It's tough to try and figure out how to become a man in the modern world.
In the 21st century the road map seems to have disappeared. No one quite knows what it means to be a man anymore.
Young men stumble about trying to make it without clear guidance. They are desperate to prove their manhood, but unsure of how to do it.
For girls, womanhood is traditionally seen as arriving once the physical child bearing attributes have developed. Yet for boys, hitting puberty does not make one a man.
Manhood is something that needs to be earned and re-earned. Nobody thinks of a woman losing her womanhood. Since it is purely physical it cannot be taken away. Yet for men one of their greatest fears is being seen to lose their masculinity. It is something that is bestowed, that has to be earned and can therefore be stripped.
I believe the essence of manhood is the ability to independently take care of oneself and the ability to provide for others. This is not achieved by reaching a certain age, it is achieved by reaching a certain state of mind.
A boy is dependent on others. A juvenile has the ability to be independent but not provide. A man is fully independent and can take care of his family.
In most cultures in most periods of history a boy was prepared for this transition about the time that he physically turned into a man.
It is only recently, through extending education and keeping young men dependent on their parents and the state, well into their twenties, that a disconnect has formed.
Boys become men physically, but have to wait years before they can become men in a social and cultural sense, a perilous place known as "Guyland." 1
Couple this with the fact that a lot of boys lack good male role models and that we lack cultural rituals to guide the transition from boy to man, and society has a disaster on its hands.
Things then go one of two ways. You get immature kidults who don't ever grow up and retain their juvenile attitude well into adulthood. Or you get young men who look to prove their manhood in destructive and violent ways.
The other alternative is actually figuring out how to develop a healthy masculinity despite the lack of help. Since you are reading this, I'm sure this is a path that interests you.
That's what I did. It took me quite a few years but I eventually figured out that type of man I wanted to be. It took me moving out of home as soon as I finished high school and shifting to the other side of the country for college, then joining the military, then getting out to go backpacking around the world.
By the time I got to my mid twenties I thought I had things mostly figured out. No doubt I'll change my mind at some point but I reckon I've now got a fair idea about how to be a man in the modern world. The challenge for me is living up to my own standards.
How To Become A Man In The Modern World
1. Live By Values and Principles
One of the keys to becoming a man is standing for something and live your life based on those principles. Take the time to learn who you are as a individual and figure out what you believe it. Your values and principles will be a constant companion through life so choose them wisely.
2. Be Humble
I dislike the stereotype of the brash arrogant jock. A real man has a quiet confidence but at the same time is very humble. He doesn't try to elevate himself by putting others down and he is respectful of other people's differences. He values himself immensely but does not feel the need to parade it.
3. Be Independent
End the dependency on your parents as quickly as possible. Move out, do all your own chores, find a way to make a living. Don't be slovenly and lazy, instead form good habits. Before you can take care of others you must be able to take care of yourself.
4. Listen To Advice And Seek Other's Wisdom
As a young men you are headstrong and it's easy to think that you know it all. You may think you are too proud to ask for help or advice.
One of the best things you can do with your humility is to be open to absorbing the wisdom and advice of those who have gone before you. You will learn much more quickly if you do. Find good role models and learn all that you can.
5. Get In Shape
You have probably grown up being taught that the media portrays unrealistic bodies and that you should accept and love the body that you have, even with it's flaws.
That's true to a point but should never be an excuse to treat your body with disrespect and allow yourself to get out of shape.
Physical prowess connects us to our primal nature. Just because you don't necessarily need muscle and fitness to hunt game and smash rocks, doesn't mean you should become a couch potato.
Fitness builds discipline, tenacity and self respect, which are key traits for any man to acquire.
6. Get Things Done
A lot of people are dreamers and talkers, but they can't get things done. They don't have the discipline and drive to turn ideas into reality. You need to realize that the world doesn't owe you a living. A man has to hustle and find a way to get by in the world. You can't sit idly by and complain about how tough things are for you. You can either be a victim or you can get things done.
7. Don't Be Afraid To Grow Up
A lot of young men want to live in permanent youth. They want all the freedoms of adulthood, with a little bit of cash and no responsibility. They don't want to work hard, they aren't interested in a serious relationship and they want to live like they are 21 forever. They want to be a kidult.
I used to be like this until I realized that real life was fun and there was nothing to be afraid of. If you want to become man you have to embrace the responsibility of real life.
8. Be Tenacious
I love this clip from Rocky Balboa because it so eloquently sums up the importance of being tenacious. Life will hit you hard and it owes you nothing. A boy needs others to support, a man can take on life and survive. But there will be times where you struggle, where you feel incompetent and you feel helpless. You just have to take the hits, get back up and, as Rocky says, "keep moving forward."
9. Become A Rock For Others
There's a great article on the Art of Manliness that talks about becoming a man. It talks about the ritual of marriage and children in becoming a man. However its not the act of getting married or the act of becoming a father that makes a man.
Rather it is the time when a man stops living for himself and starts living for others. That often comes with marriage and kids, hence the ritual. Yet there are plenty of people with a wife and kids who still act like juveniles.
Likewise you don't have to get married and have a child in order to stop living solely for yourself. You can live for others from right now even if you are single and childless.
The point is to be there for others. To be somebody that your loved ones can count on, consistently and reliably and with humility. A boy thinks only of his own needs, a man still meets his own needs but can see where he is needed in the lives of others and meet those needs as well.
10. Pursue Conscious Manliness
If manliness does not always come naturally in the modern world then you need to work on it with some conscious thought. It doesn't just happen on it's own without guidance or without you grabbing it with both hands.
You need to give some serious thought to the type of man you want to be and you need to implement habits that reflect that desire, so that over time you develop into that desired outcome.
It is a process of change and it is something that is never finished. So commit yourself to the process and the pursuit. Don't allow it to be something that crosses your mind once a year, only to to be forgotten about the next time you turn on the TV.
I recommend "The Confident Man" as a resource that can help you with this.
The modern world doesn't prepare men to be men anymore.
So if you feel like society has let you down and you want to be a man but don't feel like one yet, then you need to take action.
Figure who you want to be, the principles you want to live by and the traits you want to have. Find good role models, learn from them and take charge of your own masculine development.
You can't wait for someone else to do it for you.
- Kimmel, Michael S. Guyland. New York: Harper, 2008.