I’ve stumbled upon a nice little café here in Milan that’s run by a friendly couple who speak English and serve the best espresso and the best gelato, period. ‘Twas at this cafe where a few hours ago a nice old man, a friend of their’s, stopped by to talk. He, as he always does, had a story to tell.
As he was talking to the guy behind the bar, telling a story about their shared roots from a small town in Sicily, the owner’s wife told me what he was saying. It was something about the war, about a life or death situation that saw him escape with his life, but just barely.
And then, as I do, I started thinking aloud about my grandparents stories, and they have some great ones. My Nona’s stories about the Second World War are incredible, my Nanna and Papa’s stories about growing up in a small town not yet a part of Canada, struggling, working 3 jobs, building their own house with their own hands, again, incredible. Then my thoughts led to our generation; what will our stories be?
Will they be completely about us? Will they possess any of the danger and death and triumph that ‘the greatest generation’s’ stories had in abundance? Or will our stories be so bland and boring and self-centered that our grandchildren will flee from the room as soon as we sit down to tell them, if, of course, we even want to tell them?
Though times have changed and ease is the norm and adventure, true adventure, a rarity in a world where our friends travel with us in our pockets and our identities are being forged on a book of faces, there still remain stories every man needs to tell. They’re stories that a man must tell if he’s to look back on his days and see them as lived.
Go through the list. You won’t have all of them in your back pocket for story time just yet, but one day you shall.
10 Stories Every Man Must Be Able to Tell
1. A life or death experience.
It’s hard to fully appreciate life when we haven’t come to grips with our own mortality. Sure, having death creep into our lives be it a loved one, a friend, a spouse, brings our own mortality and the frailty of our existence into a more immediate kind of truth, but when we ourselves come close to death it’s a whole other story, and it’s usually one that’s great to tell.
The Greatest Generation, sadly, has many of these stories. Those that lived through the Second World War came back with stories about death that they’d dare not tell because of the horrors they’ve lived through, yet for all the evil and sorrow and pain, it’s shaped them into men. On the same mass scale we’re not going to have these experiences to share, but every man should live so hard, so daring, that death’s embrace clings to him but for a moment before he escapes its grasp until they inevitably meet again on his terms.
The flip side to the coin is that not every man will live to tell that grand, daring, and exciting story of how he nearly found his final resting place, because they’re there in the grave; alas, it’s better to live an adventurous life and die a glorious death than to live a life in complete avoidance of danger and as far away from death as possible.
A man must accept death as a constant, and not live as to avoid its grasp but live as to escape its touch by an inch or a second or by pure luck. A man who’s come close to dying through adventure or daring or even some grand stupid act is a much more interesting and successful man than that guy who stays confined to his comfort zone and will live for a long, long time with very few stories worth telling.
Dare mighty things; it’s a simple call to action and a call that every man must heed.
2. A story of extended solitude.
A man has to have some stories that are his and his alone. No one else was there to enjoy them or experience them or learn from them, they’re his. This coincides with how we’ll learn many of the most important lessons in life: in solitude.
It’s hard to be an original when we’re always with others and with others is who we’re always with as long as we’re Facebooking and emailing and texting, calling, and Twittering. People influence us and rub off on us, which is good, but also bad.
Every man must embark on a journey that’s his own and have stories to tell that are the same. A man needs a little mystery in his life, as do his stories. Their facts need to be called into question because they’re so unbelievable but the only one who knows the truth is that figure, pipe in mouth, telling an incredible story to his wide-eyed grandchildren.
3. A story about a girl.
That time you met the most beautiful girl you’d ever seen, spent a day with her, maybe a night with her, an epic night and one that you’ll remember forever that can’t, and never will be, replicated henceforth.
The first time you saw her you knew you were done for. That was the end. The last lady you’ll ever look upon with these eyes, in that way, was standing before you, hand extended, unknowingly introducing herself to her future husband.
Who knows what the story is, but every guy needs to have a story about a girl, the girl. It could be an epic date that ended well and you just lost touch, or she could end up as your wife. The key is to have that story and to be able to tell that story you have to go for it. Don’t wait. Don’t let the moment pass.
Most guys let the moment pass, the best guys seize them. Be that guy, not the guy that rationalizes and thinks things through but the guy who acts at the drop of a hat. Be him. Be able to tell the story about the girl, and not just about the girl that got away but the one that’s still here today.
4. A story about honor.
Fewer, it seems, with each passing generation will be able to tell a story about true honor, about defending someone even at the detriment of them of their health, of doing the honorable thing even if it means a hell of a lot of pain coming their way.
The honorable thing is something of a relic, it’s been replaced by the most convenient thing, but a man can’t be a man of convenience, the entire notion is an oxymoron, like a jumbo shrimp. A man is honorable, a boy, a coward, they can go the way of convenience, but a man must do what needs to be done, he must do the right thing, the honorable thing.
Every man needs a tale of how he did the honorable thing, how he treated a lady with respect, saved a life, confessed a misdeed, stood up and took responsibility when everyone else involved lied, cheated, and looked for the nearest exist. He doesn’t need to tell this tale to everyone, but he needs it. He needs this act and many like it to develop his character. A man is his character. He needs to know, through proof, that he has the courage and the backbone to stand and fight while others cower and flee.
5. The story of his struggle.
I pity anyone who’s been given everything they need, want, and desire – though I’m not sure this person truly exists. Regardless, it’s a terrible way to live life, void of struggle and pain and the unknown.
To know that you can survive through anything you have to be put through everything. Persistence and grit are the two most valuable virtues a man can possess and neither are necessarily innate. They have to be proven to exist, they can’t simply exist.
