In a recent conversation, a male friend was describing a group of his female friends discussing their ideal male partners, detailing how the define a “successful” man. This particular group of women are all financially successful and live in luxurious homes. Their measure of success? A man who made more money than they did.
Each time I hear of such things, I metaphorically vomit a little in my mouth. My own father worked long hours to bring home a six-figure salary. He left at 5 a.m. and returned at 7 p.m., tired and cranky. A female friend of mine is married to someone like that. They have a beautiful home, take beautiful vacations, but at the end of the day, all that’s left for her and her family are the scraps of a vibrant man working himself to the nubs.
This is not the measure of a successful man. Society may pressure a man into being this, wearing himself down day after day, but how is that the measure of success when there is nothing left for your partner, friends, family, or self after a long day at work?
When I look at the word “success,” it becomes incredibly problematic. For some, the notion of a success is a Trumpian world where the gleaming opulent lifestyle should somehow bleed inward, resulting in a magnificent internal world gilded by good looks.
For me, success doesn’t flow from outside to inside; it moves from inside to out. It transcends money, celebrity, height, weight, race, sexual orientation. This success has a man glow with purpose and integrity.
- In my eyes, a successful man is one who is willing to quit his job when he realizes he is selling his soul. No amount of money will nourish a withering soul. My husband left a six-figure, eighty-hours-per-week job when he realized the money didn’t represent freedom. It represented being chained to his desk. In short, a successful man is not someone who brings home the bacon when he himself is the sacrificial animal.
- A successful man embraces a partnership where both people contribute, where he might not make more money than his partner, or even less than fifty percent. When my husband and I first moved in together, I paid more of the rent. It simply made sense as I made more money. He was not a “kept man.” We were in a partnership of equals not defined by money.
- A successful man is one who finds his purpose and creates a life where he can fulfill that purpose. He knows or seeks to find the balance between fueling that purpose and sacrificing himself and others to make it happen.
- A successful man knows himself—or searches to find out who is he—so he can take responsibility for his choices and impact on others.
- A successful man is one who has close friends, people he is willing to be vulnerable with. I know some men tend to be more introverted, but even introverts have friends. I want to see that when it man is down and out, he has other people support him, not just his intimate partner.
- A successful man is internally resourced. He doesn’t look for others to do his emotional labor. He knows his own true north and can find ways to nourish and replenish himself alone or with others, but ultimately, he is responsible for it.
- A successful man is one who will work to co-create a relationship, not dominate and try to control it.
- A successful man chooses to be or not to be in an intimate relationship because he knows there is a choice and one that stems from being complete and whole as he is.
- If a man is a father—and let’s be clear, contributing sperm is not a measure of success, but being a father is something else—he is willing to work on whatever issues come up for him. His children don’t bear the brunt of his dissatisfaction. My husband is not the father he or I thought he would be, yet he returns, again and again, trying to be the best he can.
- A successful man is one who recognizes within himself the desire for freedom, is honest about it, and at the same time cultivates a nest where he can have a soft landing. He is not running; he is being himself without negatively impacting others. His freedom does not preclude integrity or commitment.
- A successful man embodies commitment without suffocation. He gives his word when he knows he can follow through, and if he is unable to follow through, he examines whether or not this is an anomaly or pattern to change.
This is more of a beginning than a finite list when it comes to the qualities a successful man embodies. No amount of money, good looks, or fame can cultivate this.
When I heard my friend’s words, I imagined a group of women who might attract a man who played the game of life by the numbers. Perhaps his compass would be tuned to a north within himself, one magnetized by his core, guided by integrity. But when the first attribute relates to money, I have to wonder what kind of man that is: someone who measures his success by the digits in his bank accounts, or someone whose own vast worth goes beyond the external, the vast space uninhabited by a dollar symbol.
I chose the latter when I chose my husband. I see him rise daily to be a better man, father, husband, friend. For me, that makes him successful now and forever.
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