We grow to fill the molds that are made for us… so how can we change them?
Most people have probably heard the adage that life is made up of a series of decisions. Some are easy, some are hard and some could only be classified as impossible. Through our experience and personal dogmas, we take the endless stream of data coming in to our lives and we mold and refine it… hopefully culminating in a thoughtful, well-formed resolution. For those of you that were raised to hold the quality of your decisions in high esteem, you’ve likely found your molds to be crafted with precision – like a sturdy piece of furniture made by a master tradesman. For the rest of you it may seem more plausible that your molds were attended to by a series of strung-out elves bent on a quick fix. While I hope for the former, I fear that many know only the latter.
This begs the question: What are the influencing factors that made “your mold?” Every man on this planet is shaped by a myriad of people and experiences. Combined, these elements create the very fabric of our worldview, our way of communicating and even our ability to empathize. Much like a family heirloom, a good deal of who we are is passed down from the generations that came before us. The challenge is mapping this framework and deciding what stays and what goes.
There are certainly pieces of our generational molds that we’ve had passed down to us that are worthy of our protection. I would assume that there are very few people that are completely void of positive influence. It could be a thirst for learning that was instilled in you by a teacher, or it may be something as simple as your grandfather teaching you how to properly shake another man’s hand. Complex or not, these are the kinds of influences that we hope to pass on.
But what about the gaping holes in our character… the chinks and divots in the mold that formed us? What do we do when pieces of our mold leave us with feelings of hate or abandonment? How do you live differently so that your kids won’t grow up in a home ravaged by deception or abuse? As a man that grew up without a father, how do you become a dad that stays instead of leaves? Some of these things are going to be tricky, no doubt. For instance, it’s not likely that you’re going to break a history of alcoholism or chemical dependency with simple willpower. It’s going to take hard work and support, but it can be done.
Being the product of a broken home, these struggles are definitely not lost on me. I have to ask myself these kinds of questions constantly. With a father that left and then subsequently died, I am still uncovering lovely little morsels of inadequacy. Most of these flaws could have been dealt with when I was young… with some timely male guidance. Although I’m doubtful that any one person is ever really “fully-formed”, I do acknowledge that learning on the fly with inadequate preparation is not often good. I’ve got plenty of battle wounds that can attest to that.
With that being said, there are a few pragmatic lessons that I’ve learned that bear repeating. Some have come from being tested and tried personally, while others received indoctrination by men much older and wiser than me. In either case, these things are essential in finding the areas of your mold that warrant removal. While this list may not be exhaustive, the foundation they create has worked for a lot of men looking to do some “remodeling.”
As you contemplate tweaking your own mold, consider this:
- There’s power in a single decision. If there is one area where many men trivialize the importance of a choice, it’s in their assumption that a single decision doesn’t carry much weight. I will admit that not all decisions are life altering on their own. However, we don’t often consider the creation of subsequent circumstances that one determination can promote. It may seem innocuous to withhold love and affection from your children when they’re in trouble – at least until you find that they’ve learned that your love is a condition of their good behavior.
- You must become a student of yourself. All of us have varying degrees of self-perception. Where one may get to the bottom of a particular behavior with some thoughtful “alone time”, another may need to get hooked up with a competent psychologist. Whatever your threshold, knowing what makes you tick is vitally important. It’s one of the best ways to defend against falling back into familiar destructive patterns.
- Befriend someone who’s more capable than you. We become who we surround ourselves with. The topic of this piece is evidence of that. If our friendships consist only of people who more lost than we are, we’re facing a losing battle. Every man should have at least one close friendship with someone that can operate as both a confidante and a mentor. If you’re fortunate enough to have more than one, then you have more than most.
- Foster an attitude of service. I urge you to test a little theory of mine here. Think about some of your most destructive flaws. I would surmise that nearly every one of them has, at its foundation, a note of self-obsession. Anger, jealousy, distrust, dependency in all forms… they all require a heightened focus on numero uno. It’s not to say that service somehow resolves our deepest issues. But, it can go a long way in drawing our focus towards the bigger picture. And let’s be honest, there are times when we all could use a good dose of perspective.
- You must be willing to admit your imperfection. It might seem trivial to make such an obvious statement. We all know we’re not perfect. Not now, not ever. Unfortunately, so many men live as though this is somehow possible. I hate to own up to my destructive patterns. It doesn’t matter how many valid excuses I have for my behavior, I tend to cling to the facade of having it all together. If there is one way to guarantee the repetition of destructive behavior, it’s being unwilling to admit that you actually need help. Alcoholics, drug addicts, abusers, people battling emotional demons; all can be imprisoned for life by this one poisonous belief.
Contemplating the reasons you do what you do isn’t for the faint of heart. Digging into our pasts can be a messy proposition. In some cases we are forced to acknowledge that what we were taught, and the people that taught us, didn’t always have our best interest at heart. We may find that our molds have some structural issues.
Despite that, we have before us an opportunity to make a change. One slight course correction today and you could realistically change the course of generations to come. It’s a bold claim for bold men who are looking to become better.
Do you have your own suggestions or additions for this list? Feel free to add them to the comments below!