To tell a story of struggle through pain, through obstacles that seemed insurmountable, even through life that seemed to only get worse until one day after years of pain and suffering it got better, is something a man must be able to tell. He needs to know that he has the grit to take everything, anything that life throws his way and still come out on top because to live an epic life is to put yourself in these situations knowing they’re going to be hell.
This is the life of an entrepreneur, an explorer, a fighter, a warrior, a leader, and every man must be able to tell a story of struggle, where quitting would have been the logical thing to do but logic has no place in life’s greatest battles, nor in its greatest tales.
6. A story of redemption.
To appreciate the sun we need the night, we need darkness. To know happiness we need pain. To learn a lesson we need to make mistakes. Many great men have made terrible mistakes. It’s not something that you set out to do, they just happen.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life and I continue to make some really stupid ones, they key is redemption. The key is that we learn from them, grow from them, and become better from them. Don’t get lost in the mistake. Don’t stay there. Rise above and live to tell your incredible story about redemption from the depths, from pain, from darkness where no light seemed to exist.
Live to redeem yourself, don’t pity yourself or wish you had done things differently, you did what you did now you have a choice of what you’re going to do next. A coward walks down the road of self-pity, a warrior fights the battle of redemption.
7. A story of failure.
I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest. John Keats
I can’t wrap my head around why we don’t shoot for the stars. It makes no sense not to set audacious, even insane and completely unrealistic goals, yet that’s what we do; heck, that’s what I do.
It’s those who set grand goals and have the balls to fail that live to tell a story worth telling because it wreaks of greatness, that stench so akin to the scent of a life well-lived. The rest of us, those that settle, that set goals we know we can accomplish and avoid failure at all costs, relegated to a life of mediocrity can only tell a mediocre story.
With all of these stories a man must tell, none can be mediocre. He may find them mediocre, but the struggle, the daring, the danger, the persistence through pain and conflict have forged a man of honor whom others look up to and look to for guidance that often comes through his stories.
8. A story of heartbreak.
Everyone, not just every guy, needs to put themselves out there and get their heart broken. It’s a great, sickening feeling filled with lessons that lead to growth and maturity and toughness.
Emails pour in daily asking for advice in dealing with a broken heart. My advice isn’t popular, it’s rare advice that you won’t hear most other places because it’s not what you want to hear.
My advice: Be in it. Feel it. Don’t distract yourself, don’t avoid it, run from it, or find something to get your mind off it, feel it. It’s good for you to feel this pain, any pain, and it’s a story you’re going to one day tell your son when he goes through the very same thing.
9. A story of courage.
Remember that time you acted without thinking then later realized you could have very easily died?
Remember that time when you did something so audacious and ballsy while all others stood on the sidelines watching, wishing they had the guts to do what you just did?
Every man needs a story of selfless courage. A story where he didn’t care about his own health or well-being but only of getting the job done, saving the life in danger, doing what’s right, fighting off that animal, that bad guy, that scoundrel. Courage is a manly trait – of course women have it and need it – but a man who isn’t courageous is some being stuck in the limbo that isn’t quite masculine, nor feminine.
It’s one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve come across, and it’s impossible to do if you don’t have courage. Courage is practiced. It’s built upon. You do it once in a small setting, then in a bigger setting, and before you know it you’re living a courageous life with a myriad of courageous stories to tell over beers with the boys to look at you wide-eyed wondering what story will come out of your mouth next.
10. A story of a battle fought and won.
Get in a fight. Every many needs to get in a damn fight at some point in his life. We were born to fight, to win battles both literal and not. Feel the pain of a fist flying at your face and the ecstasy of yours hitting theirs. Every one of us at some point has an opportunity to stand up for someone with our fists. Not all of us take this opportunity, most of us just walk on by, rationalize, and think about our safety first, not of honor.
Fighting, on very a rare occasion, is good for a man. We need that physicality in our lives. The backlash I’m going to get because of this last story a man needs to tell will surely come from those who feel violence is always bad, that it has no place in our enlightened society; that, of course, is a load of crap.
Violence can be good. It keeps people in check, it gives a consequence for actions that are hideous, disrespectful, and cowardly. Bad people fear a fist in the face more than cuffs on the wrist. Sure, we might get our asses kicked in the story, but at least we fought while others watched in fear of physical pain that seems to be something entirely of the past.
While every man should get in a fight, his story of a battle fought and one doesn’t have to be about a fist fight, it can be about a cause he took up and believed in so passionately that his life, for that moment in time, was unequivocally dedicated to its success. Men need a cause, something greater than our own well-being and financial success, to cling to, to serve as our purpose for working and hustling and living.
Find a cause. See it through. Fight for it. Then tell younger generations about how you won it.
One story he shall never tell: a story of giving.
Give generously, always, but don’t tell the story of your giving. Don’t be that guy that gives so he can tell tales of his gifts. Give because you want to better the lives of others, and dammit, giving feels good. Telling people about your generous deeds, though it’s insanely common today, has no place on the tongue of a man.
That’s vanity. And a man can’t be vain, they’re two opposing ideas and entities.
Live a courageous life, one filled with adventure and honor and kindness and greatness. Do what scares the crap out of you. Live. Experience what it’s like to face your darkest fears and come out on top. Love. Put yourself out there, if you get your heart broken, great, lesson learned; if you find the lady of your dreams, incredible, cherish her and never let her go. Whatever you do, don’t stay safe; safety is death, it’s a life void of stories worth telling and that’s not a life any man should have to endure.