In 2011, I wrote an article with a similar title. The focus; to define characteristics that true men possess so as to have something to work toward in my own life, and by putting it on the interwebz, possibly give another group of fellas that same archetype to work toward.
While lists like this, where we aim to define what may be undefinable, can be silly and fruitless, there are real problems surrounding masculinity. Since the Second World War when many of our Greatest Generation went off to battle and came back as hardened men, we haven’t had male initiation rites, at least not in the West, where a boy doesn’t know specifically when he’s become a man.
Childhood, actually, is extended. We go to school after we’ve graduated from another form of school and we’re not completely asked to grow up until we’re in our late twenties, and even then, “men” can go on acting as though they’re boys, bucking responsibilities and the pride that men once carried around in order to further extend their childhood well into their thirties and sometimes beyond.
Men don’t know when they’ve become men, and the masculine values that were once widespread have also come under attack, largely in the name of an eschewed fairness and political correctness that men have, by-in-large, just gone along with. The results are interesting…
The men that built our cities are no longer being produced. The men that defended our nations, while they still exist, are fewer. Men that were once leaders in communities are afraid to lead, to speak up, and to act like men. We’re being feminized from our hormones to our hearts, and articles like this help define those things that men once again need to possess, those characteristics that society once again needs to possess and appreciate or the structures, both literal and metaphorical, that were built by men, and the cities that were defended by good men against bad men, will surely once again fall.
We’re not doomed. This emasculation of men isn’t to say that men are no longer men, but the realities are there. Men are producing less testosterone, so the emasculation isn’t purely a matter of morals and values as it extends to the biological. Men can’t be men, because to be a man, in some ways, is to be assertive and strong and to lead with clarity, and some think that this hardheartedness is archaic and often unfair.
With all of that, we have the opportunity to stand up, improve, and make the life we want to make like never before. Like never before in the history of this planet has our outcome in life been more in our hands. Birth-rite no longer dictates where we’ll end, only where we’ll begin, and a man with this much power must seize it if he’s going to be and feel like the man his spirit calls him to become.
And so, a list of characteristics of a real men.
Take them to heart. Know that you need not possess them all, but as many as you’re capable of possessing. And yes, this list will be politically incorrect and possibly even unpopular, but it will be fact, not a subjective opinion will show its face. If you dare to defy these 100% truths, please do so in the comments section at the risk of looking like a fool.
1. Physical strength.
Right off the bat coming with maybe the most brutish, Neanderthalic characteristic that a man can have has to mean this list is going to hell in a hand-basket where men are the mindless high school jocks that claim to be alphas only to hide the insecurities that feed their every action. Right?
Incorrect. Men need strength, physical strength, because it’s long been that thing that separates men from their opposite, the feminine. (Read this: The Alpha Male Guide to Strength)
Men and women have two very different dominant hormones in their body. Women have much higher estrogen levels than men and it aids their emotional intelligence (complete opinion and the only thing that won’t be fact in this article), their ability to have kids, and it increases the amount of body fat they carry. In comparison, men have much higher testosterone levels than women do.
This, in the simplest explanation of what testosterone does, makes our bones denser, stronger, and our skeletal muscle more abundant and stronger, and our fat cells fewer.
Yes, men are typically stronger than women, and if this is a means to identify a man vs a woman – and although there are very strong women and very weak men – then that thing that brings them further away from the feminine, testosterone and strength, then it must be counted on this list.
For millennia men were one of two things, warriors and hunters, or both. Our strength meant that this was our role in society, in our tribes, and before the feminists (men included) start screaming bloody murder, this is no disrespect towards women, because stronger doesn’t mean better.
Stronger means better at fighting, unless the weaker possesses greater skill. It means a greater capacity for physical power, speed, and athleticism, though that capacity isn’t always acted upon. Stronger doesn’t mean better and stronger doesn’t mean men are better, it’s just biology. Thus, where the masculine differs from the feminine, we must include it in this list, and we must include it first.
So, man up, take care of your body, and get stronger. It’s a part of reaching your potential, though your potential can’t be relegated to the physical, your potential is in part physical, and emotional and spiritual and mental.
Physical strength, though it’s a valid characteristic of a real man, isn’t as important as it once was. Grit, however, is and always will separate men from boys.
Grit opposes what society has become and therefor fits perfectly with manliness as it too opposes much of what society as become. Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Everything about our modern society screams immediate gratification.
We buy what we don’t want, to impress people who we shouldn’t care about impressing. We quit jobs because of an “unfair” promotion or because we feel as though we’re not being appreciated. We whine and complain and wish we had someone else’s life so we buy something, a treat, a trip, a gadget, because in some distorted sense of accomplishment, we feel as though we deserve to be spoiled.
Grit is persistence through the trials and tribulations that life throws at us, and that grand goals especially throw our way, without complaining or quitting or wishing things weren’t as they are because the gritty know that things are the way they are and all that can be done is the best with what we have.
You may not have it in spades and you may be developing it for a lifetime, but the only way you develop it is by persisting, evolving, adapting, learning from your failures and failing to call it quits.
