I was sitting with a young man the other day, and we had what I would describe as a pretty powerful conversation. We were watching a baseball game at Wrigley Field; the San Francisco Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs. He had flown into Chicago to meet me for a coaching session. As we ate our hotdogs, sipped on our drinks, and watched the game, we started talking.
He told me how he had dropped out of college, and how his dad had been telling him regularly that he was a loser because of it. His father would say to him, “I’m embarrassed to have you as a son.” He’d essentially given up on him and his brother, who had also dropped out of college. He told them both, “From now on, I’m going to do my own thing.”
“Why did you drop out of college?” I asked.
“I felt like I was spending all this money, and I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. It felt like a waste.” He told me that his older brother, who had acquired $30K in credit card debt, dropped out for the same reason. So they both left school at the same time, moved back home, and started working.
His job wasn’t anything special — at least to him. They both worked assembling medical kits for a medical supply manufacturing facility, but at different companies.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
“Not really,” he replied. “It doesn’t feel like there is much of a future there. And there are people who’ve worked there for over twenty years.”
It reminded me of my first job at 18. I started working at a grocery store, after I was kicked out of my parents’ home. I moved in with a friend and his girlfriend who had a newborn baby. We were living in the ghetto, sharing a one-room apartment with four, sometimes five other people. I slept on the couch. I would get up at 4am, to be at work stocking the bread aisle at a local grocery store by 5am.
People told me it was a good job because it had benefits. I remember a co-worker from the frozen food section who told me that he had only planned to work there for six months after high school, but he’d now been there for seventeen years. I didn’t want that future, and I swore to myself that my life would be different.
“Do you want to keep working for the medical device company?” I asked my new friend.
“No, but I don’t know what else to do.”
At 23 years old, he still had plenty of time to figure things out.
“Go easier easy on yourself,” I replied. “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”
The Journey of Self-Discovery
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that every man must embark on a journey to find his place in the world. And in this moment, my job was to help this young man, my new mentee, to understand this.
“How old is your dad?” I asked.
“In his late 50s.”
“What do you think your father wants for you?”
“To finish college. Be successful. To have my own place. To get a hot girlfriend. He says that if either of his sons bring home a hot girlfriend, it will be the happiest day of his life. But he doesn’t think we can.”
“Is that what you want?”
“Yeah, that would be great.”
“Do you think you can?”
“I don’t know how,” he replied.
He was in a tough position, and I had a lot of empathy for him. It was difficult to hear the things that his dad was projecting onto him. These types of statements would hurt coming from anybody, but they’re especially hurtful when they’re coming from your own father.
As we get older, a lot of us discover how difficult and challenging the real world is. The last thing we need to hear is how inadequate and fucked up we are from the people we love, let alone from the man who’s supposed to teach us how to be a man, and how to thrive in the world as a man.
“I want you to try to let go of the shit that your dad has been telling you,” I told him. “It’s not about you, it’s about him. Do you understand that?”
His face betrayed that he wanted to believe me, but deep down inside, he wasn’t quite sure.
“Do you think your dad loves you?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
I continued, “Your dad is in a tough position, and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to teach you, or your brother, to become the man he wants you both to be… The man you’re telling me that you want to be.
And so your father is angry. He’s not angry at you; he’s angry at his own inadequacy. He’s angry at his shortcomings as a man. And he’s projecting that frustration onto you. The things that he’s telling you, they’re not about you, they’re about him. As I said before, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be at 23 years old.”
“Every man must go on a journey to find his place in the world. This involves breaking away from his parents. He has to find mentors other than his father and mother. He has to find his own tribe and make his own friends. He has to learn a craft that will allow him to support himself, and someday, a family, if he decides to have one. But this will take time. He has to figure out how to secure his own space, so he can nurture connection and emotional intimacy with his friends, and with women.
Every man has to figure out how to meet, attract, and nurture physical and emotional intimacy with women, so he can find a girlfriend. Then he has to learn how to nurture that connection and build it into a healthy relationship, and then a partnership, so they can build a life together.
Your father solved these problems for himself, a long time ago. Now it’s your time. Your dad moved out of his family home. He made his own friends. He found a job and a place to live. He met your mother. And he raised his children to become adults. Now it’s your turn to do the same, if you want to. Most men don’t do all these things before they’re 23. And my guess is that neither did your dad. He’s forgotten what it’s like to be young.
I want you to understand that every man’s life is unique. Each man solves each of these problems on his own time, within his own circumstances. That’s his journey.
You’re on your journey. And you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I know, because you traveled here to meet me. And we’re having this conversation. Does this make sense to you?”
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. He had some more questions that I answered. I had a few of my own for him.
Finding the Right Mentors
I asked him another question: “Do you want to be like your father?”
“No,” he replied.
“I don’t respect him.”
I had him explain further before I continued.
From other conversations I’ve had, I know that many young men have similar feelings about their fathers. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells a wonderful story in his biography about a similar journey.
Arnold wanted a different life than the life his father built. He felt his father was a broken man after World War II. Their family lived in a small village in Austria, where his father worked as a police officer. He was abusive and drank excessively.
Arnold wanted more for himself. When he was around 14, he started working out with his friends and some older boys in a park, where they would talk about girls and about their dreams. It was with these boys that he found the blueprint for his life.
There was a man named Reg Park, who they read about in a magazine. Park was a bodybuilder, who like Arnold, was also from a small town, but in England. Park built his body in the gym a little bit each day. After a lot of hard work, he began to win bodybuilding competitions. He continued to build himself, and over time he began to win the biggest bodybuilding competitions in the world. At this point, he moved to America, where he began to star in Hollywood movies.
Arnold decided that he would follow a similar path. He would build himself in the gym, win bodybuilding competitions, then he’d move to the United States, where he would star in Hollywood movies. And he figured that all of these things would help him meet and attract a beautiful woman into his life.
The next part of the story is probably my favorite. Arnold started to collect pictures of bodybuilders that he hung up around the house for inspiration. This concerned him mom, who began to suspect that her son might be gay. One day, she pulled in a doctor and showed him her son’s photos. “Other boys have pictures of girls,” she said. “My son keeps photos of men.”
The doctor said something incredibly wise to Arnold’s mom, and it’s the reason I’m sharing this story with you now. He told her that there is a stage in every young man’s life that he has to find mentors other than his father. And Arnold was at that stage.
As I sat there at Wrigley Field, with a young man who had never seen a live baseball game, in a city where he’d always dreamed of going, after he’d saved money for a bootcamp with me, and had flown in to meet me, I knew he was in the right place. He was exactly where he was supposed to be.
With the right help, with the right mentorship, the possibilities of the entire world lay ahead of him. His father’s time had passed. It was his time to get the help he needed to find his path, to pursue his dreams, and to step into his manhood. The quest of every man is to find his place in the world.