The 5 Switches of Manliness: Challenge

by Brett on June 5, 2011 · 81 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

This is the second post in our series on the five switches of manliness. The five switches of manliness are the power switches that are connected to our primal man and deeply ingrained and embedded in the male psyche. When they’re turned off, we feel restless, angry, and apathetic. When they’re turned on, we feel alive, invigorated, motivated to be our best, and just plain manly. The two principles behind these posts that must be adopted in order for the recommendations to be successfully integrated are: 1) the switches are simply either on or off, and 2) turning them on requires only small and simple changes in behavior. The biggest obstacle to flipping the switches will be pride–the belief that firing up our masculinity requires arduous, mystical, and/or perfectly “authentic” tasks. Just because you cannot do everything, does not mean you cannot do something. The maxim to adopt is this: “By small and simple means I will flip the switches of manliness.”

In case you couldn’t tell from last week’s post on the Band of Brothers, I truly admire the men who fought in World War II. When I look at my grandpa, I think, “There is a man.” There’s simply no doubt about it; his manliness is unassailable.

I think a lot of guys in my generation are fascinated by the men who lived through not only World War II, but the Great Depression as well. We know in our hearts that it was a terrifically terrible time, that there’s absolutely nothing glamorous about not knowing if you’re going to be able to feed your family that night or seeing your friend’s brains blown out of his head right in front of you.

And yet….when we read their stories our hearts ache and there is an undeniable sense of longing. It is not necessarily a longing to live in that time and have gone through those trials specifically, but a great yearning for something our grandfathers had in spades, and we often feel a complete lack of in our own lives: a true challenge. A chance to prove out mettle, our resiliency…our very manhood.

Because for many of us, the switch of challenge is firmly in the off position. And that’s left our lives feeling awfully empty.

The Origin of a Man’s Need for Challenge

Let’s begin with a startling statistic:

Only about 33% of our human ancestors were male.

Modern people have twice as many female ancestors as male ancestors. And that’s a conservative estimate.

What the? You likely assumed it was 50/50, right? To illustrate how this can be, in the book, Is There Anything Good About Men? sociologist Dr. Roy F. Baumeister uses this imaginary scenario:

Imagine a desert island at the start of time with just four people: Jack, Jim, Sally, and Sonya. Thus the population is 50% female. Let’s assume Jack is rich and handsome, while Jim is poor and unattractive, so Jack marries both Sally and Sonya. Thus, Jack and Sally’s baby, Doug, has ancestors who are 50% female (i.e., Jack and Sally). The same can be said for Jack and Sonya’s baby, Lucy. But if you take Doug and Lucy together, their combined ancestors are 67% female (because their total ancestors are Jack, Sally, and Sonya).

Dr. Baumeister goes on to explain what these means:

Of all the people who ever reached adulthood, maybe 80% of the women but only 40% of the men reproduced. Or perhaps the numbers were 60% versus 30%. But one way or another, a woman’s odds of having a line of descendants down to the present were double those of a man…Most women who ever lived to adulthood probably had at least one baby and in fact a descendant alive today. Most men did not. Most men who ever lived…left behind no genetic traces of themselves.

Dr. Baumeister calls this idea the most “underappreciated fact about men.” Why? Because it explains an enormous amount about why men are the way they are and act the way they do.

It’s All About Reproduction

Reproduction lies at the heart of all evolutionary theory. Every species, whether humans or beetles, wants to perpetuate their kind to the greatest degree biologically possible. The more descendants the better.

When it comes to humans, the simple fact of the matter is that a woman can only get pregnant by one man (at a time) while one man can impregnate multiple women. This is why a woman’s eggs, and her womb, have always been much more valuable than a man’s seed (the implications of which we’ll explore more in the next post).

So in primitive times, in the days before widespread monogamy, the odds that a woman would become a mother were very good. She did not have to do much apart from making herself desirable and wooing the best possible mate. The chances were, even if she did not do much at all, she would get an offer. Her main concern was landing a father for her children that could provide food, protection, and good genes.

