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A Few Thoughts on Toughness and Masculinity

Observation: The strongest men I know — guys who deadlift over 500 pounds, run 4-minutes for the mile, throw a discuss hundreds of feet, or run ultramarathons — are caring, considerate, and calm dudes. The guys I know who want to be strong and tough — but who are not — tend to be loud, defensive, and overly proud.

Toughness isn’t walking around with your chest puffed out trying to intimidate. It’s making the right decision under uncertainty and distress.

This is one of the great paradoxes of toughness. Once you have it you don’t need to show it. Working for it; going through challenging experiences; earning it— this stuff humbles you. It makes you compassionate. It makes you see beyond yourself. It makes you a man.

Toughness isn’t walking around with your chest puffed out trying to intimidate. It’s making the right decision under uncertainty and distress.

Strength isn’t yelling and shouting. It’s having the inner resources to navigate storms.

Now, more than ever, it seems we are in desperate need of a new masculinity. Just imagine if we started to raise our sons with the following core values:

  • Wisdom: Allowing yourself to be open to and shaped by experience. Not being scared of change; and not being scared to change.
  • Real toughness: Composure, clear-headedness, and stability in the midst of uncertainty. Not to be confused with machismo acts of strength.
  • Vulnerability: Putting yourself out there. All of it. Even, and perhaps especially, the imperfections and flaws that make you human.
  • Humility: Knowing what you don’t know, which for almost all of us is the vast majority of everything. Understanding that your view of the world is merely one of billions. Being curious instead of narrow. Open instead of closed.
  • Authentic self-security: Not feeling the need to intimidate, one-up, or make others feel bad in order to feel okay with yourself. And knowing that when you aren’t feeling okay with yourself that’s fine too — what you should do is ask for help.
Strength isn’t yelling and shouting. It’s having the inner resources to navigate storms.

It’s so important to remember that those who feel the need to make a show out of projecting their strength — be it in the gym, in the boardroom, or in the courtroom— are often the weakest. These men aren’t manly. What they are is trying to mask their insecurities. They are scared and suffering inside. And it’s a shame they aren’t strong enough — aren’t tough enough — to ask for help.

Don’t confuse fake strength and toughness for the real thing. And, particularly if you’ve got young boys, be sure to call-out the former and celebrate the latter.

Thanks for reading! If you found this valuable, please follow me on Twitter (@Bstulberg), where I share ideas like this one regularly.

Brad Stulberg is author of the book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.