My name is Wulfgar. I answer to no one.
I was raised beneath the southern lash of humid swampland, taught that women must obey the head of the household—men–and that only the strong survive, never cry, and respect was won by always being the best.
My father’s nickname was literally “The King,” and he was. I idolized my father growing up. He entered every room with the confidence of a monarch. His voice boomed with authority, and I never saw him display emotion. He never second-guessed himself, always had the answer, and could laugh away all competitors. Mostly, he was nothing like my mother: weak, emotional, and insecure. That is how I saw them as a child until far into my adulthood.
As I grew and went into the world, I knew one thing above all else: being strong meant being invulnerable.
I learned never to cry, certainly not when my girlfriends cheated on me nor when my 11-year-old nephew died suddenly. Never say, “I don’t know.” My strong male voice could convince anyone of my expertise, including the college kid with cancer I convinced to drop out of school and join the get rich quick pyramid scheme I worked for, just to expand my team. He lost all his insurance.
I learned to win by any means necessary: stealing, cheating, and lying, so long as I won. Whether it was a board game, playing sports, picking up women, writing a resume, hoarding cash tips, defrauding the system, all of it, I lived to see that look in everyone’s eyes; that I was king of the hill. All my attention was watching for that brave soul who would try to knock me off my throne. I was merciless to them. I learned to trash talk and psyche out my opposition with razor-sharp wit, to tear that man apart. Just like my dad.
I learned never to show my vulnerability, keeping everyone at arm’s length. I began to realize my duty as a titan, that loneliness was simply a burden to be shouldered by the great and mighty, that crushing enemies would harden them into better opponents, which in turn would make me a better man. All my actions could be justified. Using fear to sleep with women, manipulating secrets to gain an advantage over friends, sabotaging coworkers for position, all in the name of dominance.
I thought this was the alpha apex of being a man.
I longed to be cold, calculating, to hold all the cards and thus all the power I could grab. In reality, I was no one special, a college dropout with a criminal record. You’d never know it by looking at me or having a conversation. Everyone just assumed I was supposed to be there, hired me despite being woefully unqualified, gleefully introduced me to parents, recommended me without reservation, wanted to be seen beside me, and constantly reminded me of all the potential I had. The only thing I feared was failure, which justified anything I did to succeed. That fear was at the core of my masculinity, my whole identity. I knew I was destined for greatness; only hesitation and weakness could stop me: my hesitation and weakness. I trained myself to be a soldier, like the ruthless action heroes I grew up watching. I was lucky. My dad also gave me the genetics of Conan the Barbarian or Gaston.
I was born to show the world what a real man looked like.
I felt a terrible anger for a long time, a hatred for how the world betrayed me, ignored my greatness, and discarded my potential. How menial jobs, far beneath my true potential, could terminate my employment. How ungrateful women could be with my compassion to hit on them. How neglected my wisdom seemed in a world dying without it. I felt under constant attack, threatened by all, and supported by no one. With all my potential, it felt as though I didn’t belong anywhere. I became a shell of routine, numb, devoid of feeling, pursuing only what satisfied me. I had become the perfect man. Challenge became predictable, the women I met falling into a system, as I condescended everyone for bothering me with their petty problems. If only others would listen to me, as I had it ALL figured out.
That’s the thing about the fear of failure and about wanting to win above all else. Sooner or later, you lose. Eventually, you’ll convince yourself that it’s everyone else who’s a failure, that you are the chosen one, persecuted by destiny. When you believe in conquering others to survive, eventually you run out of people to crush. It’s simply unsustainable. Being bloodthirsty is no way to govern your life. Constantly staying ahead of emotion, looking over your shoulder for competition, being merciless to yourself makes you fear falling behind. Working yourself to the bone for more money, a bigger house, and a promotion. Taking steroids, energy drinks, more red meat to get bigger, harder, faster. Deflecting her every concern, spinning her insecurities, and arguing your case to get inside her pants. More, more, more. All of us, fighting for every inch, seething for every dollar, cursing every pussy. Billions of men, each one throttling the life of a fellow man, all of them hoping to be King.
I realized, like any soldier of a pointless war, “What the hell am I doing?”
Who was I trying to rule? The ungrateful imbeciles I called friends, the naive girls I ensnared, or the horrible boss I tried to undermine. I already felt numb and isolated, so who was I doing this for? What exactly was I destined to win, a predictable life where everyone feared me, never having to venture beyond my comfort zone? A kingdom of contentment where all obeyed me, thoughtless, and without courage? Was my throne really to be built upon the destruction of others and the subjugation of critics? That sounded like the dictates of a dictatorship, yet I was supposed to be a hero. The good guy.