On the other hand, the odds that a man would become a father were not good. The alpha males of the tribe, who were the most desirable to the women because of their good genes and high status, could sire children with numerous partners, shutting out the less attractive and successful men from fathering any children at all.

So men had to do something, the bigger the better, to raise their status and thus improve their chances of reproducing. Women could be relatively sure that they would have at least one child, so it did not make sense for them to give up this sure thing to sally forth on an adventure that might win wealth and glory, but might just as well result in complete failure or death. Regardless of what they did, and what kinds of worldly success they found, they would never have more than a dozen or so children. But, it did make sense for a man to take big risks to win wealth and glory and elevate himself above his rivals. If he did nothing, the chances were that he would have no children. If he gambled on a risky venture, he might die or fail, but he might make it big, so big he might even father 50 or 100 children (or as many as Genghis Khan!).

All of this is to say that the men of the past were highly motivated to take on large challenges that would give them a chance to gain wealth and glory and thus prove themselves as men of high status–alpha males who would be rewarded with numerous chances to sire progeny.

Man Up!

We’ve talked before about the importance of male rites-of-passage, ceremonies and tests that for thousands of years marked a boy’s transition into manhood. But it should not be understood from the idea of the rite-of-passage that once a boy became a man, that was the end of the road, and his manhood was secure until the end of his days. Instead, it was something that had to be chosen and secured over and over again.

Womanhood was a status automatically conferred as the result of biological maturation. Manhood was something that had to continuously be proven. Men have always had to prove themselves worthy to women and jockey for position among men. As Dr. Baumeister puts it:

A woman is entitled to respect until and unless she does something to lose it. A man is not entitled to respect until and unless he does something to gain it…The man must repeatedly achieve: obtain, surpass, conquer….Insecurity is part of being a man, an essential part of the male role in society. Manhood is never secure: It must be claimed via public actions, risky things seen and validated by other people–and it can be lost.

This is why it is common for people to say, “Man up!” but not to say, “Woman up!”  If you tell a woman to “Be a woman!” she will think, “Uh, I already am.” If you tell a man to “Be a man!” they know just what you’re talking about.

While the insecurity of manhood may seem like a negative thing, perhaps even silly to some feminists, it is in fact vital to the progress and health of culture and society; it is what propels and pushes men to not back down from a challenge and motivates them to accomplish big things and strive for greatness, which is to say, to make valuable contributions to society–to be a producer, and not just a consumer. (Conversely, when men opt-out of the goal of manning up, and instead decide to live a life of safety, entertainment, and luxury, society becomes decadent and slides into decline.)

The Blood of Greatness

The men who tried to prove themselves, who accepted the challenge, who dared to do great things, and who had the intelligence and courage to become successful, were the ones who were able to father children and pass on their genes. The ones who did not take the gamble, or who did not have the prowess to be successful when they did, died childless, and their hapless genes died with them.

What this means is that we are all descended from the strongest, fastest, smartest, bravest men of the past: the world’s alpha males. It is no stretch to conclude, as Dr. Baumeister does, that the blood of greatness runs through our veins.

Whew, now that’s some heady stuff, right?

So if our genes come from such daring stock and our psyche is deeply embedded with the motivation for greatness, what’s stopping more men from seeking it?

The Obstacles to Accepting the Challenge

Obviously, even a cursory look at history reveals that not every man tapped into his inborn proclivity for risk and adventure and decided to accept the challenge to dare for greatness.

Why is this? Well, in the first place, for much of human history many men were shut out from even the chance to make it big. Once the egalitarian days of tribal life were over, and civilizations built up, society became more stratified, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t obtain greatness if you’re, say, a poor peasant living in the Middle Ages.

But even when societies opened up and democracy leveled the playing field, many men still chose to play it safe. Because seeking for greatness, while certainly an inspiring idea, is an incredibly risky venture. We love to hear the stories of men who gambled big and won, but far more common, if far less recorded, are the tales of men who risked it all and went completely bust. Thus for many men, the life of safety, with minimal potential reward but minimal danger as well, has seemed to be the more sensible path.

