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A few weeks ago I was at dinner with my friend Jen. She talked about a man she was dating and was appalled by something he did. “Can you believe it?” she cried, “He’s a grown-ass man!”
It got me thinking about my own manhood.
The first time I was referred to as a man was at my bar mitzvah. I had frosted-tip bleached hair and had never kissed a girl before.
The second time I was referred to as a man was when I reached drinking age. I celebrated with whiskey shots and blacked-out the entire night.
The third time I was referred to as a man was last November on my 30th birthday. I had just left my company and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Clearly, our culture has various benchmarks and definitions of manhood. So I’ve recently been asking the question:
What does it really mean to be a man?
Throughout my adult life, manhood was never a topic of discussion with my peers. I never talked about it with my father, my mother or any role model figures. Instead, I mirrored other men’s manly behaviors: run ambitious businesses, be with lots of women, party hard with buddies, repeat.
I became hooked. I wanted more and I wanted better.
Along the way, I developed a bit of a self-help obsession. I listened to audio books on charisma and attended conferences on leadership; I took weekend seminars on how to pick up women and hired dating coaches; I took advanced meditation courses and sat at silent retreats; I worked with sexual energy healers and studied everything from Taosit Sexual Kung Fu to Orgasmic Meditation.
I practiced a ton — by starting new businesses, by raising money, by advising startups, by organizing events, by dating my ass off, by sleeping around.
I came away with some tough realizations. I constantly operated from extremes; I was never satisfied; I lost my connection to gratitude; I wound up hurting some people and I often hurt myself.
But through the 10+ years of experimenting, fucking up and learning, I also had some big breakthroughs.
These breakthroughs have helped me better answer what it means for me to be a man in today’s world. They fall into four categories — or what I’ll refer to as pillars — Purpose, Sex, Relationships and Presence.
I’m writing this post for three reasons:
- To outline the pillars of modern manhood as I see it, and share an overview of my experiences
- To introduce The Modern Man Experiment — a series of curated gatherings where I’ll be workshopping and developing these pillars with other men and women in the living room of my loft
- To make clear my intentions with this experiment: to discuss guidelines that will help transition my generation (and the upcoming generation) into modern manhood, and build a community that is interested in this pursuit
A disclaimer before reading on: I strive to live by these pillars in my everyday life but I am FAR from practicing them with perfection. They are my insights — not ‘the way.’ As a thirty year old, I am not in a position to claim how men should act or determine what defines a man. Instead, I’m suggesting this framework to start a discussion about what it means to be a man today.
A Modern Man commits himself to understanding his deeper purpose in life. He understands his purpose by identifying his greatest gifts. He aligns his work and relationships with his abilities to share those gifts with others. Along the way, he may need to change his job, romantic partners and/or friends. He understands that this process is often challenging and sometimes gut-wrenching, but he remains committed to living by his purpose.
In 2013, I found myself losing excitement for my job. I made a handful of changes within my role but ultimately knew my heart wasn’t in the work. Last year, I left my company of 9 years without knowing what I wanted to do next. The process rocked my world. I compared myself to others, convinced myself I was talentless and found it hard to be in NYC without a career in mind. I had to deal with that dreaded dinner party question, “So, what do you want to do next?” It was a reeling process, but it turns out that leaving my company was the most important decision I’ve ever made. I’m now connecting with my purpose (it’s related to this blog post) and it’s given me a charge and new outlook on life that is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’ve expanded my group of friends and found a romantic partner who fuels my growth.
I’ve learned and created a handful of practices that make the work/purpose transition smoother, juicier and way less lonely. Along the way I’ve come across many others who are considering making the work/purpose leap. I want to hold a space where I can share what I’ve learned, hear from others who have already made the leap/are connected to their purpose and help others find their way. Questions: what steps can we take to better align with our purpose? How can we embrace the risks and uncertainty that come with this pursuit? How does aligning with a purpose change the way we live and love?
A Modern Man sees sex as more than just intercourse with another person. He has an understanding of his partner’s anatomy and a technical skillset that allows him to be a master of touch, breath and control. He places pleasure over performance and he makes love without goals. He understands both the power and weakness of masturbation. He knows how to cultivate sexual urges instead of suppressing them or mindlessly acting on them. He’s able to experience the beauty of someone that he’s attracted to without that tunnel-vision need to sleep with her/him.
