I have spent three decades helping people redesign their lives and build new futures for themselves. My focus lately has been helping men deal with the various issues we confront as we work to shape ourselves and our world. What I can report is that there has perhaps never been a time in which there was so much pressure to redefine what it is to be a man. For most of human history the question, “What is manliness?” was never asked, as the answer was obvious – today, not so much.
The Shift of Manliness
Our historical biological role as man the hunter, protector, fighter, explorer, is not much needed today. In addition to this, we have abandoned the ages-old practices of being formally educated about and initiated into manhood by our elders.
Furthermore, we have, in the last generation, witnessed an explosion of new technologies that now enable us to access people and information anytime and anywhere on the planet.
The net effect is that we are more connected to each other than at any moment in history and at the same time we often feel more dissatisfied, isolated, confused, and alone than ever. In the face of an often chaotic world, there are increasing calls for a new version of manhood. The dilemma is that there are as many opinions on what that might look like as there are people offering them up. Here is what I can tell you with certainty: There is no one right way to be a man! There is, however any number of ways that don’t work. If you need evidence for that just watch, read, or listen to the news on any day!
The challenge for all of us lies in learning how to shape ourselves into the man we want to be. From my vantage point, I can tell you that a real man is always a work in progress. There is no moment in time in which you are complete or done growing and learning. As soon as you think you know it all you are in trouble. The real questions are what and how to learn.
In our world today, where change is the only constant, learning is not just a luxury it is an essential survival skill. Your success in life is dependent on your capacity to change and for our purposes, we are going to treat change and learn as synonyms. You can’t change if you don’t learn and you can’t learn if you don’t change.
You Have to Relearn Learning
Our dilemma is that there are three stages of learning and we have been raised to only go through the first two levels.
1) Level 1:
The first level of learning is awareness. You come to this site, read the posts, and in so doing become aware of things, places, possibilities that you were not previously aware of. So in reading an article, watching a film clip, or listening to a podcast of something new you could say that you ‘learned’ about it. “I saw a youtube clip that showed this guy doing this amazing spin in a Mustang. I never knew that was even possible. Now I learned that it is.” You now are aware of something that you were not previously aware of and can report that you have learned.
2) Level 2:
The second level of learning is producing understanding. “I saw this clip about these hot spins you can do in a Mustang and it was so cool I had to learn more so I went online and found a set of tutorials on how to do it.” In this case, you can now report that you have moved from simply becoming aware of something new to understanding how to do it.
3) The Problem with Levels 1 & 2
Here is where we get in trouble. You see neither of these types of learning actually enables you to do anything new, different, or better. That’s right, watching the tutorials on how to make the moves in a Mustang doesn’t enable you to do it any more than watching someone else do it. The reason most people fail to actually learn much throughout their lives is that they settle for awareness and understanding and then get frustrated when they can’t produce any new results so they give up on the process and get cynical about it.
If you look at the vast majority of programs and teachers out there you will quickly see that they are just making things worse. There are thousands and thousands of online programs, weekend seminars, books, tapes, and videos all of which just dispense awareness and understanding.
4) The Solution
The third level of learning is what we call authentic learning. Authentic learning is the development of new competence, a new capacity for action. No amount of awareness and/or understanding generates competence. There is only one way to build competence and that is through practice – period.
You can read all the books there are on golf, tennis, skiing, management, leadership, dating, or anything else and you will not get any better at any of them. You get better at something only through practice. Think about it for a moment. What are a few things that you are good at?
Did you get good by reading about them, watching others do them on YouTube, or visualizing yourself doing them? No – you got good by practice. Books tapes, podcasts, and articles will certainly show you things you may want to learn, but seeing them and being able to do them are two entirely different things.
How this Applies to Manliness
So now back to learning to be the man you want to be. Reading posts, books, and articles is a great way to become aware of new ways of being or new competencies you may want to develop, but you can’t stop there. Going to the seminar to get “Motivated” is OK, but remember, motivation is to authentic learning as cotton candy is to authentic nutrition. It’s nice for a little treat now and then but don’t confuse it with anything that is going to sustain you. You can have all of the motivation in the world but if you don’t develop competence you are still going to crash and burn. You will just do it on fire!
If you want to keep growing and learning you must engage in developmental processes that work to build new practices. Authentic learning takes time, awareness can happen in an instant, but that’s not what you are after. You want to engage in a series of processes that unfold over time and when complete you can clearly and effectively take new actions that were not available to you prior to the learning process.
That’s how you learn and how you keep shaping yourself throughout your life. Build the practice of authentic learning now and it will serve you for a lifetime. It doesn’t matter where you are in your life right now you need to learn.