And now we come back to our grandfathers…the reason why we envy them so much, is that their great challenges were built-in to their lives, and were inescapably thrust upon them. They were not the Greatest Generation because they were made out of a different material than we are; rather, they became great because they were given the chance to rise to the occasion, and they admirably answered the call.

Today, we generally lack those built-in challenges. Unlike primitive man, we don’t have to hunt our own food or protect our tribes from predators of the human and animal variety. And unlike our grandfathers, there is not a draft or world war to fight.

And our modern day challenges to challenge don’t end there.

As we’ve just discussed, when primitive man strove for greatness, he did so to get a leg up on the other men in his tribe; he was competing with them for status. His goal was thus to do things that allowed him to stand apart from his fellow men. Changes in our culture have squashed some of a man’s opportunities to do this, and thus his motivation to try to get to the top. Key in this are things like grade inflation and the self-esteem movement. If tons of students receive an A, and all team members get a trophy, regardless of varying levels of achievement, boys lose their drive to be the best, because they are deprived of the reward of standing apart from their fellows and receiving well-earned public accolades.

At the same time, the male traits that have developed to drive them towards greatness–aggression, ego, risk-taking–have in recent time been criticized, de-valued, and attempted to be bred out of men. Boys are given medication because they can’t sit still in class. Male risk-taking is blamed for the current economic crisis (ignoring the fact that without male risk-taking, there wouldn’t be an economic system in the first place!).

The Vital Need for Challenge in a Man’s Life

So despite these obstacles and knowing that daring greatly may result in failure, should a man seek to turn the switch of challenge, or should he simply opt-out in favor of a life of safety and convenience? Because sure, striving for greatness benefits society, but nobody wants to feel like they’re being used in a sucker’s game.

The truth is, what’s good for society as a whole is also good for the individual man. When you pursue a challenge, it is true that sometimes you will fail, but the real value is simply found in the striving. Whatever blood, sweat, and tears you expend in the pursuit of greatness, whether you ever reach your goal or not, will be returned to you in the form of greater strength, virtue, and deep satisfaction.

When NASA first sent astronauts up into space, they thought perhaps the zero-gravity atmosphere would do great things for the astronauts’ bodies–that their vitality might increase once they were released from having to contend with all that gravitational pressure. Of course, what they found instead was that without the pressure, their bodies deteriorated and their muscles atrophied.

The lesson can very easily be applied here: you can try to float through life by shunning challenge and minimizing resistance, but you’ll end up as a soft shell of a man.

Obviously most men these days don’t want to have 100 children. Some may not even want one. Of course nature does not distinguish between the drive for progeny and the drive for sex, and plenty of men still want to have as much of the latter as possible. But whether you’re an unabashed lothario or no-sex-before-marriage man, our primal drive for challenge cannot be denied and left unsatisfied.

The Warrior Dash, a race in which participants run, climb over obstacles, crawl through the mud, and sprint through fire has more than 650,000 fans on Facebook. Whereas men used to get in the dirt to get paid, men now pay to get in the dirt. This is truly extraordinary. Clearly, the need for challenge cannot simply be rationalized away.

How to Turn the Challenge Switch in Your Life

Truly, the biggest challenge for modern men is motivating ourselves to embrace little challenges in a time of peace and prosperity, in order to be ready for a great challenge, if, perhaps simply when, it arises. In a time where there are not too many external challenges that are thrust upon us, a man must motivate himself to utilize every bit of his potential internally, to purposefully challenge himself.

Decades ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with his famous “hierarchy of needs,” which described the ascending level of human needs. Once humans have taken care of their basic needs, like food and shelter, they have the freedom to seek even more from life, working their way to the peak of the pyramid, which is self-actualization.

Self-actualization sounds a little hokey, but it simply means this: “What a man can be, he must be.” In other words, a man at his peak utilizes all of his potential and becomes all he is capable of becoming. So the pursuit of greatness and each man’s peak will look different for each individual man, according to his particular talents, abilities, and desires.

