Growing up, I spent my days break-dancing, skateboarding, racing bikes, and chasing girls. All social activities. My mind was programmed to do things with others, so when I became an adult, it carried over. Movies. Parties. Motorcycle rides. Fitness. All with friends. I never did anything alone — until I got a divorce.
The divorce threw me into a world of solitude. Not by choice. I didn’t have many friends then because my life revolved around my wife. (See previous chapter.) I hadn’t made an effort to make friends until after we got married. Big mistake (one that many people make), because they were mostly her friends. I was just the husband. They weren’t friendships built on me. They were friendships built on us but first through her, so when we separated, they defaulted back to being her friends, not mine. So I found myself alone for the first time in my life. I remember lying in bed on a Friday night and, for the first time in my life, not having one single person to call to go out. Not one . . . single . . . person. It was more than sad. It was strange. I was Tom Hanks, on an island talking to a volleyball. Except I didn’t even have a volleyball.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be a blessing. It forced me to get to know myself, get comfortable with myself — to grow, to become a man.
I went to movies by myself. I sat in diners by myself. I went on motorcycle rides by myself. I went on walks. Runs on the beach. Hikes. I watched sunsets. I did everything you would do with a friend or an intimate partner, but by myself. And it was uncomfortable. I was lonely. I felt self-conscious. But I knew this was part of my rebirth. So I leaned into it. I pushed pass the discomfort and sat with me.
Being Alone Versus Being Lonely.
The stronger your alone muscles, the less likely you will be alone. Because people gravitate toward people who can sit by themselves. Who can do their own thing. Who don’t need to be with others to exist. Who actually like themselves.
After the unease and loneliness, I started to get to know myself in a way I hadn’t before. I saw myself outside of myself, instead of from inside my own head and insecurities. From this position, there was less self-judgment and more self-curiosity. Not just “What does John like?” but “How does John feel, and why?” Did I start speaking out loud to myself in the third person? Maybe. But that’s another thing that’s great about being alone — you give less fucks.
You know that saying “You should treat yourself as you would a good friend”? Well, that’s what I started doing. I started to be kinder to me, accept me, embrace who I was. That’s the piece that makes spending alone time so crucial to your journey as a man. It’s not just about getting to know you. There is a tipping point once you spend enough time with yourself: you start to like you.
As important as it is to spend time with our friends, girlfriend, wife, coworkers, and family, we must also spend time alone. Overtime at work does not count. When I say alone, I mean things that allow you to know and discover yourself. The world calls it “me time.” I call it any activity that clears your head, resets your body, and reboots you as an individual.
Many men define “me time” as golfing with Dad, having a beer with the boys, or taking a trip to Costa Rica. But we don’t do those activities alone. Women, however, are experts at “me time”; they enjoy the process. It’s a mental bath. They crave it. They need it. It brings them comfort; it puts them at ease. Which brings me to the more important piece of doing things alone: Feeling comfortable with ourselves affects other areas of our lives. It builds confidence. We will seek less from others and have a stronger sense of who we are. We won’t have to cling to our partners at a party.
When’s the last time you went to a movie by yourself? Ate dinner in a restaurant alone? Went out on a Friday solo? And — this is important — enjoyed your own company? If you feel discomfort when you are doing things alone, explore it. Where does it come from? Do you feel self-conscious? Are you worried about what others will think of you?
When these feelings creep in, remember: Doing things alone doesn’t make you a loser. It makes you healthy. It makes you attractive. It makes you whole.
So by now I’ve made it pretty clear that my divorce was the turning point of my life. And my divorce stemmed from a terrible outlook on love and relationships. Maybe that makes you wonder if you should be trusting me to give you advice in this department.
No, you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t trust anyone. Because we’re all fucked up, have different stories, and we can’t push our definitions onto others — especially when it comes to love and relationships, because there are so many factors. But my hope is that there is something in my story you can relate to, and possibly learn from, just as there are things in your story that others can learn from.
So here we go.
LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS,
in a shot glass:
Men don’t react; they respond. Men do the dishes because they want to. Men don’t call women fat, ever. Men express love as an action, not just a feeling. Men couldn’t care less about their partner’s sexual history. Men love hard.
I love my dad. The older I get, the more respect I have for both of my parents, who came to this country barely speaking English, put food on the table for me and my brother, kept a roof over our heads, and gave us an education and designer jeans. As a provider, my father was an excellent man. And Dad, if you’re reading this or listening to it because it’s been translated into Korean (I hope it will be because these kinds of conversations are sorely needed there), I want you to know I love you and this book would not be possible without you. I have learned from you a strong work ethic, humor, and a good kind of inappropriateness that reminds us we’re all human. And those elements have given me a voice. That being said, this book is about my definition of man, and I gotta use you as an example here to show one of the greatest differences between a man and a boy. It comes down to responding versus reacting.
My father was a walking reaction for most of my life. There was no pause between how he felt and how he behaved. He would come home and vent on the family. The sky was always falling. He didn’t have the tools to hold back. Instead, everything was a reflex. When he was angry, we knew. When he was stressed, we felt it.
As I got older, I stepped right into my dad’s shoes, a walking reaction. Especially in my relationships. I would lose my temper, talk over people, and vomit my negative energy without considering how my state would impact others. If I felt discouraged and frustrated, I would put it on them. I call it “emotional littering,” and I dumped trash everywhere. It wasn’t until I went through many relationships, including a marriage and subsequent divorce (have I mentioned that yet?), that I understood the importance of responding instead of reacting.
Responding is a form of taking responsibility. By choosing to respond instead of react, you are taking care of your own shit. You are saying, “I feel this way but I choose to act differently because it’s healthier. Because it will create a safer space for others. Because life isn’t just about me.” This ownership makes you a man, and a whole lot more attractive.
Responding is a form of taking responsibility. By choosing to respond instead of react, you are taking care of your own shit.
Here’s the thing: No child enters adulthood unscarred. We’ve all been through some form of trauma. My dad grew up making his own shoes and having plates thrown at his head for stealing rice. We’ve all been bullied, rejected; something has been taken from us. And we did our best to survive our dysfunctional upbringing, life’s turbulence, and heartbreak. That trauma threatens to keep us locked inside who we are instead of who we could be. We all have a responsibility to break this lock. With a sledgehammer.
Boys react and men respond. Life tends to have gray areas, however, and the difference between a reaction and a response isn’t always obvious. Let me give you an example . . .
Scenario: You get home from work, where you had a weird, stressful day that left you feeling kind of shitty, and your girlfriend — let’s call her Sarah — is two glasses of wine deep and playing loud, annoying pop music in your apartment. She’s tipsy and in a great mood, and normally you would match her mood, but today the whole thing is irritating. When you walk in the door, before you even put your stuff down, she looks you in the eye and says, dismissively, “What’s the matter with you? Lighten up.” This hurts your feelings. It also makes you feel incredibly angry, irritated, and alone.
What Reacting Looks Like:
“What the fuck are you so happy about?”
You toss your things on the couch, beeline straight to the bedroom, and slam the door.
You did exactly what you felt like doing without considering how your words and actions might impact your girlfriend. And chances are, you’ll be sleeping on that same couch you just tossed your things on.
What Responding Looks Like:
“I’m sorry, baby. I’m having a bad day.”
You lean in and give her a quick kiss.
“I love you. Give me two minutes to unwind and I’ll join you.”
You toss your things on the couch and disappear into the bedroom.
You set your own feelings aside for a second because you didn’t want to ruin her positivity and mood but you also were honest and told her how you felt. You gave her a kiss and reminded her that you loved her. But you also drew a boundary and gave yourself the space you needed by letting her know you needed some “me time.”
You will be sleeping in bed with her tonight, and I’m sure she will listen to why you had such a shitty day.
We react from pain. Someone insulted us, broke our heart, bullied us, took away our voice, or our self-esteem, or our sense of safety. This hurt encourages us to behave without a filter. It’s our way of protecting ourselves. Or so we think. Reacting is actually self-disruptive behavior. When we react, we are not creating a space to heal. Instead, we are passing on our pain. The result is arguments that quickly turn into wildfires, character assassinations (more about that in #29), and failed relationships.
