big issues at hand. You may even learn something from someone else that you vehemently disagree with. Something that very few people in this world can do.

Want a great exercise to practice this?

Pick something you feel strongly about. An entrenched position you have, and write the viewpoint of someone who opposes you. Do the very best job you can to write that opposing viewpoint. Walk in their shoes, use their pen, and use their words.

It’s challenging, it’s not fun, but chances are you will come away learning something for the better.

Build the body.

You’ve got to have something to house the mind, and that happens to be the body. If you’re not taking care of your body, chances are you’re not very good at taking care of your mind.

Which is exactly why I loved watching Bryan Krahn talking about the importance of building your body.

I talked about this with Teddy Roosevelt, but there is something to be said about making your body. The very act of exhibiting control over your corporeal form is the ultimate show of control, and this can manifest itself into great things happening not only for your physical health but mental health as well.

And it doesn’t stop there. As men who are concerned with building our body we need to down to the why. Why are we training? Is it because we just want to look great? Do we want to be strong for our family?

Finding that why can help unearth the path for whatever training it is you need to be doing. Because at times training and dieting isn’t going to be easy or fun. But knowing your why during those times can provide the push you need.

But of course, most of you reading are going to understand this bit. This is a fitness site, after all.

Cultivating capability.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Is that actually true? David Dellanave swears it isn’t, and I’m inclined to agree with him. The guy is a veritable master of learning skills, which is super meta when you think about it. From being a semi-professional skydiver, weird stance deadlifter, to a computer programmer Dave has done a number of things.

The dude knows some cool shit, and he talked openly about why it’s so important that we as men become multifaceted. Possessing the ability to learn new skills, and always learning new skills, is invaluable.

Learning keeps us humble, but it also breeds confidence as you begin to experience success. You also become a more interesting person in general.

While I get the argument that you need may need to specialize in order to become the best in the world at a given thing, it doesn’t change the fact that you there is legitimately zero downside to cultivating capability in a number of arenas.

Becoming your own hero.

What do Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, Lord Of The Rings and every other great story known to man have in common? They follow the same structure of storytelling, known as The Hero’s Journey. Now, those authors and writers didn’t meet up in a dank room one evening and come up with that formula, so how did it happen?

herosjourney

Actually, that formulaic story structure is something that speaks to our deepest levels of subconscious. Story is how we prefer to understand the world, and we use story to make sense of everything that we encounter.

That story structure didn’t come about as a meeting between writers in antiquity. It came about because whether they realized it or not, through telling stories they had stumbled onto the very way in which we as humans prefer to have a story told to us.

The Hero’s Journey speaks on a deep unconscious level. Whether we’ve realized it or not, stories invoking The Hero’s Journey have been a guide to life. They’ve inspired us, told us of trials and tribulations, and how our heroes overcome those challenges to return to their old world completely transformed.

And you can apply this same structure to your own life.

Roman, who is a dear friend, and over the past couple of years is solely responsible for me listening to 50+ hours of Joseph Campbell lectures and reading countless books, talked about using The Hero’s Journey as a method of personal development.

The trick is in realizing that you’re always somewhere on the story arc in your own life. We’re all sitting at some point on the arc, and you might be at different points on the story arc at different points in your life.

Once you’ve become aware of your position on the arc, you know the next step. Now it’s just up to you to get there. Which is something that becomes far easier to accomplish when you actually know what the next incremental step is to solving your problem and becoming a better version of yourself.

What a man isn’t.

It’s no secret that it’s damn near impossible to find a positive portrayal of men in the world today. Due to this lack of example that presents a clear image of what we should be striving for, one of the easiest ways we can identify what a man should be is by looking at what a man should not be.

A man is not domineering and overly critical. He doesn’t present himself as a know-it-all jackass who hijacks conversations and has zero capability of learning from others.

He doesn’t force his views or thoughts upon others, and when met with resistance, don’t in turn, blow up in a fit of rage.

A man isn’t a terrible listener who lacks all empathy and understanding. He understands that he can learn from others. He knows that everyone is fighting their own struggles, and instead of castigating them for their struggles, he attempts to understand and empathize so that he might be able to offer more support.

This doesn’t mean a man is devoid of taking a stand, however. Practicing empathy and taking a stand for what you believe in are not diametrically opposed things. You can attempt to understand why ISIS wants to burn the West to the ground, but it doesn’t mean you have to accept that.

A man is not scared of learning new skills. He understands the value in being bad at something, and in turn, embraces that. He knows that by learning new skills he is making himself more capable and more useful to all of those around him. And because of the challenges that learning presents, he in turn, breeds more humility and self-confidence at the same time.

Men do not let their bodies and minds go by the wayside. They take pride in creating a body that is strong and capable. Men know that the struggles that present themselves in the form of training harden the body and the mind.

They embrace learning. Men understand that at no point in this life do we have it all. There is always someone better, bigger, stronger, and smarter. But this doesn’t discourage them. Instead, it enlivens them. Because they realize that cultivating a healthy mindset and a breadth of knowledge are not endpoints. They are processes, and a man relishes the process that makes him better.

By becoming the antithesis of what a man should not be, and constantly working to make sure you do not fall victim to those trappings, chances are you’re going to become the living embodiment of what a man should be, whether you know it or not.

Like I said, we still did plenty of traditional man shit. We shot guns thanks to Marc, ate bbq, and lifted weights. There is no doubt that Man Camp was a special world for myself and others, and that we all returned back home with the elixir that you can only get at an event like that.