But for every man, it can only be attained by creating challenges for himself whenever possible. It sounds complicated and daunting, but remember the mantra of the switches of manliness theory: it’s all about doing small and simple things.

I love what Steve Kamb from Nerd Fitness has to say about finding a challenge in your life. Simply do sh** that scares you. Find whatever makes you uncomfortable and do it.

If that bit of advice is still too vauge for you and you’re still looking for some specific ways to incorporate the switch of challenge in your life, we provide the following suggestions.

Mental Challenges

  • If you’re in high school or college, don’t take the easy classes just so you can get the easy A. Take classes that will challenge and stretch you intellectually.
  • Read books and articles that challenge your point of view.
  • Make it a goal to read the Great Books of the Western World. I’ve been doing this for two years now, with numerous starts and stops. Some of the reading is dense and challenging, but the effort has been worthwhile.
  • Take up meditation. Learning how to quiet the distracted mind requires discipline and dedication.
  • If you’ve never been a math guy like me, take free online math classes at Khan Academy. I freaking love this site. I’m in the middle of reviewing basic arithmetic, but am looking forward to getting started with the calculus stuff.
  • Ask for assignments at work that challenge you. Don’t be the guy who plays it safe and stays ducked under his desk all the time.


  • Make it a goal to pray or meditate every morning and evening.
  • Challenge yourself to read your scriptures for 10 minutes or more a day.
  • Commit to doing several hours of community service each month.
  • Start tithing 10% of your income to your church or to a charitable organization.
  • Take Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues Challenge


Social/Emotional Challenges

  • Reconcile with somebody you’ve been estranged with for a long time.
  • Have that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off.
  • Travel to a place that’s way off the map.
  • If public speaking scares the crap out of you, join Toast Masters. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to speak in public.
  • Talk to a stranger.
  • That woman you’ve been wanting to ask out on a date? Do it. Today.
  • Stop seeking for the approval of others.
  • Find your true vocation.
  • Quit shoulding all over yourself. Deciding to do what I chose do in life instead of doing what I thought I should do was one the biggest challenges I’ve overcome.

Do you have any suggestions on how to flip the switch of challenge in a man’s life? What sort of challenges have you overcome that have made you feel more like a man? Share them with us in the comments.


Is There Anything Good about Men? by Dr. Roy R. Baumeister.

We’ll be talking more about the implications of the disparity in primitive male/female reproduction odds for men in the other posts in this series. But I’m sure some of you are wondering what it means for women. Before jumping to conclusions, I recommend checking out this book–Dr. Baumeister’s theory is the most sensible, non-sexist (if still imperfect) explanation on the differences between the sexes that I’ve come across.

Switches of Manliness Series:
The Cure for the Modern Male Malaise
Switch #1: Physicality
Switch #2: Challenge
Switch #3: Legacy
Switch #4: Provide
Switch #5: Nature

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dante June 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Fantastic article. Really need this in my life right now.

2 Justin W. June 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Thank you for writing this Brett. I think I’m going to sign up for that Warrior Dash!

3 Derp June 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm

“Make it a goal to pray or meditate every morning and evening.
Challenge yourself to read your scriptures for 10 minutes or more a day.
Commit to doing several hours of community service each month.
Start tithing 10% of your income to your church or to a charitable organization.”

Seriously? How is this a spiritual or moral challenge. Perhaps you should be suggesting people attempt to view typically accepted spiritual or moral values (e.g. religion) in a different way (e.g. considering that perhaps it is wrong), rather than suggesting people start acting like it’s the 1950s. Are you trying to rally support for your local church or something?

4 Brett McKay June 5, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Herp Derp-

Not sure where I’m rallying support for my church. That would entail naming a church and saying “Hey guys. Be a man and donate to this church!” I read through the post again to make sure I didn’t do that. Nope. Couldn’t find it.

I also didn’t know that prayer, meditation, and being charitable went out of style in the 1950s.