On the other hand, a response requires thought, patience, and a plan. A response means thinking of the best way to speak and behave in a given situation, one that will serve to heal instead of destroy. This takes work. It means practicing metacognition and empathy, biting your tongue and/or swallowing your ego. It requires examining your feelings, tracing them back to what’s under the surface, and communicating that effectively. The result is resolved conflict, increased trust, and strengthened relationships. When we respond, we don’t just deflect our pain or frustration. We understand it, which gives it less power. When we react, we are picking scabs. When we respond, we are applying ointment.
I had a client once who came to see me but didn’t know why. He had had a great childhood. He had a great life. He was in love with his wife, had two beautiful children, a vacation home in Santa Barbara. He was self-made and passionate about what he did. He was wealthy, driven, felt a sense of purpose and meaning. He couldn’t understand why he was so unhappy.
After multiple sessions, we realized he felt extremely alone and powerless in the world even though he had a “solid” relationship with his wife and kids and a thriving company. After many more sessions, we realized why he was feeling this way. He judged everyone. He judged people on what they wore, what they drove, how they lived their lives. He judged strangers. His family. His employees. And, of course, himself. Harshly. He had a very specific idea of how the world should look and how people should behave in it. And since reality didn’t match his blueprints, he felt alone and disconnected.
Once we discovered this, his world cracked open to reveal the truth. As it turned out, he didn’t really have a healthy relationship with his wife. She walked on eggshells and pretended like everything was okay when it wasn’t. He wasn’t close to his kids. His employees didn’t know him and didn’t want to. They worked for him hoping the company would go public one day so they could cash out.
We chased the strings of his judgment down, and they ended up in a pool filled with fear. He judged because he was afraid. If people didn’t fit into his ideas and definitions, it exposed something flawed about him and his perfect world. It meant he was wrong, had done things wrong, had chosen the wrong path or placed value on the wrong things. It meant his world was false and his house of cards would come crashing down. Judgment, then, was his way of protecting his world. It was his way of holding a shield, creating a shell, putting himself in a bubble. But the truth is, he was only fighting with himself. Creating his own anxiety and resisting his own joy.
Once he realized this, he made a choice to stop judging. It didn’t happen overnight. It took months. I coached him on making nonjudgment a daily practice. After nearly a year, this is what happened: He started to work less. He and his wife got couples counseling. His employees actually started talking to him like a real person. He had a better relationship with his kids. I started seeing wrinkles in his clothes. (Which, in this case, was a good thing.) He became a real person. All because he judged less? Of course not. There was a shit ton of other work. But deciding to not judge was the first domino. Practicing nonjudgment is what opened the door for him.
If we make a decision to stop judging, and do it on a daily basis, our world opens up. We go from narrow to wide, and in that open space there is soil for compassion, love, connection, creativity, and endless possibilities.
The energy of judgment leaks from your body and pollutes the air. It shows in your face, your eyes, and your fists.
When we judge, we come in loaded. We are stamping a giant “should” on whatever person, experience, or situation we encounter. This is poison in relationships, because every “should” is lined with control. It may not be direct. But the controlling, judging energy is there, and others will feel it. If you want to create a safe space in your relationship, be aware of when you are judging: what she wears, what she eats, who she is friends with, how she lives her life. If she wants opinions, she will ask for them. If not, don’t disguise judgment as how much you love her. Love does not come with judgment. “I love, therefore I judge” is not a thing.
to Stop Judging
1. Pull from curiosity.
You can’t judge and be curious at the same time. When you feel judgment coming on, turn your dial to Curiosity. Wonder why someone is doing or saying what they are doing or saying. Don’t label it and take it personally. Create distance by being curious.
2. Try to understand before trying to be understood.
Most people try to be understood before trying to understand. If we try to understand first, we will be a whole lot less judgmental. It leaves room for us to see things how others see them. There can be overlap. Reliability. Understanding. And when that happens, judgment fades almost instantly.
3. Learn people’s stories.
We judge people on their words and behavior. But those words and behavior stem from their stories. So if you learn their stories, you will understand why they did or said what they did. You may still not agree with them or be hurt by their words and actions, but this understanding will make it easier to not judge.
Remember, you are not giving someone something by not judging them. You are allowing yourself to be free.
You want less anxiety in your life? First, notice every time you say “should,” either out loud or, more importantly, mentally. Stop judging everything, everyone, including yourself. Especially yourself. Stop judging your stuff, your hair, your house, your weight, your moments, your relationships, your experiences, your path, and your life. Even if you don’t announce it, the people in your life feel it. You feel it. The energy of judgment leaks from your body and pollutes the air. It shows in your face, your eyes, and your fists. You are making things about you, and no one wants to be around that kind of person. Judgment does not promote growth. It stunts it. When you judge, you create your own prison. When you accept things as they are, you free yourself and everyone around you.
When I was married, my wife and I were invited to have dinner with a wealthy man who had financed the last film she was in. I was a struggling screenwriter at the time, and he was looking for a screenwriter to write a new movie he had in mind. My wife was reluctant about the dinner and said she’d go only if I didn’t try to sell myself as a screenwriter. I understood and promised I wouldn’t pitch myself. But I told her I’d bring a few of my scripts as writing samples just in case he wanted them. Writing samples are like business cards. It would just be a friendly dinner. I could tell she didn’t feel comfortable about it, but she said okay.
From the second we sat down at the fancy restaurant overlooking the ocean to the moment we said our good-byes, I did nothing but try to sell myself as a screenwriter. I talked about my projects. What I’d sold. What we had in common as immigrants who came to America, which he didn’t agree with. I was desperate. I needed the work. My marriage was on the rocks. I couldn’t lose this opportunity. Getting this writing gig meant I would be bringing something to the marriage — money. And that meant I was a man. At that time I had no income, and it made me feel like a pud. So my manhood was at stake. But the truth is, it wasn’t about manhood. It was about my insecurity, feeling less than as a person. I put that above a promise I had made to my wife just hours before.
As you can imagine, the drive home was uncomfortable to say the least. The tension was so thick you couldn’t cut it with a knife. Then words came out, followed by emotions, and suddenly we were in a full-blown fight. It was one of the worst fights we had because I didn’t admit I was wrong. I was in pure defense mode. I spit out all the reasons why my actions were reasonable. We needed the money. It was a great opportunity. I even spun it and told her that if she was a good wife she would have supported me. But the truth was, I was wrong. I had made her a promise, and then I broke it. Plain and simple. The whys didn’t matter. And if I had just admitted I was wrong, yes, she would have still been upset, but there would be more hope. A chance. A conversation. A space to forgive and rebuild. When someone doesn’t admit they’re wrong, it leaves the other person stranded. You put them on an island. There is nowhere for them to go.
Men who can’t admit when they are wrong are basically refusing to grow. In every relationship, if you’re not growing together, you are growing apart. So if you won’t admit it when you’re wrong, it’s just a matter of time before your partner feels as if she’s outgrown you. Plain and simple.
Swallow your pride and admit it when you are wrong. Discuss it, process it, use it to improve yourself and strengthen relationships. Every time you are wrong, there is an opportunity for growth. Our fear of looking stupid or less than prevents us from this growth.
If you can’t admit it when you are wrong, you are unable to reflect. Without reflection there are no revelations, and without revelations all you have are false beliefs and white knuckles. Don’t allow your false self, the part of you controlled by ego and fear, to steal this opportunity for your evolution.
How to Say “I’m Sorry” Instead of “I’m Right”
Look, if you’re going to apologize, then really apologize by saying the words “I am sorry.” So many men think they’re apologizing, but they’re really not if the words “I’m sorry” never come out of their mouths. Instead, a lot of excuses and why you did or said what you did. That is not an apology. That is an explanation. It doesn’t matter how gentle or soft you are. You could be crying for all I care. If you don’t say you’re sorry, your apology is half-baked. You’re allowing ego and pride to stand in the way of your heart. It goes back to ownership. If you’re going to own it, own it and say you were wrong, you made a mistake. You. Are. Sorry. If you don’t, you’re ending your apology with a giant “but.” And a “but” cancels out your apology.
