When you wake up and realize you are going to work, how do you feel? Are you excited, or are you sad wanting to pull the covers back over your head?
If you are like many men, you are not looking forward to work, or possibly to life. With general happiness levels for men continuing to decline, we feel trapped. So trapped that suicide rates for men are four times what they are for women.
Recently, I spoke to a CEO who, despite his success, felt no one knew him. Everyone at work complimented him on his performance. The illusion of his excellence spread to what others thought of his struggling marriage. He had no place to go to be himself.
In speaking to him, it was apparent that he loves his wife, yet it was as if he was gagged, unable to express his feelings. His mastery of doing the right thing drove his success as well as his inability to connect to others. Living behind his mask of achievement became his emotional prison.
Seeing how this mastery was training his children was his motivation to speak with me. Not wanting his children or grandchildren to be so lonely created an urgency for him to do what it took to change.
When this man slowed down and allowed the impact of his isolation to be felt, he had what it took to ignite change. We master not feeling, yet we still feel. Our pain pills — be it meds or distractions — never remove the pain. The hurt lingers, reminding us there is no escape. As soon as we wake up, the pain is back.
We were told that if we work harder, become more successful, and ignore the pain, we will receive the reward that will make all the pain worth it. When we wonder if that devotion is the right choice, we ask others. They quickly tell us that hard work and sacrifice will pay off.
What they don’t say is that all this is code for “shut down”. It’s not the hard work that has us lead lives of quiet desperation; it’s the shutting down of the connection to our experience. One minor act of denial after another has us waking up and wondering who we became. By then, our mastery of denial is so good that we deny that we are denying.
It relegates us to the simple equation where the pain needs to be greater than the fear of change for us to admit we are living in the Matrix. For many men, it’s their wives saying, “Either you get help, or I’m gone”. Like an old friend of mine, who didn’t get all the messages until he came home from a trip to an empty house and a note on the kitchen table saying, “I am done.”
After the fact, my friend admitted there were ‘signs’ that things were not good. We ignore what others are telling us, let alone what our body and emotions tell us. If we were to be honest, we admit to seeing the signs; we just don’t know where to turn. It’s as if you are driving in a foreign country trying to read the road signs and continually getting lost because there is no one to ask for directions.
The underlying shame we have continues to keep us locked up. Just like the man who won’t ask for directions, we stumble along, hoping things will right themselves. When they don’t, we work harder and deny more. We do what they trained us to do while becoming more scared.
You’re not bad. You were well-trained with the wrong model.
They taught all of us this model. Often, the men who are the most successful at it are those who are the most miserable.
To escape this model, turn around and move back into what you’ve been trying to escape. You untie a knot by pushing the rope in the opposite direction to loosen the knot.
We will dive into how to escape and find YOUR authentic model in future articles. For now, slow down and feel in you and your life what you have ignored. The first step out is back.