Duncan Alldridge reflects on how he as a man grew to develop a sense of purpose.
Men need to work
“Life is difficult.” The famous opening to Scott M Peck’s landmark book, The Less Travelled Road. And I’m not the first for which this was a landmark wake-up call. Life is difficult when we don’t work. We need to work.
I started my “career” as a Drama teacher. I worked for years, very, very hard. Socially, I was always pleased to hear the enslaving social nicety “What do you do?” When replying “I’m a drama teacher” a secret code was somehow passed. “Ooh, how interesting …” they’d say. So the ensuing conversation inflated that sense of self.
I am a …
That makes me feel so good.
The “fragile” male ego
This ego spent a number of years dilating into a huge, masked balloon of false self. At the beginning I talked with passion about my work, but gradually, very gradually, after I’d pushed all the education boundaries, taken a feast of artistic risks and “achieved” A grade after A grade, I gradually became disconnected; a yearning hole began slowly to open and depression began to growl within. Burnout had also begun. I masked this; more hard work and creative activity, this was all I knew and seemed my only option, but the slide had started. Relationships came and went and I threw myself even more into my “work.” I became my work, or my work became me. Striving for perfection, the workaholic in me manifested itself in a need for control that dogged me in my search for contentment and in my relationships with women.
A deep yearning opened.
Who was I?
Redundant or abundant?
He’s ever so slightly uneasy in his seat, the faceless hotel foyer the stage for a scene he doesn’t want to play. His face is lined and tired. But he gives a good performance. This man’s been running his own business for the last few years. He’s working very hard to build his “empire,” his outer container, the groundwork that frames the adventurer, the warrior; the man in the first half of his life.
I don’t trust him. He has that kind of face, it triggers something in me. He’s had to be hard-nosed, make some tough calls, and mold himself into the “businessman.” It’s changed him, he’s had to harden his heart. But as the scene quickly plays out, and he tells me, “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go,” he softens ever so slightly. In me, I feel tears welling up suddenly. It’s a big shock; the impact as sudden as a car crash. I cry openly in the hotel; my tears as pearls precious in their deep waters.
Soon after, a friend reminded me on the phone that I had been made Abundant. I laughed loudly. “It’s a cause for celebration,” she told me. Now I could follow my passion again, I could begin to co-create my soul path, re-realize my spiritual gifts.
A day later, I was so relieved. I hadn’t fully realized how unhappy the job was making me.
Who are we when we don’t work?
Handling the “What are you doing now?” question was tricky at first. How did that make me feel? Devalued? Redundant? How was I “contributing.” But I’d already started this journey a few years before. In a few days I was happier than I’d ever been, and so relieved.
I know that I am essentially a lazy creature. Given half the chance, I’ll do anything to opt for an easy life, the least hassle possible, the “no worries mate” route. But is this really the blueprint for me as a man, or is there a part of me that yearns for purpose, to lead, to adventure and mark out boundaries? When teaching, every time I saw boys being told off for “mucking around” by a teacher, I cringed. “Right, line up! Girls here, boys here.” No prizes for who always wins that one! As boys we battle against this unconsciously from an early age. Had the teacher had asked them to run around and create chaos, I wonder who’d ‘win’? The good teachers do. Boys and girls need to stand in the same line.
What is my work?
That is the question …
How many of us are really inspired by what we do? At a party recently none of the men I met, including myself (at that time), talked passionately about what we did with our lives. I doubt many of us could face having a conversation about being. We talked dryly and pessimistically, we all know the loose kind of men’s talk. How you doing? “Surviving …” “Not too bad …” Jokes, conquests, football … I felt the sadness and anger behind these men’s eyes; the silent unspoken hopes of youth. Somehow, it should have all worked out better than this.
Knowing that no one will really understand us, we avoid talking about what fills the majority of our lives; the deep pain of the man who has to sidestep the horrendous “what do you do” question because he’s ashamed; he can’t bear spending any more time being with something he hates; deep wells of anger rage inside us. There’s a coal-mine of repressed masculine energy stored here. Why would a man be interested in a dreary common ground of middle-class woes—houses, mortgages, holidays ..?
If I can’t talk with passion about my work, then who am I?
Men often define themselves in some way or feel connected to this world by their skills, their dexterity, the way they can make and do things. They’re becoming more useless, it seems, more enslaved, more trapped. They sit at desks, and they’ve got to look so good—they’ve got to look so damned good now, and so neat and pressed, and the hair’s got to be just right, and they’ve got to smell nice and stare at a screen all day. The regimentation is appalling, and what does this do to the human spirit? What is it doing to the spirit of man? (Blogpost from: Fraser Nelson: Boris Johnson wasn’t joking – work is becoming a woman’s world)
Standing shoulder to shoulder
Men stand shoulder to shoulder; women face to face. We need to face challenge together, and you need to communicate. We’re different here. Our brains, our bodies. We have different purposes somewhere in our genes, we’re designed differently. At the core, men crave physical challenge. We need physical activity to knit together as a team, and as brothers. Today we’ve lost many of the physical skills that our fathers knew. Recently a news round poll showed that 25% of boys in the UK aged 8-12 answered “footballer” when asked the question what do you want to be when you’re older.
Does our mid-life crisis mark the end of boyhood? A friend of mine last night said he probably didn’t “grow up” until he was 51, but maybe many of us never make it at all. I think I “became a man” when I first really suffered—so my previous girlfriends were in relationship with a boy! Absent fathers, not enough male teachers and strong male role models, and an education system geared around continual assessment where girls succeed more than boys, means our young men are growing up emasculated and dis-empowered. Men are often emotionally distant and absent from the upbringing of their sons.
To be a young man in Britain today is to be cajoled and winked at and even pressured into becoming a foul-mouthed aimless cynical and lazy drunkard: “it’s cool, dude!” (Blogpost from: Fraser Nelson: Boris Johnson wasn’t joking – work is becoming a woman’s world)
We need to succeed. We need to be seen to be doing good.
Opening my heart
But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. (Galations 6:4 New English Bible)
I’ve often wanted to appear wiser and better than other men. I don’t like the feeling, it’s something like envy, but I experience it still. I’m still seeking my own heart and learning to envy others less. So who am I proving myself to now? What presence am I honoring with my life and work?
A man in his purpose is a man in his abundance, a man who knows his spiritual gifts and stands strongly yet humbly in them. He’s a good man. And let’s hope the teenage boy won’t have to decorate his coursework in gold pen to qualify for this university course.
A version of this post originally appeared on Our Masculine Heart.
Featured photo: mrhayata/flickr
Photos: Courtesy of the author.