Practice delayed gratification if you want to incur grit. Practice hard work and the ignorance of “realistic goals”. Practice audacity and practice faith. Practice being a man by being gritty.
3. Clarity of the bigger picture, the greater good.
Men, real men, leaders even, must do what’s best in the long term even though that may mean pain in the short term. He must understand the sacrifices that success requires, the discipline that it asks of a man, of men and women, and he must have the guts to ask that of others as well.
A man can’t allow his desire to help at every opportunity to cloud his judgement for the best way to help the most people. He can’t lose sight of his desire to help his son grow into a man by his desire to keep him safe.
A man understands the values of life’s hardship for each individual. He understands how they strengthen us and he’s able to remove himself from his emotions, and those emotions are real and present, able to see the big picture in the process.
If everything that we have now, the technology, the computers, the innovations and automobiles, heck, even the central heating, were taken away and we were thrown back to a time where our physical and mental prowess was tested daily on the hunt or in battle, gameness would be one of the most important qualities of men.
Gameness, today, is often even frowned upon, unless you’re with a group of men who are acting as men do and always have. You can be a strong pussy, a brawny coward. It’s gameness, the ability or the balls to do what others would only send others to do, to fight without a second thought, to come to the aide of a friend or even a stranger even though you put yourself in harm’s way, that was vital to our species’ evolution.
Without game men we wouldn’t eat the delicious man-foods that PETA now wants to outlaw – PETA, those misguided son’s of bitches who spend more time trying to turn men into vegans and less time focusing on fighting the nation that funds poaching all over the world (China), need to re-assess their priorities…
…I guess I’ll save that for another article.
Gameness, grit, courage, they can be one in the same, but gameness is the little guy, the David standing and fighting Goliath, that can turn the tides of history and shape society. (Try this: How to Find Courage)
Today, while gameness still needs to be a characteristic of a man as I don’t understand how a man can have best friends who won’t stand with him and fight, it can show itself in many ways. There is the obvious, the physical, but there’s gameness to fight odds or chase the audacious goals that most shy away from because of the risk, the time and effort involved in taking on such a feat.
Gameness was just important as strength or physical ability when we hunted and killed for our survival, and though innovation and change may have altered its importance in the present, everything we now know as reality isn’t real. The cars and the heating and the technology can be taken away, it’s who we are when it’s taken away that matters most.
Don’t live like you can depend on others or other things. Live the self-reliant life that makes you a man, and live with a the gameness of a wolverine.
[Tweet “We say, “dude’s got balls”, because gameness is a wonderful, masculine trait.”]
Discipline is something a real man must possess, and the more he possesses it, the likelier it is that he’s better, more accomplished, happy, and stronger, but it doesn’t have to be his life.
Discipline is maybe the most important characteristic a human can have. It’s that thing that allows us to create our dreams, visions, and accomplish those audacious goals we’re all hopefully setting our sights on. Without it, we can’t have the happiness nor the value as humans that we crave in this lifetime, but there are real men that we all know that, while they have discipline, they also have another side, a side that can party with the best of them, fight with the best of them, and while discipline may be a big part of their lives, that aspect of them that loses discipline and caution and throws it to the wind is just as much a part of them, as men, as the disciplined side that helps them accomplish what they want within the confines of society.
A real man needs discipline, it’s the path to improvement, along with grit. But for many of us there’s a wild side that shouldn’t be tempered at all costs, but rather fed and freed, and that can often times come at odds with that discipline that helps us evolve.
Ambition is one of those defining qualities of great men, strong men, that weak men envy and laud as evil and selfish. Without ambition a man can’t reach his potential; with it, there’s nothing that can stop him so long as he holds a few of the other characteristics on this list like discipline and grit and gameness.
Ambition is vital to a man. It’s how he sees what he’s capable of while he’s here. It’s how he inches closer to his potential. It’s with ambition that he heeds the callings of his soul, his deepest, most profound and true desires in this lifetime, those things that, in their pursuit, make him feel alive.
Ambition is life-giving. To follow one’s ambition is to put the pieces of the puzzle together as to why you’re here and what you’re here for. It’s the inner voice, your soul, your spirit, the Self, calling you to face the weakness within you, defeat it, and become the man you’re capable of becoming. (Read this: The Beauty of Ambition)
Yes, ambition is a vital characteristic of a man, even if that ambition is the simple desire to reach his potential. It may not be within the confines of business or conquering the world, a man’s ambition can reside in the honorable and just desire to be the best he can be at whatever path he’s chosen.
It’s unlikely, but up to this point, an insidious, conniving man could possess each of the characteristics mentioned, which makes honor that thing, that fleeting virtue that sets real men from men who don’t have the makings of real men, apart.
If you think masculinity is on the decline in the virtuous sense, not just biologically, then honor must be at the top of your list because of all the characteristics, there may not be another in such short supply in our modern society. We aim for ease, and ease includes taking the easiest possible route to the destination of our choice.
Rarely do men of today stand up and take responsibility. Rarely do they honor women, treating them merely as numbers in a game. Men look for help and hand outs rather than creating the lives they want while standing on their own two feet.