Let’s break it down, since no one teaches us how to apologize.
Scenario: She is mad at you for something.
- Step one. Hear her. Like I mentioned before, try to understand before trying to be understood. More on this later. Literally repeat what she just said. Not in a patronizing way. In a sincere way, so she knows she was heard. For example, “So what I hear you saying is you are mad because I talked to my ex at the party.” She replies, “Yes, it hurt me. I understand you guys are good friends now and were before I met you, but it seemed like you were flirting with her.” This is the fork in the road. You will want to be defensive, because you weren’t flirting with your ex. You guys were talking about business. But that’s the wrong road, one that many take, and they end up digging a giant hole both people fall into and can’t get out of. The right road is to first address her hurt. Apologize for it: “Yes, I understand how that could have made you feel. I am sorry I hurt you.” Put a period after that. No buts. No “What you don’t understand is . . .” Just a big fat period.
- Step two. Now she feels heard. This means there is more room for her to listen to your explanation. Now you can explain your intention and what the conversation was about. But do it gently, with care. You’re not in a courtroom arguing your case.
- Extra credit. Figure out how you’re going to improve. Stop resisting. This is more for you than her. Do you want to be a stronger human with more tools or not?
Tell her you’ll be more sensitive to her feelings and be aware of them the next time you engage with your ex. Note: You don’t have to say you will never talk to your ex again, unless that is what she wants. If that’s the case, that’s another conversation. You have to explore if that’s fair to you and if that’s something you are willing to do without holding anger and resentment.
- And lastly. Remind her of how much she means to you, of what this relationship means, and that your heart belongs to her. And no one else.
She was heard. Her hurt was addressed. You apologized. You guys understand each other better now, and the “fight” made you two closer.
The other thing you are doing — what most men don’t think about — is that you’re modeling what a real apology looks like. You’re showing her how you want her to fight as well. You’ll be making your relationship bulletproof.
Remember: Admitting when we are wrong isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It takes courage to acknowledge our mistakes, defects, and shortcomings.
Make “I was wrong” (or, if it’s easier, “You were right”) your new superpower.
As men, we never want to be wrong. If we’re wrong, it means we have failed. We’ve lost. And since we tie our worth to our performance, we are wrong = we failed = we are less of a man. So we put a lot of weight on making the “right” decision. So much so that sometimes we don’t make a decision at all. But making decisions takes courage. And it’s that courage that makes a man. Not whether he is wrong or right. It’s the ability to execute, to choose, to put something in motion.
Have you ever gone out to eat with someone who can’t decide what he wants to order? He goes back and forth. Back and forth. He asks, “What are you having?” which is normal. Then asks the server what’s good or popular. Again, normal. But after ten minutes or so, when he eventually asks the server to just pick something for him, it’s no longer an indecisive thing. It’s a character thing. This is the same guy who doesn’t know where to take his girlfriend on a date. The guy who enjoys “all music.” The guy who doesn’t know who to vote for. Can’t tell you what he liked or didn’t like about the movie. He’s the “I dunno” guy and never has an opinion. He doubts and second-guesses himself. He can’t make decisions. His inability to pull the trigger blocks his journey from boyhood to manhood. Men make decisions. You have to, or you can’t build anything. Or lead anyone.
How to Ditch “I Dunno,” or How to Find Your Voice.
It’s really simple. I started asking myself what I wanted. But more importantly, I made a promise to myself that I would express what I wanted, and do my best to give myself that. Knowing that if I didn’t, my self-esteem balloon would always have holes in it. Building self-esteem is about holding on to the promises we make with ourselves. We become the “I dunno” guy because we don’t have self-esteem or self-worth. We don’t believe we matter. The way you stop this pattern and finally find your voice is to give yourself one. Promise yourself you will express your wants and do everything you can — of course, without hurting others — to give yourself that. Without guilt, shame, and everything else that will try to kick in because you’re not used to doing it. Like all self-betterment, it’s a practice. But it starts with a promise. And every time you break it, you are puncturing your self-esteem balloon.
Ambivalence repels love and trust like flipped magnets. Without the courage to decide, no one will follow you. And in relationships, it will stunt chemistry, attraction, and growth. She may not agree with your decision, but she must trust that you have the ability to make one. Without this ability, there can be no relationship. She is seeking a man on a mission. Not a boy lost at sea.
I was the “I dunno” guy in many of my relationships. If you asked me what I wanted for dinner, I didn’t know. If you asked me what I wanted to do on the weekend, I didn’t know. I didn’t know because I didn’t have a strong sense of self and thought it would be easier to just let someone else make the decision. But not giving yourself a voice deteriorates you. You start to dissolve like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future when he couldn’t get his parents together. He literally started to turn invisible in photographs. That’s what happens when you “don’t know” for too long. People don’t see you anymore. But more importantly, you don’t see you anymore. It wasn’t until I started to make decisions — it didn’t matter if they were wrong or right, if I picked a lane, declared my opinions, allowed myself to be heard — that I started to live instead of exist.
Your decisions will define your character.
The ability to make a decision is a skill. It allows you to build trust, pave a road, accomplish goals. The pattern of these decisions will determine what kind of journey you’re on. It will remind you of who you are and where you are going. It’s better to choose and be wrong than to not choose at all. If you don’t pull the trigger, you will lose your gun. So pick a lane, a side, a color. Choose a restaurant, a partner, a cause. Your decisions will define your character.
Listen: If she doesn’t mind you peeing in the shower, sure, go ahead. Write your fucking name on the wall. It’s all good and doesn’t make you less of a man.
I’m talking here about if she doesn’t want you to pee in the shower but you do it anyway because you think she won’t know. It doesn’t matter how much you follow it down with shampoo. Women can smell that shit. They have a better sense of smell than we do. But this is not about odor. It’s about the act of doing something behind their back. It’s about trust.
If you lie about peeing in the shower and they know you’re lying or suspect it, chances are you are lying about other things. Maybe not big things. But lies don’t have to be big to crack trust. Peeing in the shower is one of those “what else” behaviors. If he’s doing this, what else is he doing? Are you feeding the dog under the table? Riding your motorcycle without a helmet? Flirting with the babysitter?
Peeing in the shower isn’t about peeing in the shower. It’s about white lies and the way they can slowly disintegrate trust and eventually relationships.
I used to pee in the shower all the time, even after I agreed that I wouldn’t. I did it because I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal and there’s no way she’s going to find out anyway. It turns out women are gifted detectives. Even though she didn’t make that big of a deal about it, there was a new hint of suspicion in her eyes every time she questioned me about something. Even if I was telling the truth. And that’s what’s important. Being a man means cutting out all the white lies that undermine your credibility, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. It’s a direct reflection of your character. If you insist on peeing in the shower, make sure she knows you do it. Don’t tell her you won’t do it just because that is the easier path. Take the hard path: have the conversation. It will free you from having to keep track of your lies, and will let her know you insist on maintaining a transparent, honest relationship.
I’M NOT UPSET THAT YOU LIED TO ME, I’M UPSET THAT FROM NOW ON I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU.
— FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
John Gottman, known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through direct scientific observation, could predict divorce with over 90 percent accuracy. He spent his career studying how people fight. He discovered that it wasn’t about how many times we fight. It was about how we fight. And character assassination was one of the deciding factors in determining if a marriage would last.