Soon, I realized that the more I succeeded, the less I trusted others. Were they being honest or simply telling me what I wanted to hear? Did they actually want ME or only what I could do for them? Was any of this real or entirely pointless? I began taking risks, feeling self-destructive, careless, just to feel alive: driving over 100 mph, partying without restraint, groping women, not wearing condoms, shoplifting, getting into fights, and still I felt numb. I toyed with suicide just to laugh at death. I had become invulnerable indeed, from feeling joy or pain.
Still, the fear of failure lingered. It taunted me and ridiculed my efforts to defeat it once and for all. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t quite shake the fear, becoming absolute in my ability to always succeed, never lose, and never make a mistake. I needed to be perfect, like my dad, the King. I was my own worst enemy, never good enough, always a letdown. No matter how many times I got up after a failure, the formula for perfection eluded me. I felt mountains of rage at myself for being so weak, never amounting to anything worthwhile outside my own head, worthless to everyone for not being perfect.
I worked jobs I hated, to buy stuff I didn’t want, to impress women I cared nothing for.
Life felt meaningless to me, an empty void, suffocating on the shallow expectations of the world, my expectations. I knew well how to overcome anything with my ferocity, my anger, and my detachment. Jail, the Army, abortions, carpentry, lifting weights, bartending, fixing my car, seducing women, breakups, my family. It didn’t matter. I handled them all with the same masculine grip, far from my heart, and with an untrusting eye.
I was toxic and no one could tell me. I distrusted them all, keeping counsel only with myself. I needed to be strong, to believe I was a good man, to know I served the greater good. I was the only one I could count on and so couldn’t afford to have such flaws. I couldn’t afford to be so vulnerable. I fought it with everything in me, not to admit the lingering truth: that I can fail, that I’m not perfect, not destined to be great, not invulnerable. I carried my burden, the bricks of masculinity as far as I could, almost killing me in the process. I felt the void clutch my heart, weeping for my loss of meaning, pointless failure drowning all my ambition.
I did not die.
In fact, when I finally let go, as the throne room became a prison, resigned to whatever might follow my abdication, I felt relief, like a long overdue hard slumber, calm and peaceful. The masonry of a thousand castles crumbled from off my shoulders. I could close my eyes and let my guard drop away. Ever slowly I stopped trying to be what everyone expected me to be, hoping to find what might sincerely warm my heart. I wanted to cry, having forgotten how desperately wishing to feel such emotion again. I wanted a partner that challenged me, whom I knew chose to be with me without the slightest fear or obligation. I wanted friends who loved me and would respect me even at my weakest. I wanted to know my family, removed from my disdain. I wanted to follow my passion instead of the biggest paycheck. I wanted to feel alive.
Possibility, so forgotten and foreign, overtook me once more. I had sailed away from the perpetual race of being manly, voyaging into the unknown, truly exploring for the first time, boundless and without limit. I was free to discover, to adventure, to navigate the uncharted. Expectations were impossible without comparison and mistakes unknown without precedent. The pressure was gone, replaced by wonder. Imagining what could be, feeling my imagination take life, my creativity springing forth. I could be any sort of man I chose. I could define my masculinity any way I saw fit. No one could ever push me off some imaginary pedestal so long as I soared upon wings of my own design. Success became finding what was true and sincere. I could no longer be shamed. I could smell the flowers, relax, and enjoy the day. I no longer feared failure.
Against all my logic, what I was taught to believe, embracing failure made me more successful than ever before. It made me fearless in ways I’d never experienced. Wearing bright colors, dancing to my own music, loving whomever I wished, and admitting vulnerabilities with ease allowed me to truly see myself for the first time instead of who I felt I ought to be. I had to face my toxic cruelty and allow myself to be forgiven, grow from the insights, and be honest about my introspection. My ego fought me hard at first, afraid of change, feeling insecure before the ridicule of others. This too gave way, turning to pride, seeing how I was conquering my fear instead of being ruled by it. I had never felt so proud of myself, having been hidden beneath a din of self-delusion. Never did I lose the lessons of my early masculinity, my stoic strength, or fiery rage. However, now I know how to channel them alongside retaining soft emotions, openness, empathy, and hearing criticism from close friends.
I am more than I once was, stronger, happier, and without the burden of expectation. Only I am to judge who I want to be, be with, or stand up for. I am free to be the man I was truly destined to become, not the effigy of some Hollywood fantasy, or the disappointment of my fragile ego.
My name is Wulfgar. I answer to no one.
A version of this post was originally published on BarbarianEffeminate.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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