When Men Want Big Changes in Their Lives
(And Somebody Ain’t Happy About It…) —by Jim Nolan
“To thine own self be true.” –Polonious
This kind of advice can be found in many variations, and in many traditions. Though this example comes from a blowhard old fart in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it still bears some unpacking and reflection. Because if or when we abandon ourselves, our lives are going to suck royally, and we all know it, even though our culture kind of EXPECTS men to throw themselves under somebody else’s bus. That’s what I’ve been seeing in my office a lot lately, and that is what this article, and others I am writing, are going to be about…
I am primarily writing this toward men, though I have also worked with many women who take on the role of primary breadwinner, Alpha Presence, or Rock of Gibraltar, within some family system. So when I use the male pronoun, that is the skinny. There is nothing sexist intended. It is who is showing up in my office all the time these days…
The role I am talking about typically involves something like the following:
- A well-developed capacity to negotiate life and one’s culture (often other cultures, too) in general
- A well-developed capacity to earn a living above and beyond what the individual would require just for himself
- Others in their life orbit who are willing (and often have been invited) to rely on them
Fact & Problem
Many people do not have these capacities, or have not yet developed them if they do, or simply have a preference to not develop or use them, but to let somebody else hold that role for them. Let somebody else fight the dragons, build the log cabin, bring home the bacon, fend off the invaders, do the taxes.
Earlier in life, this provider role can seem kind of intoxicating. We want to see what we are made of, we try to develop a winning strategy in the money arena, we flex our Alpha to see how big it is, and compare it to others’. We get a sense of our status, how smart, talented, appreciated, admired, and effective we are, and whether we are good at achieving goals, winning the game, and taking care of those under our wings. Our culture values the hell out of this stuff, and historically, the expectation is that males will largely hold down these forts. Not always, but very often.
Understandably, others are attracted to those who do well in the ways discussed above. Success is sexy. Power is magnetic. One’s ability to negotiate life and earn a good living is comforting to others. They feel safe, protected, and appreciative in the relationship. All good so far, but…
When (and how) Things Head South
For many of us (not all), our natural state is to be seeking contrast (a different experience that is novel to us, exciting, challenging, or just plain compelling.) However, others often grow to take the safety, protection, and a good income we have been providing for granted. Active, conscious appreciation flags. Entitlement and higher expectations increase. Those that are supported by this system cannot tolerate the thought of changing it…why would they WANT it to change?? It is working so WELL for them!! Then there is pushback…
This can get a hell of a lot less intoxicating. In fact, it can become a hangover…
That drive to see what we were made of was interesting, and probably stage appropriate, but hell, we don’t want to do that crap for our whole life! But the expectations are still there—in fact they are most likely increased—you’re supposed to get promotions, raises, bonuses, bigger offers from others in the field…Keep on keepin’ on.
There’s other stuff you wanted to do, but now you’re feeling kind of stuck. Future plans get built on current success and an expectation of greater future success. You’re on somebody else’s merry-go-round, and it can feel like the only way off involves a crash. Or it’s like heading on a raft through the Grand Canyon, cliffs on all sides, and there no way out except to keep going, straight through to retirement or death. (My dad chose the latter, with a heart attack in the kitchen when it got to be too much, at the ripe old age of 2 years older than I am now…Screw that…)
But maybe we’re sick to death of our job, tired of the too-big house, really have no interest in spending 15K for new kitchen cabinets, have been on enough all-you-can-eat cruises, and don’t want to mow three acres. We want to express our more creative side, or do something more meaningful, or build crap in the garage, or dust off the guitar, or pick up the novel we started before the kids came, or, or, or…..We don’t want to have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, because….we’re just tired of it—it has deadened our souls, and we are wondering when or whether we are ever going to get a turn. My dad did not get a turn.
And we wonder why there are so many divorces, and so much substance (and process—gambling, eating, porn, computer games) abuse. You gotta be kiddin’ me. It only surprises me that there’s not more…
When you get to this point, you have to find out what your appetite is for disruptive innovation. If you change the game, is your partner likely to collaborate, or push against? Celebrate your personal growth and newfound dreams, or get scared as hell that their palace is about to fall?
Then again, perhaps they, too, are wanting something different? Often couples do not talk about this stuff, and there is an implicit and unexplored assumption that the Other wants to maintain the status quo, even if that is wildly not true. Will your kids think you’re nuts?
Well, you will find out pretty fast…
And if you get pushback, how committed are you to honoring your own life’s journey? Your own dreams? Are you going to wait until you have others’ permission? Or until they die? (Seriously, I hear this one…) Or are you willing to rock the boat? Perhaps you need to negotiate a transition time that makes the proposed transformation more acceptable, less scary…
Six months? Or five years? This can be a touchy negotiation. A transition time can be legit, or it can be an excuse for delay, or reflect a fear of pissing off your partner, or scaring your kids. You may have to decide if you’re willing to negotiate your plan or stick to it. Sometimes relationships end during this process. What each person really wants in the not-so-many remaining years turns out to be just too different.
What’s the Plan, Stan?
Often, men don’t HAVE a SPECIFIC plan. Often they never knew they were allowed to have one. Or they thought they got one chance, and took it when they were in their twenties, when they got their MBA. They just know life kind of sucks these days; their gut hurts, they drink too much, or they’re just uninspired most of the time. So maybe the next step is to work with a Life Coach, come up with a plan. This rut can get deep. You may need a tow truck, bruh.
Here is an overview, or sketch, of how I work with this kind of situation, and what the whole process can look like:
- Decide/assess if you’re satisfied with all dimensions of your life (this is a fairly simple, holistic self-audit…)
- If there are areas of significant dissatisfaction, be honest enough with yourself to realize it and say so (or else you’re pretty much screwed…)
- Work with somebody to figure out what kinds of change you’d like to make, or consider (working with somebody else is helpful, because you are probably already way caught up in limiting beliefs and inner narratives…)
- Get a good sense of your own “Readiness for Change”—this is a HUGE variable in assessing whether or not an effort to create change is likely to be successful…
- Begin or continue the critical conversations with loved ones who will be impacted. (This is NOT about being selfish, but some may see it that way…)
- Get the lay of that landscape, how much pushback you can expect, how much disruption is likely, or at least possible
- Decide what you’re willing to risk to make some changes
- Decide, too, what you are no longer willing to sacrifice, forego, or deny yourself because somebody else might be inconvenienced, pissed off, scared, dismissive, or critical of you and your stupid mid-life crisis…
- Figure out what resources, people, Coaches, supporters you think you will need to start moving your program forward
- Start doing it!
- Enjoy the hell out of life and all the possibilities there are out there for you….
Summary, or At Least a Breather…
OK, that is a lot to take in. This kind of stuff is huge, or can be. I will keep writing on this topic, from different angles, because I think it is so important. We have to remember that other factors can be at play here. If a guy has twenty million dollars, he may not have to worry too much about going off to do something cool that he always wanted to do. Maybe he can take up the National Steel Guitar just for the hell of it. Or hire somebody else to do a bunch of his work, and study yoga in Goa. I can’t, at least yet. So I am talking mostly about guys/people who do not yet have huge abundances of discretionary resources—guys/people whose personal decisions could knock the legs out of some family members’ plans, which were dependent on the Rock of Gibraltar keeping on being the Rock of Gibraltar.
I hope this was helpful for you. If not, why the hell did you keep reading?!? Just kiddin’.
Keep an eye out for my next article related to men and change and all of that good stuff…
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