To me, becoming a Man (as opposed to a man) is an endless journey where there is always something new to learn. A Man aligns his actions with his dreams, takes responsibility for himself and others, and moves forward. A Man grows beyond just an awareness and understanding of himself and comes to an awareness and understanding of others; not as things in his world to possess or use, but free individuals in their own world with their own dreams and pursuits. A Man gives the world everything he has got and gives those around him the freedom he hopes to receive.
I am lucky to have supportive parents who challenge me and encourage me to make my own decisions. When I was younger they were worried that I would burn myself on the stove, so Dad turned to my grandfather who said “let him burn his hand, he’ll learn his lesson and be more careful next time”. I did end up burning myself and I certainly learnt an important lesson. That’s the thing about Dad, he makes sure I consider each option (even though he tends to bend his advice towards his preferred outcome) but will always let me burn my hand even if it means picking up the pieces afterwards. I believe this approach has helped me make the first steps to becoming a Man.
That isn’t to say I make the right decisions. Boy have I made some bad decisions! When I was 18 my family moved to Adelaide and I decided to stay in Sydney and move out with my girlfriend with whom I had a chaotic relationship. It was both the best and the worst decision I’ve made. It enabled me to pursue the opportunities Sydney offered however it accentuated the problems in our relationship. Moving out with my girlfriend was a mistake I had to make to learn about people, what I wanted from life (or didn’t want), how to handle myself (or not handle myself), and that its important not to let things linger when a decision has to be made.
The morning after my parents left I was driving up to my new house to go to work and my journey took me under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was HUGE. It struck me for the first time that my decision to move out was HUGE. I started crying. To this day the bridge, to me, is symbolic of tough decisions. It is such an inspirational yet intimidating structure. I love it.
I guess I’ve been lucky because of my parent’s guidance and because I’ve always had a sense of direction. As a kid I learnt how to write software for computers and soon began to believe that my purpose in life was to be a great software developer. I relentlessly pursued my dream and developed a globally available mobile game when I was fifteen. It wasn’t until I took a job as a software developer straight out of school that I realised it wasn’t for me; I enjoyed creating things I believed in. I still believe this and am relentlessly pursuing my dream by running my own business. Whether my dream will change again, I don’t know. What I am sure of is that the pursuit of each dream will lead me to discover if it’s right for me. It’s win-win. It’s all part of the journey.
I’ve had a couple of failures along the way and these have forced me to push my boundaries. I don’t see failure as a negative thing; it forces me to closely evaluate myself and the way I do things. A mentor of mine who was teaching me about sales once said to me “you need to work out what’s in it for them”. This has had a profound effect on me and I’ve learned that when you have an idea but no money, your ability to inspire others is your only currency. It has also opened my eyes to an alternative way of dealing with people in general; I think more about what’s in it for them.
The other night another mentor and friend advised me to “accept that people will always act in their own self interest.” Whilst it might seem like he undervalues the good in people, simply accepting this as fact has led me to form better relationships with people. For years I’ve failed to realise that everyone around me is just trying to get the best out of life, just like me. Once I realised this, I came to see that behaviour that I might consider to be negative (friends not returning calls, people pushing in cues) might just be my misinterpretation of people who are just like me and caught up in their own world. Life overwhelms everyone. Coming to accept this has given me a greater sense of freedom.
Just recently I’ve met a fantastic girl who has given me an even greater understanding of others and myself. She has helped me transcend me and my ego. She challenges my world view and some of the beliefs I didn’t even know I had. Recently, she poked so hard that I came to realise that whenever something goes wrong in my life, I use a coping mechanism where I turn negatives into positives to inflate my ego. For example, I recently failed an assignment and my immediate reaction was “what idiots they clearly aren’t as intelligent as I am” and literally felt larger: my ego + 10. It was only thanks to my girl that I came to notice my habit. By acknowledging it I can now chose to apply it or not.
I’m actually having difficulty writing this next bit. All of these little events along my journey to being a Man have led to one moment. The moment my Dad said “I really think you’ve become a Man.”
I don’t think this is the end though.
This has been written for the Perfect Gift for a Man initiative.