Character assassination can be malicious, but it can also be minimal. Often, it starts with mocking. When we call someone things like idiot, loser, or stupid, even if we’re totally joking, we are slamming their worth. No woman will ever find this funny. No matter in what tone or under what circumstances. I once called an ex-girlfriend a “fatass” in a totally joking manner after she ate a plate of pears I left behind when I went to the restroom. It was a joke. I honestly did not mean what I said. At all. I thought it was no big deal because my brother and I used to talk to each other like that growing up. Little did I know she was struggling with an eating disorder at the time. That one comment created an avalanche of insecurities. I’m trying to think of the male equivalent. Imagine if a woman made fun of your penis. In a joking way, no big deal. Would you think it was funny? Probably not. You would have questions.
So you say, “I was wrong.” But here’s the thing about character assassination: there is no undo. And if you continue to assassinate her character, she will drift. And you won’t even know how far since her low self-esteem / fear of losing the relationship may keep you in the dark or unaware of the damage. This internalization will lead to unhappiness. Eventually, she will seek help to process her anger and resentment. She will begin to have revelations. Her therapist will identify the character assassination for what it is, and send up a giant red flag that this is an emotionally abusive relationship. Her self-worth will rise as her false beliefs dissolve, and eventually she will go through a rebirth. Simply put, she may not have the strength now, but when she does, she will be gone. I know. It’s happened to me.
The Boomerang Word.
Unless you’re referring to your steak, the word “fat” is off-limits. Most women automatically internalize this word. It’s what I call a boomerang word. No matter where you throw it, it will always come back at you via her. Even if you were talking about someone else, your girlfriend or wife will assume you’re thinking the same about her. It’s not worth the fight. Trust me. Eliminate it from your vocabulary. Women and weight. Oil and water. This will never change.
Here’s the thing about character assassination: there is no undo.
Know this: There are two things relationships rarely recover from — infidelity and character assassination. When you belittle someone, even if you’re joking, it’s difficult to recover from. Like with infidelity, she may forgive you. But she will not forget. So if it becomes a pattern, the hairline cracks in trust will add up until your relationship container breaks and there’s not enough Super Glue in the world to fix it. The relationship will have drifted too far to turn back.
Boys assassinate character because they don’t have enough courage or tools to fight fair. They put others down because of what’s lacking inside themselves. Think before you poke fun at people. What’s your intention? Is it to make someone feel small? Or truly to connect and share a laugh? If you don’t know, assassinate your own character. That’s always a safe bet.
There’s a movie called The Break-Up, with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. They’re a couple going through a breakup, and there’s a scene where they get into a huge fight and Jennifer explodes, shouting, “I don’t want you to do the dishes, I want you to want to do the dishes!”
Sometimes we do things because we’re supposed to or because someone wants us to. And when this becomes routine, it turns us invisible. It’s like we died inside. We become a zombie. You’re no longer doing life with someone, you’re doing life around someone, or worse, for someone. And the other person, whether it’s your girlfriend, best friend, or company partner, feels equally alone. Like you checked out. Like you’re not there anymore.
Word to the Wise.
When it comes to dishes and chores and things that need to get done around the house, a reframe may be helpful. You are not helping her when you do the dishes. You are not helping her when you do the laundry. You use the dishes, too. You have laundry also. You are contributing to the house, a shared space. The days of women’s work and men’s work around the house are long gone. That’s an old game that doesn’t end well. Toss away gender roles and old definitions passed down from our parents. Your house is your safe tree, your temple, and a direct reflection of what’s happening inside. Keep it clean. Set the tone.
Yes, there are things in life we have to do that we don’t want to. Paying bills. Washing the dog. And of course, doing the dishes. But we don’t do these out of desire; we do them because we don’t want to rock the boat, because we would rather just do it than get into another fight, because we want to get it over with. Doing things just because we’re told to creates a disconnect with the act, which creates a disconnect in yourself, which creates a disconnect with those around you. Yup, all because of dishes.
Don’t sacrifice your truth because you’re afraid of conflict.
Do things because you want to. Not because you have to. Do things because they come from your truth. Not your obligations. And if it’s going to bring resistance, drama, pushback, be a fucking man and deal with it. Handle it. Don’t sacrifice your truth because you’re afraid of conflict. Life is full of conflict, and that will never go away. It’s your ability to resolve it that will make you a better man.
Let’s be completely honest. No matter how much we convince ourselves that it won’t matter, knowing how many people your partner has been with will eat at us like an Ebola virus.
The phases below hang on general patterns I have discovered from coaching real men with their relationships. And of course, my own personal story.
Phase one. At first, it’s just fun and curiosity. He wonders about her exes. She gives him some information. He starts comparing and asks questions about their performance and maybe even size. But it will come off as half joking (to avoid appearing insecure about his own). So he asks questions in a fun and curious way to retrieve the information without appearing threatening. She won’t know it’s a trap. Neither will he. He believes he can handle it — but he can’t. (He will be paying me for therapy later.) She tells him a few details but nothing more. Because she knows how this will play out. She’s been here before.
Phase two. Now he’s off to the races. First, in his own head. He begins to compare and compete. Plays imaginary sex scenes from her past based on the little information she has given him and fills in the rest with his own insecurities. He assumes, labels, and judges. This leaks into the bedroom. Now he’s competing. It went from in his head to actual action. There is a disconnect. She’s confused. He’s angry. She doesn’t know why. It’s no longer a game for him. He has tied her sexual past to his worth as a man. Now he wants to know details. He has to know: if he is not bigger, then he has to be better. She won’t tell him details because she is protecting the relationship. This makes him feel like he’s inadequate. He makes it about him.
Phase three. Now he starts to believe she would rather be with her exes even though nothing in her behavior or words leads to that conclusion. But still, he believes it with every fiber of his being. She will think he is “fucking crazy.” He will be defensive. And she will realize that he is acting exactly like her jealous exes, which is why she broke up with them.
Don’t get me wrong: you can discuss and explore past relationships if your intentions are to get to know your partner’s story so you can be empathetic and understand her better. But there’s absolutely no reason to know her sexual history. Leave that shit in the past. I don’t care how confident you think you are; it will only make you insecure and turn you into a pouty little boy.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who she has been with. What matters is that she is with you now. Don’t mess it up by digging into the past. It will only break trust. Let it go. Live in the moment.
What to Do If You Already Know the Details and You’re Trying to Move On
Remind yourself of these three things.
Plus, ask yourself one question.
- Know that she is choosing you. It’s easy for us to forget sometimes that our girlfriend actually wants to be with us. Yes, she had a choice, and she chose you. She is with you now and no one else. This means if she wanted to be with her exes or anyone else, she would.
- Know that women are wired differently and care more about connection than anything else, and the connection she has with you she’s never had with anyone else. This means you bring something unique and rare to the table that no one else on this planet can.
- Know that it’s your insecurity that wants to know, not you. Which is your responsibility to work on. Not hers.
Plus: The question: What action are you taking to work on this issue, without blaming her or making her feel responsible? Actual action. Not just thinking about it.
I had a client who did everything he possibly could to be with his girlfriend at the time, even after she cheated on him constantly, breaking his heart over and over again. He would do anything she wanted: gave her ten thousand dollars to help her get her life together and even agreed to move to another country for her even though he didn’t want to. He was supposed to meet her there, but his car broke down eight hundred feet away from the border. This was one of many signs the universe gave him. But he ignored all of them. He moved there anyway, and she ended the relationship once again two weeks later. He lost himself and his life, over and over. Every time she broke up with him, he made it his mission to get her back. She was his everything. All he saw.
You may think, Well, I wouldn’t do that. That’s not me. That’s stupid. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual burn, and there are many layers. When you put someone on a pedestal, the relationship dynamic that pulls you toward this person becomes stronger than your common sense.
The deeper layer: My client lost his father while he was with her. His father was everything to him and, apart from her, all he had. When he lost him, she took his place. Now she was all he had. He couldn’t go through another loss. So he would do anything to not lose her. In doing so, he lost himself. This caused him to go from her mouth to her nipple. It changed the relationship dynamic. She no longer saw him as a man. She saw him as a boy who would always come back when she wanted. This allowed her to lose respect for him. And when you don’t respect your partner, you don’t trust him. Without trust, there is nothing. You are building on sand.