Now your suggestion about asking people to question their moral views is a good one. That’s definitely a challenge. Perhaps next time you could suggest it without sounding all herp derpy about it. That can be challenging too.

Anyway, there’s no need to take umbrage at the suggested spiritual or moral challenges. They’re just suggestions. As I said in the post:

“So the pursuit of greatness and each man’s peak will look different for each individual man, according to his particular talents, abilities, and desires.

Not every man is going to want to get into a MMA fight and not everyone is going to want to tithe. It’s cool, man. To each man his own challenge.

5 RoninX June 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm

I’m in agreement with the previous comments re: spiritual/moral. A morality grounded in faith is a cowardly abdication of reason. The spiritual man remains either partially a child dependant on the ‘whims’ of his belief system or a psychological bully coercing others to abandon their rational minds.

6 Mike June 5, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Derp, it’s just an incomplete list. The ones listed require sacrifice (i.e., risk) and dependability (that is, strength).

RoninX, faith and reason can be in tension, but are far from opposites and far from exclusive; many others and I find they go together well. The two descriptions you offered of the spiritual man are not only a false dichotomy but are not mutually exclusive. One could be both or neither. I would agree that a faith untested is immature, but you seem to be assuming challenges necessarily reduce faith and increase reason; I find they can do the opposite or increase both. I would guess the original disagreement comes from differing axioms rather than differing use of logic.

7 Kit June 6, 2011 at 12:17 am

If you want a real challenge, you should check out the GORUCK challenge. This is a 30 man event focused on teamwork. It is led by Green Berets and covers 20 miles in over 12 hours.

I feel like it hits on all the switches of manliness and especially this one. I have been sharing these posts across the web so that others see the importance of what you write.

The GORUCK challenge has enabled me to push myself beyond my self-imposed boundaries while focusing on others rather than myself. Many life lessons to be learned there.

Thanks for the blog, you always have informative and interesting things to share.

8 Richard Smith June 6, 2011 at 12:19 am

Refreshing to have a religious reference to being a man. Being religious can keep a man grounded and humble. Wasn’t the WWII generation much more religious than we are today? Did they not pray to God for help and deliverance during hard times?

9 Splashman June 6, 2011 at 12:22 am

Ronin, you obviously have great faith in a particular unprovable ideology (denial of a spirit life), and your morality is at least superficially grounded in that faith.

So please explain how it is that you are superior to those who put their faith in a different unprovable ideology.

10 Splashman June 6, 2011 at 12:31 am

Great article, Brett.

For those who would like a taste of the book “Is There Anything Good About Men?”, there is a (long) summary here:

I highly recommend it. Absolutely fascinating stuff. I especially like the explanation of the differences in how men and women socialize.

“Women specialize in the narrow sphere of intimate relationships. Men specialize in the larger group. If you make a list of activities that are done in large groups, you are likely to have a list of things that men do and enjoy more than women: team sports, politics, large corporations, economic networks, and so forth.”

The point the author makes is that both types of relationship networks are equally valid, and serve different purposes. One is not better than the other, no matter what modern culture may claim.

11 xpwlq June 6, 2011 at 12:37 am


“Spiritual life is the banquet, the perfume, the flowering and fulfillment of a human life, not a supernatural virtue imposed upon it.”
—Joseph Campbell

Being religious does not imply being spiritual, and neither does being religious imply being spiritual. I’ll agree that it’s a crime to abdicate reason, but saying that a spiritual person is always delusional or irrational is not correct. If I feel an ineffable thrill when I look out from a mountain I’ve climbed, when I’ve built something, or when I listen to a moving piece of music, is that wrong? Is that refuge in faith, in delusion?

12 Dave June 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

I find it interesting that you don’t consider yourself a math guy, as you went to, and sounds like excelled at, law school. Logic and math are closely related. Wanted to point that out if you’ve never thought of it.

