When you are growing up, you think about what you want to be. Some of us reach that goal, others, not so much. But being humans, we are adaptable and we learn to find the joy in things that we weren’t necessarily chasing or looking for. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” [Video of this speech is below.]
There are some of us who know instinctively what we are meant to be and we follow that path. And in some instances, in my humble opinion, the universe sometimes directs you to things where you are passionate and awakens this need within you. I know the things that I can’t do. I would like to have been an actor but I could never memorize the lines. I would have liked to have been a doctor but as someone highly empathic, I would take on the pain and suffering of the people that I would treat and I know that it would weigh me down.
I have a close friend who is an anesthesiologist at a top hospital in North America. He is a calm quiet personality (his wife may think otherwise) and it makes him a better doctor. He is always cool as there is a hint of warmth in his voice. You can also hear the professionalism when he is telling you what the chemicals that he is about to put into your body will do to you to help you rest comfortably during a major operation. That is a talent, a talent that very few of us possess. This is the man that you would want in the room to put you to sleep and to wake you up after you go through an operation where somebody is literally cutting you open for some reason essentially to sustain your life. His voice is calm his confidence is assured but he does this without arrogance, and he sets a tone that with every word says trust me you’re going to be fine.
He has been doing this over 20 years. He can do it in his sleep, he can do it while on a unicycle, riding backward while jiggling and making a martini. It’s his passion and he does it on autopilot. But does this define him? Is he his best self in the operating room or when he is at Disneyland with his family or at one of the many concerts that they attend monthly. How does he define himself?
Men say, “I am an athlete.” “I am a doctor.” “I am a lawyer.” From the perspective of attracting a mate or at cocktail parties, these are great conversation starters. You have a sign on your back that says, “protector” or “provider” or “wealth” that give you the “edge” when it comes to the hunt for the female that everyone else desires. But at some point down the line, your profession may become the very thing that your mate may notice, and in the end, may not like about you. For athletes, the stereotype is “different women in different towns.” Professional basketball players proved this to be shockingly true. For doctors and lawyers, its endless hours on the job: doctors on rotational schedules, lawyers prepping for cases and creating insane billable hours.
When I met my late ex-wife, one of the things she admired about me was my understanding of the law and how I could protect her interests and that of her friends. One of the things she despised about me was the fact that I was in a law practice and when we argued, I dissected the argument like it was a legal case—that’s how my brain works. Sorry, I zero in on what the issue is at hand and I bring it out into the open in a weak attempt to seek a resolution without a trial. Or, for some women, they may fall in love with the doctor, the lawyer or the businessman and think of you as only being attractive, or sexy when you are in that particular persona. Who can be “on” all day?.
What you do is only a part of who you are. How many times have I heard that lawyers or doctors or athletes)are assholes? Terrible, infantile, arrogant human beings, being described by their mates. But no one person is a singular facet. It takes all of the parts to make the whole. In fact, you need your arrogance to be a lawyer, you need your ego to believe that as a doctor, if you make the right decisions, you can, and do save lives. Not every profession can do that. However the stress of these professions and so many others demand a high level of understanding self, and creative mental balancing to be effective human beings. Like women who are balancing lucrative careers, families and their own existential existence. We men have to do the same. We have to understand really, what matters.
There are several books that speak to the thoughts of people who know they are dying from terminal diseases. The one constant that all of these books have are men who “wish they spent more time with their families”, or “achieved certain altruistic goals, or saw more of the world. These things they realize, in their final moments are what matter. The fact that you won every legal case, or cured 60,000 patients, or won 10 championship rings are amazing achievements without a doubt, however, what does that say about you as a well-rounded man? Do you have loved ones? Do you have a family? Do your children cherish the times that you were truly with them (and not answering a ping or text message)? Do you value your wife or mate and do they know that? Despite being a Master of the Universe, would you take a moment out of your schedule to rub her shoulders, rub her feet? Have a tea party with your 4-year-old daughter?
Gentlemen, while what you do is incredibly fulfilling (and let’s admit, it gets you out of the house and away from the other stuff you may not do so well) in order to have a well-rounded life, you need to participate in the lives of the people you claim to love. Even before you do that, you need to ensure that you love yourself and take time to provide the care to self that helps to keep you balanced, empathetic, energetic and at your best in your chosen profession and in your personal life. Lawyers, Doctors, and professional athletes succumb to drugs, alcohol, depression, and death because they allow themselves to be overwhelmed (or have a pre-existing condition that is exacerbated by the job-related stress). The personal life, the personal care, takes a back seat to what must be done. But if you lose the personal battle, you are not here to save the next patient, win the next case, or enjoy your daughter’s tea party on a sunny day in the backyard.
Your personal identity quite frankly should include you. Your personal identity should encompass the whole you. It helps you be better at your chosen profession, it helps you be better at life.
Most recently David Axelrod, Former Senior Political Advisor to President Barak Obama, recently explained why he cried when the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care to you right-winged Devil worshippers) was passed. It wasn’t just the political “win” it was because he remembered that when he was a political reporter he had to pay cash that he couldn’t afford to pay for his baby daughters epilepsy treatment. In this terrible instance, we got the whole man. We got the range of experience that helped him be the advisor that he was (translated as doing his job better) but bringing empathy to the table because of the experience within his own family. In short, Axelrod was there. Despite a stellar career, he made time to be there for his family and subsequently himself. Does he love what he does? Of course, he does. But it’s not all he is.
President Obama, while the leader of one of the potentially greatest countries on earth made sure the world knew, it was about his wife and daughters. His family always won when it came to the personal, public choices he was required to make after he got his dream job.
While the experiences of Men can be the same, they also differ for black men in many ways. But, there are lessons that can be learned and applied in all of our lives because as men, if we take the time to talk to one another we find that we are on the same journey no matter what our color is. We all want the best lives for ourselves and our families and we all want to provide for them and keep them safe. Sister Iyanla Vanzant’s great love letter to black men entitled, “The Spirit of a Man: A Vision for Black Men and the Women Who Love Them” eloquently drives home the point about Men and how we are raised.
“When I think about my brother and his peers, my father and his peers, being a man was not only what you did, it was the posture, the manner in which you moved. It was a physical or outer demonstration. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone tell my brother he was good inside. I don’t remember ever hearing about his mission, his purpose, or his everlasting connection to his creator. What my brother was taught was bravado.”
I really want Iyanla to write another book about Men, she is so keyed into who we are as beings.
For all men who seek to find the balance., for the men who want to excel at what they do, who want to be good Fathers, good husbands, good providers and good companions: Keep in mind that you don’t have to be what you do—but, by no means is what you do insignificant—but you can be more. Be more than your job for the sake of your own soul, your own sense of self, your own spirit as a man.
Watch and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Your Life’s Blueprint” speech as he addresses a high school graduating class in
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