I didn’t lose my father, or move to another country for my ex-wife, but I did put her on a pedestal. She wasn’t a person. She was a beautiful piece of porcelain I put on a high shelf. I didn’t believe I deserved her. She was “out of my league,” and if she found out, she would leave me. So I would do anything she wanted me to. This combined with my distorted definition that being a “good husband” meant to put her first, always, above everything, including myself, changed the dynamic of the relationship, which I believe was the main contributor to our divorce. I thought that’s what it meant to give completely. Besides, love means sacrifice. Right?
Wrong. Love means compromise. Not self-compromise. There is a huge difference. In one, you are giving. In the other, you are taking. When you put her on a pedestal, you are creating room for sacrifice, not compromise, entering a long dark hallway where you will slowly lose yourself.
When we sacrifice self by always putting our partner’s needs above our own, by doing whatever she says even if it conflicts with our own truth, we are disconnecting, breaking, and seeking something from the other person that we lack in ourselves. We are no longer a wall for her to lean on. The relationship becomes limp.
This isn’t some women’s-magazine bullshit. It’s a mind-set, one that may save your relationship. I’ve coached so many men who have lost love because they think it’s self-sustaining. News flash: Just because you get the girl doesn’t mean your work is done. It’s actually just the beginning. Like feeling good versus feeling alive, relationships might fall into your lap, but romance doesn’t just happen. It takes effort and creativity. You must fan the flames.
Useful tools: Date night. Love notes. Thoughtfulness. And eye contact with intention. Prove that you remember what she likes. Know her love language and speak it. Demonstrate desire.
I understand. Life happens. We get busy. Distracted. We forget that we need to feel wanted, desired, and valued and don’t understand why things have changed when nothing’s wrong. What we have to realize is that courting shouldn’t turn off when commitment turns on. It is an ongoing process of showing up and proving that you still want her, through action, words, and energy. It is relationship water, and without it the relationship will dry up.
Courting doesn’t mean you have to write her name in the sky or buy her fancy things. I mean, it could, but that’s not sustainable and, honestly, too over-the-top, which will backfire. Courting can be little things, like love notes, thoughtful cards, flowers for no reason, compliments, noticing little things like the nuances of her mood, her energy, the way she wore her hair or the way she smells. Center everything around thoughtfulness. How would you show that you’re thinking about her in action? Do that. It goes a long fucking way. It produces Super Glue. So whatever you did to get her, keep doing it. It’s not a guessing game; it should be easy. You know her better than anyone, and if you don’t, you have a bigger problem. Time is not an excuse. Make her feel beautiful and she’ll make you feel invincible and vice versa. Relationships are a living, breathing thing. They need to be fed, nurtured, grown. And giving her a ring or kids doesn’t give you a free pass.
Kiss Like You Mean It.
Do you remember your first kiss? Of course you do. You know exactly where you were and what you were wearing. You remember wondering if you should use your tongue, if your braces would cut her, and how long you should keep your eyes shut. But what you remember the most isn’t how it went; it’s how you felt: the bats in your stomach, the fear in your heart, and your sweaty palms.
Do you remember your 2,123rd kiss? Of course you don’t. When we kiss someone new, it’s exciting. It’s our first time experiencing the other person intimately. We take our time, bathe in it, get lost. Our mind-set is in discovery mode. We are open to explore. Once we’re in a relationship, kissing becomes routine. The exploration is over. We use it as a handshake, a hi, a bye, a see ya later. Or a gateway to other things. Rarely do we kiss to discover. We forget the meaning behind kissing. Kissing means to express, connect, validate, assure, give, share, trust, and explore.
When’s the last time you got lost in a kiss where you forgot what day it was? Where your neck hairs stood up, and danced? Where the kiss could stand on its own and not need to lead to something more? Where nothing mattered but you, her, and the moment?
Renowned marriage researcher John Gottman recommends a six-second kiss. Twice a day. Why six seconds? Because a six-second kiss has “potential.” There’s actually room to be mindful, to experience romance and connection. To feel something. A two-second kiss isn’t actually a kiss. It’s a peck. A pat on the back. How long are your kisses? What’s behind them? Are you kissing just to kiss? Or to actually express your love?
Remember, you’re not chasing or seeking attention. You’re validating, expressing, and sharing. You’re reminding her why she’s with you.
When I was in my twenties and had a date, this is what I would do. I would wake up early like it was Christmas and wash my car. By hand — none of this driving-through-a-machine bullshit. Then I would hand pick the songs I wanted to play and load the CDs into my six-disc changer in the trunk. Then I would go work out so I felt good about myself. Then I would drive to the movie theater to buy the tickets in advance so we wouldn’t have to wait in line. (This was before the internet.) And of course, dinner reservations were already made. After getting ready, I would pick her up from her apartment. I would park my car, walk to the door, and knock. Not sit in the car and honk my horn. I would open the car door for her. And if there was a spark and things went well on the date, I’d send flowers or a note or something she could actually hold in her hands in the next few days.
You may read this and think, Wow, what a loser. Well, okay. But this process is what made dating fun, exciting, romantic, and fulfilling. It made the date a mini-event, something to look forward to. It wasn’t just about the person. It was about the whole date experience. But more importantly, it gave two people a real chance because effort was put into it. Today, a date is a coffee or a drink but not dinner because what if they don’t look like their picture. Today, a date is “I’ll meet you there.” Today, a date is scheduled sex because of the kids. Today, a date is not really a date because there’s no such thing anymore.
Dating is dead. And that’s my point. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or in a relationship: we, as men, need to bring dating back.
Why? It will save relationships. It will create new ones. It will turn the engine on so love is not an app.
Why men? Better question: Why not men? Taking a woman out on a date is an opportunity to take the initiative, make the plans, and set the tone. To not be the “I dunno” guy. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or in a relationship. A date is a date. It’s what creates space for romance, discovery, and connection.
You can’t want a cleaner world and toss your Wendy’s bag out your car window. So if you want people to find love again. If you want dating to be fun again. If you want your relationship to thrive. Again . . . then let’s save dating by putting some effort into it. By treating people like human beings. By practicing transparency and showing your true self. Then maybe we will all have a better chance at love.
Just as women live with the pressure to be physically attractive, we live with the pressure to perform. Iron-fisted fathers, determined coaches, and society’s definition of success have convinced us that our worth is contingent on our ability. By the time we are in the rat race and paying taxes, we are wired to define our value by titles, bonuses, and corner offices.
We carry this mind-set into the bedroom. And just as women have been brainwashed by the media about what beauty looks like, we have been brainwashed by pornography and locker rooms about what a good lover looks like. Our drive to achieve combined with a warped definition of sex and intimacy equals performance anxiety, frustration, aggression, and, ultimately, disconnection.
Quick question: Do you tie her achieving an orgasm to your being a man?
If I couldn’t make a woman cum, I felt less than. I felt inadequate. I didn’t think she was that into me. I felt like I wasn’t doing it right. And of course that made me believe I was less of a man. I didn’t take into consideration that every woman is built differently and that their ability or inability to have an orgasm may have nothing to do with me. So instead of connecting, I focused on performance. Because if I couldn’t make her have multiple orgasms, it meant I was not a real man. Simply put, I was making her orgasms about me. Not her. And when you do that, you start to perform. And when you perform, you disconnect from her because now you’re in your head instead of being present, and the chances of her having an orgasm are now slim to none — and slim just left town.
When you perform in the bedroom, you are making it about you. When you make it about you, you are leaving her out. The act becomes a solo challenge to capture an imaginary flag. Your focus on the scoreboard creates an emotional wall. Instead of intimacy being a shared experience, it becomes a measuring stick. The more you focus on your “stick,” the less connection your partner will feel and the more pressure you will put on yourself. It’s a downhill spiral. Instead, use this space to share yourself instead of prove yourself.
Don’t mistake performance for passion. People can feel the difference. One is taking; the other is giving.