The advice “Do S*** That Scares You” is a quick fix patch to a much larger problem. After a while of ‘living on the edge’ by challenging yourself to do scary things, it will eventually become routine. Most people will either quit because they are too afraid to constantly keep challenging themselves, or find that the initial rush of adrenaline is gone. It can also trip men up because what is scary for one guy isnt scary for another guy, and you get into these extremely awkward “I’m doing scarier things than you are” debate. There’s much more reward and long term satisfaction in taking up long term projects/goals that require lots of hard focus and practice.

13 Jeff T. June 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

Wow, that was incredibly interesting. Quite a lot of insight.

It would be a shame to reduce this piece to some tangential point about spirituality, but I just wanted to throw my two cents in to say that I’m both an atheist and a long-time reader of AoM and I have to say that one of my favorite parts of the blog is that while it acknowledges that some readers may be religious, it always acknowledges that some readers are not, and it never pushes religion or says you need to be religious to be a man. And how refreshing is that? I personally think you can be interested in being moral while not being religious, which is actually why I love this site so much-it’s all about bettering yourself, regardless of your religious beliefs.

14 Matt B. June 6, 2011 at 1:53 am

I think we can take this conversation into a more positive direction if we do as Brett so kindly asked, and offer challenging suggestions for others to try, as well as sharing personal challenges accomplished.

To start, I think either side of the spiritual/religious spectrum could spend more time listening to the other viewpoint. Visit a pro-atheism site, attend a religious function or humanist convention, read some sacred writings… You get the idea. Personally, I’ve experienced the range. Preschool thru 8th grade in Catholic school, then I became a fundamentalist passing out tracts, to an agnostic, and pretty much an atheist…

Other challenges:

I’ve struggled with a driving phobia since 16. After two years of completely avoiding operating a vehicle, at almost 22, I just challenged myself this weekend to drive 45 minutes from home, to a friend’s grad party. The ride home was even enjoyable, as I feel that I’ve broken through a barrier into a land of freedom.

This past semester, I challenged myself socially, by further befriending members of a fraternity I hope to join, even though a situation arose at the beginning of the term, where my bid was rejected.

In the future, I’m challenging myself to be on better terms with someone who might still believe ill of me.

15 Giese June 6, 2011 at 1:55 am

Good article, though I am amazed you have never wrote an article about bboying (breakdancing). It is all about hard work, pushing the limits of your body, and gaining respect. I may be biased but I feel like the bboy sub culture embodies a lot of what this site talks about.

16 Splashman June 6, 2011 at 1:57 am


I’m what you would call religious, and I agree with you wholeheartedly about the balance that AoM achieves. It doesn’t bother me at all that many of Brett’s articles ignore spiritual aspects of a particular subject, just as it doesn’t bother you that some do mention spiritual aspects. I always find something to learn from each article; that’s why I like this site so much.

17 Gene J. June 6, 2011 at 2:02 am

Wow. This is one of your best Brett!

18 Splashman June 6, 2011 at 2:20 am


If you look at Brett’s link, you’ll see a variety “scary” things listed, which I would divide into two categories:

1) Productive activities which we have no objective reason to be afraid of, but psychological baggage is getting in the way. For instance (from the list), cold-calling a new business opportunity, working out at a gym, raising your hand in class, asking somebody out on a date, or (re: Matt B.) driving a car.

2) Unproductive activities which everyone has an objective reason to be afraid of. For instance, jumping out of an airplane or any other “thrill sport”.

I’m guessing you would agree with me that confronting and overcoming fears in the former category is a laudable goal, and the latter is not.

Speaking of which, I was pleasantly surprised that Brett did not include “adrenaline rush” challenges in his list. Real life is full of challenges; when someone feels the need to manufacture more, it may be that they are avoiding the difficult ones.

19 Simon A. June 6, 2011 at 6:22 am

Really great article Brett! As Jeff T. mentioned, let’s not get hung up on a small point made about spirituality/religion.

Derp: it sounds like you’re the one trying to push a specific religious viewpoint, namely that religion is wrong.

The article simply challenges the reader to “practice what they preach/believe”. That is to say if you believe in a XYZ then your actions should match your belief. No mention of church or God here!

