Thursday, February 4, 2010

Challenges and the Masculine Soul

One thing that I have consistently noticed about most of the men I admire is their enjoyment of challenges. There is something intrinsically enjoyable for a man in testing his own strength in various ways. For that reason, manly men frequently seek out opportunities for competition, push themselves to their limits, and enjoy the feelings that arise whenever they are confronted with risk or danger. Indeed, even experiences that are especially painful become something to brag about once the crisis has been overcome. It seems that masculinity, in many ways, thrives off of challenges. Women may derive some enjoyment from challenges, competition or crises, but it seems to be more the exception, rather than the rule. They rarely seek out difficult tasks and conflict in the the way that men do.

I noticed this partly in my interactions with my brothers. We have two mantras that we frequently vocalize:

- Everything is more exciting with an element of danger.
- Everything is more exciting if you bet on it.

I don't remember exactly how these two mantras emerged, but both of them are deeply held by nearly all of my brothers. We often speak of them and just as frequently we seek out opportunities to place bets or add more danger and adventure to whatever we are doing. We have a shared delight in competition. For that reason, we are always looking for new ways to compete with each other. In most of our holiday celebrations, we play a family game of some sort. Most of them are quite brutal and militant. We typically play some variant of Risk, wherein we happily assault each other with massive armies in a relentless battle for world domination. Likewise, I have one brother who is extremely smart for his age. I often find myself going to poker nights and competing in various tournaments alongside him. As much as we enjoy competition amongst ourselves, there is a supreme pleasure in unleashing our prowess upon others. Whenever we are competing against others, we primarily adopt an "us against them" stance. After sharpening our skills against each other, it's fun to test our mettle against other worthy adversaries. My brother and I are currently preparing ourselves for an upcoming tournament by considering every possible opposing strategy that we may have to face. The very process of competing or preparing for competition is exciting and invigorating!

Similarly, even within my own life, I have noticed that as I have grown in manliness, I have gained an increased appetite for challenges. I savor new opportunities and relish stepping out of my comfort zone. A couple of nights ago I was lying awake in bed pondering the course of my life. In my heart I felt this question looming up: "Are you able to take on the many challenges of life?" At first, I was filled with uncertainty. "I hope so," I said to myself. Then, I spent some time in prayer, and God spoke to me. He asked, "Have you been able to handle the challenges you've faced up until now?" As I began to think back on the many challenges I've overcome in the past couple of years, I realized that I have grown much stronger than I used to be. I left my old job to begin a new one and was immediately confronted with an array of tasks that I was not fully equipped to handle. Yet, through persistence and dedication I managed to handle every project that was thrown at me. I persevered through the tedious task of finishing college and prevailed. I've lived on my own for a year and managed not merely to survive, but to consummately thrive. I've been robbed twice, and am none the worse for it. Stepping out more seriously into the dating world, I've learned to be bold and assertive and gone on dates with quite a number of women. As I began to think through all the different challenges I've faced, I realized that none of them have bested me. My answer to the question bothering me was no longer, "I hope so." Instead, I felt my soul affirming the truth that God was seeking to open my eyes to: "With God's help, I am strong enough to handle whatever life throws at me."

Even the development of strength does not happen by accident. No man becomes stronger through apathy or lethargy. Instead, a man builds his strength in any area of life by living with passion and continually seizing new challenges. Physically, a man strengthens himself by regular exercise and a good diet. His muscles grow stronger as he pushes himself to his limits. He is healthier and more energetic when he is disciplined about eating well and limiting his intake of harmful foods. Mentally, a man strengthens himself by thinking, talking and writing about important concepts. He spends time with people who will expose him to new ideas. He reads books to broaden his world and increase his knowledge. He engages in debates for the sharpening of his logical faculties. Spiritually, a man strengthens himself by continually seeking God and by cultivating spiritual disciplines. He spends time in silence and in prayer. He attunes his spirit to listen to God and to rely on God's strength and wisdom, rather than his own. Financially, a man strengthens himself by finding ways to maximize his value and by increasing his skillset. He takes jobs that challenge and inspire him, rather than settling for a boring and stable career. Artistically, a man strengthens himself by working at his craft and perfecting it. He seeks to deepen his artistic vision. He works on the technical aspects of his art through practice and ever-expanding theoretical knowledge. Relationally, a man strengthens himself by developing new relationships and by cultivating deeper relationships. He spends quality time with his family and lives life alongside them. He practices making new friends and intentionally seeks to meet new people regularly. He deepens his close relationships by making them a priority and sharing himself with those whom he loves.

Those men who live life with passion, urgency and boldness find their strength growing steadily and their satisfaction with life increasing, regardless of life's circumstances. Those men who shrink from that which their soul desires soon find that they are becoming stagnant in many areas and that accompanied with the stagnation is a numbness in their soul. The only cure to that is to renew the life of the heart by embracing challenges, rejoicing in trials, engaging in competition and pushing oneself to excel. On those things, the masculine soul thrives! Nothing gives a man more satisfaction than to overcome a challenge, to complete an impossible task, to win a tough competition, to prevail in the face of danger or to transcend a crisis. Nothing feels better to a man than knowing that he has become stronger!


  1. Without a challenge, entropy soon takes over.

  2. Your blog kick ass. Another great essay.

    Have you read David Deida's The Way of the Superior Male? He talks about this. How man's essence it to face a challenge, and to conquer it, and to feel that release. That is man's greatest pleasure.

    Woman's greatest pleasure is to feel the fulfillment of love and nurturing. No challenge required.

  3. To clarify, that is the masculine energy that enjoys challenges. Women can also be in touch with the masculine energy.

    The masculine energy is bold.
    The feminine energy is nurturing.

  4. @alpharivelino:

    Great thoughts. Yes, earlier this year I did read The Way of the Superior Man. David Deida has some unique perspective on the essence of masculinity, which I very much appreciated. I also am much indebted to John Eldredge for his excellent and broad conception of balanced masculinity.

    Men are most certainly attuned to face challenges and prevail, among other things. I also think that the greatest pleasures for a man change throughout his lifetime, depending on which season of the soul he is in.