And look, I’m not going to lie. I still feel the boyish tug if I can’t make a woman finish. I still get frustrated and tie it to my ability and worth as a man. I’m also forty-four, so it takes more than a breeze, if you know what I mean. (And if you don’t, you will.) But today, more than ever, I am aware that sex and intimacy are more about connection than anything else. Everything else ripples from the strength of that connection. I consciously have to remind myself because, like so many, I have also been programmed by porn and locker rooms. I also struggle with seeing everything as a competition/performance, including sex. But I’ve felt the difference between skin hunger and connection. One burns calories; the other produces magic. One stems from insecurity; the other stems from love.
Brace yourself. This one’s going to be a long one. Because as men, we rarely talk about love. We talk about business, career, cars, workouts — and sometimes our relationship, but usually only when we’ve been sleeping on the couch. We don’t talk about love. Our struggles with love. How we love. Our definitions of love. So let’s dive in now. I’ll start.
I never went to Love School. I didn’t know what healthy love or unhealthy love was. I would just meet someone I had the hots for and suddenly, bam, it’s a relationship. I’ve been in many in my life. I’ve been married for five years. Dated her for five years before that. I’ve been in three-year deals, a couple of two-year deals, a few few-month deals. Now I’m enjoying being single again, shaking my love Etch A Sketch, seeing what happens. (If you don’t know what an Etch A Sketch is, just pretend like you do so I don’t feel so fucking old.)
When I think about what love is to me now, how I define it and what I want from it, I like to imagine my future girlfriend, who she is, who she helps me be, and what we are together.
A Letter to My Future Girlfriend
You will not take away my boys (guy friends), my fitness, my motorcycle, my alone time, everything that brought me joy before I met you. You will not try to change my silliness, inappropriateness, or whatever makes me me that I like about myself but may bring out resistance in you. You will not expect me to be a certain way because you’ve read my blogs. You will not hold my words against me. You will accept me for who I am, with all my defects and shortcomings. You will understand that I am in process and on my own journey, just as you are on yours. And although we are together, we will both have our own personal paths as well. You will be responsible for your own happiness. I will not be your project. I will be someone you choose to love and do life with. Each day. You will not keep me in the dark or in a box. You will tell me how you feel, even if it’s not pretty. You will not pick which friends you will and will not introduce me to. If I’m in your life, I’m in your life all the way. You will not pre-sent me to the people around you as better than I am or different than I am because of your own insecurities. You will leave room for me to be me as you continue to be you. You will be my best friend but not my only friend. You will shatter your image of what a couple should look like, how they should act, and what kind of friends they should have, and I will do the same. You don’t have to agree or like what I’m passionate about, but you must support me because, whatever it is, it matters to me. You will have to deal with my bed head, my night mouth guard, and my horrible sleeping patterns. And finally, you will scratch my back.
I will take all my learnings in my previous relationships and use them to be the best version of myself that I can be. I will always be honest, never assassinate your character, and take full responsibility for anything I do that’s wrong or hurtful. I will listen, communicate, open doors — literally — and create a safe space, knowing that trust is earned. Not given. I will love you as you are, support you wherever you’re at in your journey, and hold your hand through all your seasons. I will stand by your side. I will water my own lawn and work on my own shit. I will be responsible for my own happiness and keep the toilet seat down so you don’t fall in in the middle of the night. I will write you little notes, make you stuff, and buy you flowers. We will share books, ideas, and sweat — both in the gym and in the bedroom. I will not try to control you or compete with you. I will not try to “fix” you. I will do life with you, not at you, around you, or for you. I will read your subtext, energy, and body language, not just your words. I will do my best to get the hint. I will consider your story. I will make you breakfast. Not every day. But many days. I will always read your heart and intentions before reacting to your words. I will return texts and messages promptly or as fast as I can. I will protect your name and character and be thinking of you in every decision I make.
We will both understand that there will be days when we can’t stand each other. There will be days when you will want to punch me in the face and I will want to take the long way home. We will disagree on things, like movies and books, and what to buy at the grocery store. I will forget things. Misplace things. You will run late. Our friends will have opinions of us. We will fight. Maybe a lot. You will shut down. I will wonder. But at the end of the day, we will both come back — to each other. And your head will always fall back on my chest. And no matter how many times we fight, we will always fight fair. That will be a nonnegotiable. And we will be together knowing that we are choosing to be together. Not because of logic, age, or loneliness. Not because we look good on paper or we’ll make cute babies. Not because we’ve already committed to this. Not because we don’t want to be alone. But because we believe in us and make a choice every . . . single . . . day to be in this and love each other the best way we know how. Our relationship will not be built on fear, as many are. But like many relationships, ours will also be hard. We will not compare each other to anyone else, including our exes. Any residue we have from our past relationships we will work on individually. It is our own responsibility and what being in something healthy looks like. We will sharpen each other and I will make you feel beautiful and you will make me feel invincible and vice versa. The only thing we can promise is to be honest and love as hard as we can. We both know there is risk. We both know we can get hurt. But we are willing to put that on the line to experience the high notes of something meaningful.
We will build something meaningful and sustainable, taking responsibility for our own shit but also leaving room for magic, and settling for nothing less.
Here’s what I’ve learned. First, love is not a feeling. It is an action. Therefore, we must not look at love as something that is given but something that we earn, hone, practice, learn from, work at, and strengthen. Why is it that we have no trouble putting in extra time at the gym or working overtime at the office, but when it comes to working on our relationships, it’s a chore? We do it only when we are forced to. Imagine the kind of love we would experience, how many marriages could be saved, and how many children would grow up with healthier definitions of love if we put as much time and effort into loving someone as we do our careers, our bodies, or whatever we spend most of our day and energy building.
Healthy Versus Unhealthy Love
I have coached so many who stop loving because the feeling has faded. And it drives me fucking apeshit. It’s one of the reasons why relationships are short-lived. Of course feelings fade. But loving is a daily choice, and you do it until it becomes unhealthy or it’s no longer repairable. And even if it becomes unhealthy, you do everything you can on your end to make it healthy again. That’s what it means to love hard.
So what do healthy love and unhealthy love even look like?
Well, every relationship is complicated, and there are so many factors that are unique to each relationship. But here are the broad strokes in a shot glass.
Unhealthy love is being powerless, selfish, and enabling. It has no boundaries. Unhealthy love is contingent. It is immature, irresponsible, and dependent. Unhealthy love is urgent. There is a desperation behind it that produces manipulation and compromise of self. Unhealthy love is a pissing contest, a tug-of-war, a mute silence, and a kickstand. Unhealthy love promotes the false self and stunts growth. It is a drug.
Healthy love is a daily offering. It is a gift. It has conditions that shape the self and strengthen the other. Healthy love is feeling powerful and independent. It is grilled cheese and soup on a rainy day but not every day. Healthy love is patient, kind, and accepting. Healthy love requires a tremendous amount of responsibility, which involves communication on all levels and constant reflection. It is building trust, having faith, and holding a commitment. Healthy love promotes growth and two strong containers. Healthy love is rare. It is a choice.
How many people say they’re going to work on their relationship when everything is going great? Zero. Shouldn’t we work harder on ourselves and the relationship as it grows and becomes stronger, not the other way around? I mean, that’s what we do when we get traction in our careers, right? We put more time and energy into them. So if you’re going to love someone, fucking love someone. Love her like there is no one else on the planet. Love like it’s a job you can’t wait to go to every morning. And one where you want to wake up early to do it again. Love without fear, without pride, without judgment, and without expectation.
If you’re going to love someone, fucking love someone.
Love is a gift. Not a negotiation. If you are expecting something back, are you truly giving? If you are single and feel you’ve been unable to do these things in past relationships, loving hard means beginning to explore why.
Whatever your definition of love is, the important part is just to do it, hard.
