Don’t waste your life – so said this article in The Good Men Project that floated across my Facebook feed this morning. The article is mostly a reposting of a letter that was apparently first seen on Reddit, written by a man of 46 who lamented the guy he’d become – working all the time, with a son who barely speaks to him and a wife he’d just found had been cheating on him for 10 years. The article is meant as a warning to men not to waste their lives; “Don’t be that guy!” it screams. Seize the moment, be what you want to be when you’re young, so you don’t grow up to be that guy.
Judging from the vast majority of the comments that I saw, he’s not alone. Guys as young as 28 and guys as old as 60 had commented in the threads that I saw, almost all of them lamenting, “Me too.”
I know the feeling, and I know that there are a lot of guys out there who aren’t the men they want to be. Certainly not the men they thought they were going to grow up to be. Right now my website is mostly devoted to speaking to those men who want to change from the guy they are to the man they want to be. I know the underlying emotion is powerful, and primal, and terrifying in a way that is poorly understood in a world that seems sometimes to revel in dissing those men, because of their privilege.
Obviously the article speaks to men who resonate with a message that seems quite close to my own.
So why do I hate the article?
There really are dumb questions
I’m not entirely sure why I cringed when I read the article. On the surface it should have gripped me and galvanized me to spread the word. Instead, this quote kept floating through my mind:
I learned, when hit by loss, to ask the right question: What next?instead of Why me? – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
The truth is that there is something in the letter, and in many of the comments that followed, that felt whiny and self-absorbed and entitled. Or maybe I should say that there is something in the way the letter is being shared and commented that feels just, off. To me, it all sounds too much like “Why me?“
“Why me?” puts the proof to the lie that there are no dumb questions. There is such a thing as a dumb question, and “Why me?” is the mother of all dumb questions.
Why me? is poison
This part is tricky. Because I don’t want to dismiss the feelings being expressed by these men. (By the way, that dismissal happens a lot, and then people wonder why men don’t talk about how they feel. But that’s a different post.)
I hit the wall that these men are describing when I was about to turn 60, and it drove me to change my life: I left my big-corporate job and decided to go out on my own, knowing that I’d take a financial hit. I opened myself to new possibilities and took risks in sharing with Maddie, and that led to both adventure and fun and even more work, even ultimately leading me to the utterly unanticipated marriage of three as Flaun came into our lives.
My closest friend, a few years ago, faced what I am convinced are those same feelings, and took his own life. I was, and am, bereft almost daily when I think of how much I miss him, and what the world lost when he killed himself. Our son Gabriel Liam, now our angel, died when he was 48 hours old. Though you never forget or “get over it,” we survived and lived; some people don’t make it through those experiences.
It isn’t that I am better than my friend Tom, and I’m not better than whose who lose a child and aren’t able to live. Nor am I better than the man in the letter reposted on Good Men. I don’t know anything special they didn’t know, I don’t have any magic to offer, and I won’t lie and say it’s as simple as “just make better choices,” whatever the fuck that means.
But in the end the question “Why me? is poison. You’ll never become the man you want to be by asking it. Ever.
Ask What’s Next?
Want to avoid regret? Don’t waste time thinking your life is over and worrying that you aren’t the person you thought you’d turn out to be.
Of course you’re not the person you thought you’d be, and thank the gods you’re not. You didn’t get everything you wanted, you didn’t do everything you planned. Of course you didn’t. You gave up some things to have a life with a wife or husband or lover or partner, and maybe you had kids for whom you gave up even more. Of course you did. So fucking what?
Hell, maybe you even lived a humdrum, mind-numbingly boring life where you always made the “safe” choice, and now you regret it. So fucking what?
The question isn’t what you didn’t do, or who you aren’t. The question is what are you doing now and what are you going to do about that?
If you woke up this morning and stretched your arms to the side and didn’t touch wood, you’re above ground. If you’re breathing, you’re NOT. DONE. YET.
Don’t like who you are or who you’ve become?
Ask better questions.
Ask, “What’s next?“
Dr. Les Kertay
PS Yes, I know. Women have this experience too. Women also work hard, often much, much harder. They also do it uphill and against the winds of patriarchy and rape culture and incessant devaluing. I know, and I fight hard for a world that will make that better. It’s just that I think sometimes the fastest way to make the world better for women is to help men see their world in a different way.