Sometimes Tough Guys Are Dying Inside
This piece was going to pay homage to my new life as the 42-year-old ex-executive who jumped out of a perfectly good career to start a consulting practice a year ago. An online verbal monument to me and my brave new world.
But then I remembered that you care far more about your life than you ever will mine…and you’re reading this to find out more about you anyway.
So let’s get to it.
First things first – you’re going to think you don’t need to read this. Probably test-scrolled down to see how long it goes and are just about to say you don’t have the time because you’ve got that thing with that guy from somewhere, sometime soon.
Besides, you don’t want to change. You don’t think you need to. This self-improvement crap is for the women. You’re already a good man.
But you’re not. You’re a mess.
Start with your desk.
See those pictures? All those smiling faces? Yeah, them. That little guy in training wheels and torn jeans? He’ll text you for the car keys this afternoon. You missed his life but got your raise. Congrats.
How about your little girl who Crayon-ed you in a purple cape and big arms while she ran toward you, a hand-drawn vision of the princess she wanted to be, soaring to the hero she thought you were? Oh, that’s right. She doesn’t have time for you now because you didn’t make time for her back then.
Wait. They’re not on your desk. You demoted their faces to your phone, so as to not have too much personal crap cluttering up your carefully crafted mosaic of ruthlessly glossy professionalism. Degrees and certifications and awards in view only, please. Everything else is weakness.
So OK then, get your phone and thumb over to the supporting characters in your life. They’re just a swipe away from the other round-edged squares behind which you hide your secrets and yourself.
They wish desperately you looked at them, touched them, laughed with them, and shared as much with them as you do the overhyped electrified chunk of plastic and silicon that never leaves your side.
You’re not the same. You’re all habit and routine now, smiles and polish and politics. Efficient. And miserable.
You don’t know why, though, because you’re just doing what the Smart Guys Who Write Business Books told you. 7 Habits, Good to Great, Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell. But try as you might to follow the paths they’ve blazed, it never seems to be enough to fill the hollow parts of yourself.
Once upon a time, you dreamt of doing meaningful work and feeling genuine love while doing it but your financial security and barely-contained insecurity arm wrestled your dreams off the table.
And so you hide your hurt in a desperate shuffle from the same place in the parking lot. You join the rest of the actors pulling their masks on, trying to endure the rake of the same faces, the same inane questions, the bottomless email screen, the “fine” to the “howyadoing”.
I want to help out, not because I’ve overcome all these things. Exactly the opposite.
We’re both prey for the same hunter. I know what stalks you because your demons have me on speed dial too. I know you because I am you. And this is what I know:
You need to open your mouth. There’s an unwritten rule in the office for men and dads to be silent about what ails them. That’s not a surprise. Men are desperately unhealthy and unhappy, but to admit either is to sacrifice some mythical man card to impress people we don’t know by a life we can’t live. Talking about your emotional health is Te’o’s-girlfriend rare with the boys and Tiger’s-marriage successful on the job. Men just don’t talk about the life they supposedly are supporting with their time at the office.
I don’t know why that is, but I know too many of them ended up on the other end of the phone I manned years ago as a crisis and suicide counselor. Men from every walk of life wanted to end it because they felt they had nowhere else to go. I was able to help them carry on because I learned how to…
Listen. You suck at it. So do virtually all of your buddies because all of us flying the XY chromosome flag confuse “listening” with “waiting for our turn to talk.” That’s why you can’t talk to them about the stuff that really matters because guys immediately go into fix-it mode anytime anyone with a problem comes within earshot. Which is great if you need to know how to fix a broken camshaft but lousy for the more complex emotional struggles we all face.
When you start spouting advice, solutions, criticism, or even praise to another guy when he’s really amped up about something, all you’re really doing is laying out a series of communication roadblocks that make it difficult for the other guy to feel like you’re really listening.
The good news is that listening – especially Active Listening – is a learned skill. Don’t think you can? My friend, if Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond can learn how to do it, so can you.
You’re leading under the wrong roof. I’ve got enough testosterone still flowing to be swept up by the rank-and-yank of Jack Welch, the f-you fire of Steve Jobs, the goateed swagger of Richard Branson, the sweat-soaked lantern-jawed motivation of Tony Robbins. Manly leaders doing manly things.
Some of that may work while you’re at work. But it all goes to crap when you finally arrive under the roof you’re trying to hold up with that work.
You’ve tried ordering your wife around like she works for you. Bribed, spanked, cajoled, spoiled, avoided, tough love-d and time out-ed your kids into toeing your parenting line. Yelled your directives from the basement to the top of the staircase and posted them on the fridge. Gambled on one last long-shot, deficit-financed family vacation that only turned up the heat on long-simmering resentment, frustration, and loneliness.
It’s no wonder your bed is cold and your children are strangers.
Hard words? Yes. But as Mark Driscoll says, “Hard words produce soft people. Soft words produce hard people.”
I’ve learned, the hard way and much too often, that if I’m not a good dad and husband, then nothing I do in business matters. We reverse that equation to our peril.
You can still fix this. What I’ve suggested above won’t be easy but it will be worth it. There are folks on this site – and one especially in the by-line – that want to help because we see you in the mirror everyday. You’ve been too quiet and desperate for too long. There is a better life out there for you.
So let’s get to it.