My career hasn’t been like climbing a corporate ladder at a company. I’ve never had a corner office or even a therapy couch. It has been more like walking through a jungle, paving a path with a machete — my typewriter and iPhone. There have been highs and lows to the extreme. I have been discouraged, lost clients, found success where I wasn’t looking, lost opportunities, had anxious nights, been low on cash, made good cash, eaten ramen for weeks in a row, and then turned around and ordered the steak and lobster.
What I’ve learned: who we are at work is especially important on the journey from boy to man. I’m going to guess that you flipped this book open and went straight to this section. So often, work success is how men define themselves. You can’t be a man if you are entry-level. If you don’t have letters after your name. Or you don’t make six figures.
CAREER AND SUCCESS,
in a shot glass:
Men own their shit. Men don’t throw peas at the wall. Men build things out of failures. Men create their own definition of success instead of following other people’s definitions.
Your shit is your shit. No one else’s. Not your girlfriend’s, friends’, siblings’, or parents’. Depending on your upbringing and how you’ve been wired, other people may have owned your shit for you for a long time, so it will require some effort to take what is yours, pack it up in a bunch of boxes, and bring it with you. But in those boxes is your growth. Until you take full ownership of all your shortcomings, false beliefs, insecurities, and cognitive distortions, and stop projecting them onto other people and the world, you will not be able to reach your full potential. You will only make excuses.
I’m the youngest of two boys. In Korean culture, the eldest sibling takes most of the responsibility. So my brother became my umbrella, protecting me from life responsibilities. He went to work with my dad every day as I launched off ramps and spun on my head. My brother wrote invoices and pulled telephone cable on the weekends. I chased girls. My mom did my laundry. Made my bed. Made me food. I was sheltered, to say the least. So when I got older, I depended on other people. It was all I knew. I didn’t have any tools because I was enabled. I never learned how to own my shit — which means taking responsibility of where you are in your life.
So when I got married, I ate out all the time, never made my bed, didn’t clean anything, did the bare minimum. I was a half ass. And when you’re a half ass, you’re just getting by. I never reached for great. You’re good with good, and your life consists of crossing fingers and depending on others. You’re complacent. Not striving to be better. You don’t learn how to earn anything. You’re not living. You’re just existing.
My divorce forced me into nonprofit work. Although I wasn’t interested in the nonprofit world, I was desperate for an income and it was the only thing I could find before I would hit flat broke. But it came straight from the stars, because it wasn’t until I was working at a nonprofit that I started to own my own shit. The irony was that I was teaching teenagers how to take responsibility for their lives, but I was also learning the same lessons myself. The program taught kids how to become adults. Things like accountability. Taking ownership. Putting in work. Accepting who you are and building from that. These were new concepts for them, and also for me. Working as a counselor in a residential treatment center became my own treatment.
At the same time, I found CrossFit and it taught me the meaning of discipline and earning your sweat. Before, I would go into the gym and do some biceps curls in front of a mirror. But CrossFit was about moving your body, and pushing it further than you ever have. It wasn’t about aesthetics. It was about holding standards, being accountable for your actions, and building not only a new body but also character.
The combination of going through a divorce, working at a nonprofit, and discovering CrossFit gave me a front-row seat at Man School. At first, there was resistance. The child in me was throwing a tantrum. I didn’t want to put in the work. All of the above took a shit ton of effort, physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are no shortcuts when you’re recovering from a broken heart. There are no shortcuts in nonprofit work. And there are no shortcuts in CrossFit. I was used to running away from hard work and waiting for things to be handed to me. I wanted to go home early. Cheat on workouts. Move on from this divorce. Instead, I stuck with the “program” life presented me. I leaned into it. I stood strong. I didn’t have a choice. Wait, let me correct that: I didn’t give myself a choice. We all have a choice to own our own shit. I was sick and tired of being a fucking child. There was no going back.
So I put on my nonprofit uniform every day, made my bed (see #41), spearheaded groups and family support programs, pushed my body more than I ever have in my life. I learned about who I was and how I thought, started acquiring tools, stopped making everything about me. I examined my character. I owned each and every day, fought through my resistance, and documented my journey. Day in. Day out. And through this process, I started to discover things about myself.
I could actually accomplish things. I could help people. I could like myself. And that’s the value in owning your own shit. You start to build self-worth. It is impossible to value your life and yourself if you don’t take full responsibility for where you’re at. It doesn’t matter if you had a shitty childhood. Or, like me, one with no responsibility. It doesn’t matter if someone took something from you. If someone broke your heart. Cheated on you. Or you went through a natural disaster and lost everything. It’s all part of life, and it doesn’t matter what events led to where you’re at right now. Where you’re at is where you’re at. You have a choice. Own it and start building. Or complain and cope in whatever unhealthy ways you cope. I complained and coped for most of my life. Finally, when I owned my shit, I started to build. And that difference is the difference between a boy and a man.
It is impossible to value your life and yourself if you don’t take full responsibility for where you’re at.
What do you need to take responsibility for in your life right now? What do you need to own? Are you taking full ownership of where you’re at in your life? Or are you just doing a lot of complaining, waiting for your handout? What is your excuse to not be where you want to be?
Remember, your shit is your shit. Don’t let it be pawned off on your shitty parents, the shitty economy, your shitty luck, or your shitty taste in women. You are the constant theme throughout. And only you can figure out how to take all the shit and make something beautiful.
Just as our society ties a woman’s worth to her beauty, it also ties a man’s worth to his ability. What you can build, how many touchdowns you can score, how much money you can make. I want to set the record straight right now: What you do doesn’t determine your true value. Your value lives in your character and capacity. Your heart and your story. Not your ability. But if you believe your value hangs on what you can do, as many men do, that mind-set will keep you powerless and always chasing. More importantly, you run the risk of losing yourself and what you truly have to offer.
MAN MAKES THE MONEY, MONEY DOESN’T MAKE THE MAN.
— LL COOL J
When you measure yourself against your character, you have consistency. Tying your worth to your ability will make you a slave to the world and your self-esteem. Your definitions of self will fluctuate and be contingent on factors you don’t even have control over. For example, you may work your ass off to make partner at your law firm, and if for whatever reason you do not make partner, you may believe you are a bad lawyer = bad provider for your family = bad father, husband, and ultimately = less of a man. To come out of this, you will either work harder, putting more pressure on the “win,” or cope in unhealthy ways.
This is the dangerous loop of tying who you are to what you can do. If we internalize this definition of manhood, then we believe that if we are bad at something, we are worthless, and that if we are good at something, we are worth more. Both beliefs are false. They are labels. We have been programmed this way. From our early days, we were praised for making the team, getting the girl, how hard we hit the ball, how much weight we could lift, what college we got into. We were praised on the size of our paycheck, our office, the letters after our name, and what we drove. Our brains got permanently set on accomplishments, accomplishments, accomplishments. Rarely did we ever get praise for our character, our compassion, or our capacity to love.
Your value lives in your character and capacity. Your heart and your story.
Your worth has nothing to do with what you can do. Your drive, passion, and ambition are all great gifts. Your athletic ability, your voice, your ability to lead, create, and change the world are imperative to your journey as a man. But they do not determine your worth. Your true value is what you bring to the table as a human being. This means not what you do but rather who you are.
The measure of a man is his inner self. It’s who you are that will get you through the rough patches of life, never what you’ve done or built.
Fuck purpose. Let me build my empire. There is no such thing as what you were meant to do. This is America. You can do anything you want. It’s time to get mine.”
Like everyone else (and especially those living in New York and LA), that was my mind-set. I needed to sell scripts so I could get my house in the hills and have the matching Porsche/Rover combo in my horseshoe-shaped driveway. That was my “purpose.” To buy things . . . so I could be happy.
I sat in coffee shops desperately pounding keys. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I became a fucking zombie chasing a commercial. Spent zero time on anything except framing this movie poster I had in my head starring John Empty Kim.