I spent most of my twenties confused about sex. I’d get stuck in my head, found it hard to communicate about pleasure with my partners and often guessed at what to do in bed. Three years ago, a woman gave me a sex book that changed my life. It created a desire in me to better understand the female anatomy and the 18 erogenous zones, and how to use my body in new ways. I learned ejaculation control and how to cultivate sexual energy. With time, I learned how to drop my technical focus and make the best love of my life simply by relaxing into sex.
Accessing the information to learn all of this took several years and is an ongoing process. This process can be simplified and made far more accessible. I want to share and discuss these tools and lessons, and hear about the insights of other men and women. I want to hold a safe space where people can talk openly about sex and learn from these honest conversations. Questions: what are the tools and frameworks to help us be more skilled lovers? How can we get out of our heads in order to relax into sex? How do sexual urges differ between men and women?
A Modern Man practices vulnerability within his relationships. He lets go of “game” and acts honestly and courageously when he pursues someone he is interested in. He operates with strong intentions but without expectations. He is willing to confront fears of intimacy in order to experience love. He understands why opening his heart to a partner is not always easy but is essential. He understands the importance of camaraderie — being there for his friends and creating a bond with other men that incorporates trust and fun.
Throughout most of my adult life, I found myself second guessing what to text or say to women that I was interested in. I found it frightening to approach women in public that I didn’t already know. As a result, I spent years relying on tricks and games to connect with women. More recently, and with the sage advice of an NYC taxi driver, I learned how to incorporate direct honesty into dating and relationships. It changed everything, and has saved needless anxiety and suffering (for both me and other parties involved). Now I’m starting to learn what women really need and want. It’s not a coincidence that for the first time in my life I’m falling in love. It is just as challenging and hard as it is electrifying.
As our culture relies on games for dating and accepts myths about love, modern people are getting further and further away from deeply connecting with others. I want to hold a safe space where men and women can address questions like: what are the modern guidelines for dating? How can we avoid “game” to improve connection? What are the challenges and complexities of emotion that come with love?
A Modern Man endeavors to operate with complete presence. He understands that presence is one of the most magnetizing and rewarding skills he can master. He puts his phone aside when he’s having an in-person conversation. He pays real attention in meetings, on dates, with family and with friends. He tastes his food. He feels his lover’s touch. He’s able to hear his gut and trust it. He lets go of details and multitasking and gives himself to the juicy stuff. He says “yes” without resentment and “no” without regret. He cultivates his presence by making time for a daily meditation practice.
Four years ago, I had a panic attack and breakdown. I questioned my identity, my career and my relationships. I was overwhelmed by stress and decision making. When I found a meditation practice that worked for me, I started to step into the version of myself that I always knew I could be. My four-year meditation practice has been the foundation of my pursuit of all four pillars. It has allowed me to feel the power of being present, and use presence to enhance certain life skills like building trust and turning on charisma. It has changed the way I relate to stress and fear, and it has given me an awareness that has shifted the way I work, date, make love and show up as a man.
I want to share the story of how I learned to meditate and how I’ve managed to maintain my practice, despite a busy lifestyle. I want to discuss the benefits and challenges that come with meditation and modern living, and cover questions like: how do we make sense of the hype around meditation? How can a practice of presence change our work, sex and relationships? How can we better understand habit science to incorporate meditation into our lives in a way that sticks?
Here’s something to consider:
If young men and women came together to discuss, develop and spread these four pillars, how would our lives be different?
The Modern Man Experiment
Starting this month, I’ll be workshopping these pillars in small groups at my loft in Williamsburg. This is how it will work:
- A workshop will focus on one pillar (the first workshop is on the pillar of presence & meditation)
- Each workshop will last two hours and cost $40 per person
- I will share tools, lessons and content about what I’ve learned
- All workshops will be a safe space for discussion and will be open for others to share insights
- Women need to be a part of the conversation — manhood is greatly influenced and inspired by women. The voices of women are critical in defining and evolving the manhood conversation. While some workshops will be for men only, many will be co-ed offerings
My generation of Millenials is the largest generation of all time (there are 92 million of us — that’s 15 million more than the previous largest generation, the Baby Boomers). As a generation, we can have enormous impact by collectively creating ways to align our hearts with our work and relationships, by deeply connecting with others and by being the best versions of ourselves. My goal with The Modern Man Experiment is to explore ways to do this that are genuine and relatable without feeling forced or self-helpy.
Tweet me with any questions or suggestions! @jesseisrael
*Shout out to my mom, Gail, for editing this post; my dad, Bob, for sharing his recent manhood insights with me; and my girlfriend, Kate, for encouraging me to do this experiment