For me, the single most thrilling aspect of life coaching—and why I became a men’s coach at all—is because I love watching guys get honest with themselves and with each other. I find truth between guys so exhilarating, because it’s the exact opposite of how I grew up. The men in my family had a lot of secrets, and I figured that’s just how all men operated. That’s why, years ago, when I first read what would become one of my favorite books, John Lee’s The Flying Boy: Healing the Wounded Man, I was so shocked. How could they let a man publish such a revealing account of his inner life? I was surprised Lee hadn’t been arrested!
At the time, I was mostly unconscious, living a life very far from my own authenticity. For years, I’d been following a career and life track I believed would make me impressive to both my father —even though he’d been dead for a decade— and the world. And in trying to impress everyone around me, I had spent a lot of time hiding who I really was and what I wanted. (As if I even knew …)
Most of us live this way. Not that it’s really our fault. Many, if not all, parent-child relationships turn us into people pleasers who learn to bluff to get our needs met. How many times as a little boy did you bend the facts to narrowly avoid trouble? To get something you wanted from your parents? To pass a test? To get a date, get laid, or fit into a scene?
Couple that with the fact that history killed shows us sharing the truth can be scary—we’ve watched generations of well-known men be for saying what they really feel (Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Jesus)—and you have a recipe for why most guys grow up learning to live a lot more like Don Draper than the Dali Lama.
When we locate what’s true for us and begin living from that place (even if it seems really inconvenient now) we become superhero level powerful.”
But while this pattern of tweaking the truth can keep us safe, it also keeps us further from the authentic power and connection we seek. Because while we start out lying to others, we end up just lying to ourselves, too. I see this in almost every initial coaching session I’ve ever facilitated:
“Sure, I hate my job, but…”
“My marriage hasn’t been very good for years, but …”
“I know I drink too much, but…”
Those “buts” are where we’ve learned to put aside our authentic truth (and our health, power and sanity) for the sake of perceived survival or what others might think. This is—to slap a clinical name on it—codependency.
Codependency has become the norm in our culture. And as Lee writes, the source of codependency is always the same: a fear of abandonment (and its first cousins: being rejected, dumped, ostracized, fired or canceled). Relationship coach Bryan Reeves, author of Tell the Truth: And Let the Peace Fall Where it Mayputs it another way: “If I tell you the truth about who I really am, I’m afraid you won’t love me.”
That’s why it’s so radical for me when I hear about a man speaking his truth, especially when the stakes are high. I had a client do it recently. He got COVID while staying in a beach house with friends. They were all doing their best to be responsible, but when the friends found out, they turned nasty. It would’ve been easy to spiral out, but instead my client owned his part in the situation, care of his business, and took stand up to the friends who were attempting to shame him into believing he’d done something wrong by contracting a virus. That’s powerful.
In order to live powerfully like this we have to face getting real. We have to be willing to question the long-held stories we have about ourselves, others and the world around us. And we have to risk telling ourselves and the people around us the truth, usually for the first time.