To honor yourself and others is to respect your power, to respect others, to defend those who can’t and to do it all while taking steps forward every day, never relenting on the path you’ve chosen.
Pride can get a man in trouble, but it will also prevent him from complaining. It will halt him from wishing his life were different or that he had what his friend or foe has. Pride is something a man must take in the work he does, no matter what that work may be. It’s pride in who he is and what he’s capable of that will help a man persist, even as the world and those around him fail to see his prowess.
Some will highlight pride as a negative, which it can be, but it’s also a vital, integral part of what makes a man be good at being a man and a good man, a successful man, a man who doesn’t waste his talents. Take pride not only in who you are, but in who you can be, the potential you have and the abilities you can possess if you’d only work to perfect them.
Pride may come before the fall, but it also creates the rise.
If you want to improve, to become better, you must think you’re worse than you actually are.
A pal of mine, John Romaniello, (follow him at @JohnRomaniello) had a wonderful Tweet that highlights this point better than any words I can come up with…
To prevent stagnation and fulfill potential, it’s better to erroneously believe yourself to be less than you are, rather than more.
We aim to create confidence out of nothing, out of wishes and dreams, lacking the real, tangible evidence that it requires. Humility is that thing that will keep you hungry, and a man that loses his hunger, loses.
If you want to fulfill your potential, if you want to realize your dreams and see the fruition of your ambitions, believe yourself to be less than you are, rather than more.
Like most things on this list, this bucks the trends of a society that wants to move away from a true meritocracy and make everyone feel as though they’re equal. Equality, of course, is a myth. And as soon as you realize that you aren’t as good as you thought you were you open yourself up to the necessity of work and improvement. You also open yourself up to accepting help, and though a man must stand on his own two feet, rises to success are rarely solitary endeavors, if ever.
Humility is the quality that will keep your ascension constant. It’s the characteristic that will prevent a sense of entitlement, a sense that you deserve something you don’t yet have.
The reality of life is that we are where we deserve to be, no matter how unfair that may sound, and humility brings this fact to the present and allows us to constantly improve and proven that we aren’t relegated to where we once were.
10. A distaste for complaint.
The old archetypes of “steadfast masculinity” were as such and still fit our ideal for a masculine figure because the act of complaining is incredibly infantile and un-masculine. It isn’t a feminist trait,it just isn’t a masculine one. The man, the real man, does what he must do for the greater good and he doesn’t complain about where he is in life.
He doesn’t envy. He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t wish. He does, he acts, he hustles.
This is also why so many men have such a distaste for someone who complains. We see the fruitlessness in it. We see the pointlessness of it. Many of us were raised by men and women who told us not to complain, repeatedly, but recent generations clearly didn’t get the message.
Men not only don’t complain, ever, they see how complaining brings about whatever negative image you’re portraying.
If you complain about where you are, you will hate where you are, and yet, where you are is always where you’re meant to be at a given moment and all that a man can do is make the best of it. That’s who he is, what he’s here to do; to make the best of things that others complain about.
11. A wild heart.
Now we’re getting to the heart of masculinity, which is a wild one. Men have been hunters and warriors far longer than we’ve been accountants and CEOs, and we will once again return to our warrior ways if the comforts we now know become things of the past if the movies we watch become reality (think Mad Max and Book of Eli).
Thus, the heart of a man isn’t the tamed, tempered soul that’s crushed daily in grade school or high school or the work force. A man is a badass. We’re explorers and conquerors and defenders, and to be a “real man”, if there is such a thing, this wild, untamed heart can’t be completely crushed.
Men like action movies. We like good guys vs bad guys in epic, violent battles. We love this stuff so dearly because it’s what we crave; action and danger and adventure. (Read this: A Man Is Wild At Heart)
To have a list about the characteristics of real men and not speak to the heart of a man would be a disservice.
12. An appreciation for pain and failure.
Not only are men tough, that is, they can push through pain without complaint, but to be a man, a successful man, a man that offers any value to society, you must also have a keen understanding of just how valuable pain and failure and persistence are.
It’s in failure and in the pursuit of an arduous and audacious goal that we are able to test our mettle, to define our grit and our toughness. Without failure, we’ll never know if we can persist, and without failure, we’ll never discover the wrong path all-the-while highlighting the right path.
Men, above all else, are imperfect beings and to be aware of the benefits of pain and failure is to understand the lifelong process that is growth. Where you are now can’t be where you end up. Who you are now cannot be who you are when you die.
You need to improve, to grow, to accomplish more and do more and never rest on your laurels.
Masculinity is being a protector and a provider. To do either or both you have to stay the course, to keep trudging along the difficult road that many walk, and you must do it without expecting reward, and without complaint.
Men want glory, maybe more than anything else, but it’s this pursuit of glory without seeking the affirmation or the awards that sets real men apart from fame-seeking whores that dominate a society more concerned with image than substance.
If you take these characteristics to heart and develop them, nothing can hold you back because the weakness within you, within all of us, will ultimately be defeated.
You are a warrior, a hunter, a provider and protector. Man up!