It wasn’t until the universe ripped that poster in half by pulling my life rug out from under me that I discovered the actual importance of the word “purpose.” You know the story. I got a divorce, changed careers from screenwriter to therapist, and started working at a nonprofit helping teenagers with their addictions. Purpose didn’t hit me over the head. It’s not like I suddenly woke up every morning with a heart boner to help kids. I dreaded it. Because I was a kid myself. I was still holding on to me, myself, and I. It’s not like I didn’t work hard as a screenwriter. I worked my ass off, wrote like a fucking maniac. But eventually, it lacked soul. I was writing to chase something instead of writing from passion. I was on autopilot, so the universe threw me into nonprofit and paired me up with hundreds of other lost souls just like me. At the time I felt like I was stepping down, giving up. But I was actually stepping up. Lives were at risk. And by helping other souls, I saved mine. I accepted my path. I rolled up my fucking sleeves and said, “Okay, let’s do this.” I stopped making it about me for the first time in my life. And the funny thing about the universe is that when you stop making it about you, the universe will make it happen for you.
I didn’t find purpose like a ten-dollar bill on the street. It was a very slow burn. For anyone who tells you to find your purpose, tell them to fuck off, because sometimes that shit needs to find you. That was my case. I didn’t wake up one day saying I was going to help people. No, I woke up one day and told myself I wanted to be honest with myself. I followed my new promise to myself with my actions, and slowly my life lined up and a vague sense of purpose started to appear. It would take years for me to really see what my purpose was. But it doesn’t come to you just because you follow what you’re passionate about. Passion doesn’t always equal purpose. Your purpose is greater than you and what you want to do sometimes. It comes to you when you become self-aware, really start to know yourself. And that shit takes time. Then you discover your gifts as a being, and purpose grows at the intersection of who you are and what you can do (gifts/passion).
IF YOU CAN’T FIND SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, YOU BEST FIND SOMETHING TO DIE FOR.
Imagine a tire. A flat one. Spinning in mud. As you decide to become self-aware and look inward, the tire begins to inflate. When you begin to execute change by incorporating your revelations into action, exploring your thoughts and behavior, breaking unhealthy patterns, and walking in this new version of yourself, knobbies begin to appear on the tire. This gives the tire traction, which causes movement. The tire is no longer spinning. You are now moving . . .
Then once you are out of the mud, sooner or later there will be more rough terrain. This rough terrain is called life, and it doesn’t end until you end. It comes in the form of relationships, breakups, events, triggers, losing jobs, friends, restarting your life, situations you can control and some you cannot. You will get stuck many more times. But if through your growth process you discover your purpose, those knobbies turn into giant titanium claws. No matter what terrain or mountain lies ahead, your knowing who you are (which is constantly changing) plus what you are meant to do in this life will get you up, over, and through.
Knowing your purpose is the ultimate traction in life. It is a Sherman tank. It will always be the vine that pulls you out, no matter how thick the quicksand. Because your purpose is greater than you. It’s greater than your marriage, kids, and career. Your purpose is your North Star, and you must follow it like a dog finding its way home.
Purpose is not a singular path that leads to a giant bell you must ring. You can have many purposes. They can change as you change, and they most likely will because you will. Today, I believe my purpose is to create a dialogue about living a better life and to help people help people (train life coaches). Tomorrow, who knows?
But it all starts with self-awareness, looking inward to truly see yourself, before you can start reaching for external goals. Every man must ask himself two questions: First, Where am I going? And second, Who’s coming with me? If he reverses the order, he will be going alone.
Only a few years ago, I associated the word “energy” with solar power, batteries, electric cars, and the amount of human fuel I had for the day.
Today, energy is one of the first words that come to mind when I think of self-awareness, relationships, and, well, being a successful man.
We all know someone who enters a room and sucks the living shit out of your energy. (And if you don’t, it might be you.) Because there’s always that one person — the one who is angry, complainy, and always negative no matter what. He never sees the glass as half full, and you can smell the thick dark cloud around him. Well, I was that guy and completely oblivious of it. I was just being me. I wasn’t happy. So I figured I’d wear it on my sleeve, disguised as a cynical, miserable fuck. If I covered it up, I would be being fake, right? Wrong. It wasn’t until I was on the receiving end that I learned about the importance of being aware of your energy.
He was a friend I was writing a screenplay with, so we got together every day for hours on end. All he would do was tell me about his problems, talk shit about other people, and complain about everything from his coffee to his roommate. I wasn’t his writing partner, I was his therapist. The problem was, he wasn’t paying me. It got so bad I didn’t want to be around him anymore. Ever. It wasn’t his intention, but holy fuck, he brought me down with him every . . . single . . . day. He hijacked the little positive energy that I did have at the time. I felt powerless and wanted to stay away from him, but I couldn’t because we were writing partners. I suddenly saw him as a child. A boy.
One day on my way home from another shitty writing session I held the mirror up to myself, thought about all the relationships I had been in, and how irresponsible I was with my own energy. I was the same as this guy. I drained the people around me. Hijacked their positivity. In more than one of my relationships I remember them saying, “John, I don’t think you’re happy.” And I remember how defensive I was. “What do you mean I’m not happy? I laugh and joke around all the time. What are you talking about?” Looking back on those relationships, it was clear: I wasn’t aware of my energy. Sarcasm doesn’t mean you’re happy, and it sure as hell doesn’t put out good energy into the world. I realized how hard that must have been to be around day after day, especially if we were living together. It’s emotional abuse that you can’t escape. It’s poison for the other person. And it makes me sad to think about it now. Embarrassed. I felt like a child. And no wonder, because if you’re not aware and responsible for your own energy, you are a child. It’s like walking around with shit in your pants. It’s not just annoying. It’s offensive. It stinks up people’s space, their day, their life.
At the risk of sounding too much like I’ve just walked off the playa at Burning Man, I’ll just say it: we are all energy.
We literally emit energy that’s produced by our thoughts and feelings. If we’re constantly thinking and feeling negative feelings, like anger, hate, resentment, jealousy, etc., we emit negative energy. If we are thinking and feeling positive feelings, like love, gratitude, joy, etc., we emit positive energy. That’s it. No need to go deeper.
As men, it’s not just our words and actions we must take responsibility for. It is also our energy.
No, you can’t see this process. And since we are such logical creatures, it may be difficult for you to put much weight on it. We need proof. Okay, here it is: How do you feel when you’re riding shotgun with someone who has road rage? Holy shit. It’s exhausting, right? His rage is activating your fight-or-flight. You’re hitting your foot on an imaginary brake. He’s vomiting negative energy — in this case, anger — and you’re directly absorbing it. By the time you guys get to your destination, you are completely drained.
On the flip side, have you been around someone who is always calm and positive? Never complains or talks shit. Always tries to see the good in people and situations. How do you feel around that person? He’s like water. You gravitate toward him. You look forward to seeing him. As you leave him, checking yourself and your own energy, you realize that actually, maybe being positive is a choice.
What does energy have to do with success? Well, our definitions of manhood often tell us that the alpha male, the one beating his chest and intimidating others, is the natural leader, the chief. But think about these two examples: the maniac screaming at the wheel, and the optimist who is easy breezy and at peace. Ask yourself: Who would you follow as a leader?
As men, at home, at work, in the world, it’s not just our words and actions we must take responsibility for. It is also our energy. People can feel that shit. Kids can feel that shit even more. And it affects them. It’s subtle trauma. They grow up walking on eggshells. Or being unaware of their own negative energy because they see it as normal. When it comes to your intimate relationship, recognize that it is extremely difficult to be intimate with someone who is always emitting negativity.
Stop taking people hostage with your negativity. Stop stripping them of their desire to live a good, positive life.
Today I make a daily effort to be aware of my energy and responsible for it. If I’m in a bad place or feeling down or negative, I make sure I don’t put it on others. I mean, if I’m sitting down with a friend and we’re talking about life, sure I can and should be real with them and tell them where I’m at. But I do it with consent. I do it with awareness. It’s not forced. I am no longer a walking tornado. No, you shouldn’t hold things in. Yes, you should vent. Especially men. But there is a time and place: Therapy rooms. The gym. When you’re running alone. Not at other people, especially if you care about them.