With regards to challenges we can set ourselves, I agree with Splashman’s distinction of productive vs unproductive activities. The article does well at outlining examples of productive challenges. As some further examples of unproductive challenges, I’d suggest frequent small physical challenges.

For example, if you’re about to get into an elevator, rather take the stairs and challenge yourself to reach your floor before the elevator does (it can be tough, trust me!). This does a great job of getting your heart pumping and leaves you ready to tackle the next challenge.

20 Brian Schorr June 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

What does it mean to be a man? For me it is finding something that challenges me on physical, mental, and spiritual levels. At 37 I find myself at a crossroads moment now that I’ve seen an ex-wife suffer with addiction and bipolar disorder. I’ve seen my retirement get destroyed, family members die from disease, and my ego take a beating looking for a job in this economy. I don’t feel like a man when I’m out of work looking for jobs below my last pay grade as my girlfriend works taking up the slack. I don’t feel like a man when after 300+ applications ten or so companies call me back. So, when looking for the challenge I found that there are plenty around me every day.

I agree with most of the ideas on this list your presented and I for one am glad to see this discussion taking place. Aside from the gym, which I discussed in a post about the last article, I find a challenge in getting up every day. Getting up again to send out more CVs and rewrite that cover letter. To find the mental toughness to keep going despite all the hard times that I’ve faced. To look for ways to reinvent myself so I can get that job and reclaim that feeling you get when your working. Working for something greater than myself, which is her and our future. I see a challenge dealing with people and try to learn a new way to negotiate, a new method of organizing myself, or a new conversation technique.

There is a challenge for my friends raising two children. There is a challenge working in 100 degree heat at that construction job. There is a challenge dealing with office politics at your firm. There is a challenge in staying true to what you are as a man. For me, it was about looking for ways to challenge myself in small ways every day. I found that this is the path to manhood.

21 ironhorse June 6, 2011 at 9:24 am

what a great website, just wanted to thank you for shareing, oh and been manly, you are a rear breed, best of luck brother

22 Ted Austin June 6, 2011 at 9:29 am

I agree and relate to Brian’s post. Each man must be able to find and accept their own cahallenges in life. Most of us are not going to be able to find the time or the resources to really get away and get off the beaten path and reconnect with our inner man. We must find ways to challenge ourselves in our daily lives that pushes us beyond our comfort zone. I’ve been learning alot about my self and what it means to be a man lately. This AoM has been a great resource. It’s great to have a place where men can talk about man things and how to become the man we all really want to be. The challenge in being man for me is balancing the lives of my family, work and man time on the edge of a blade. Thanks Brett for building this site. Thanks to all men who contribute.

23 Ian June 6, 2011 at 10:50 am

Brett, the first part of your article makes a few assumptions with which I disagree. The first part sounds like a Men’s Health argument, most of which are absurdly narcissistic. (I subscribed for three years and stopped reading after one). That part is the argument that greatness is all about reproduction.

First, I think women usually get with douchebags who have superficial qualities regardless of how heroic another man is. Women aren’t angelic, rational beings who reward heroes. They’re flawed and pick equally flawed men.

Second, I never do anything good or challenging with the hope of getting laid, although there are men who do. But I don’t think Alexander the Great did anything for anybody else.

Third, sexual success, such as Ghengis Khan’s, is certainly not intrinsically good. Khan was a butcher and a rapist, as were his troops, no matter how effective they were at war. Khan’s last words were something along the lines of “I gave all you bastards all the women and treasure you could ever want, but no one gives a damn about me!” Oh yeah, and the Mongolian Empire crashed when they split along Christian and Muslim lines after a campaign in the then-crusades era Holy Land. They lacked a spiritual center to begin with.

I like the rest of your article, but I agree with the commenters who endure suffering for a greater good more than the luxury elements of manliness. Oh yeah, and “Derp” is a cliche internet atheist troll. They’re a dime a dozen on Imgur.

24 Rob June 6, 2011 at 10:59 am


I was *completely* with you until I read this…

“Today, we generally lack those built-in challenges. Unlike primitive man, we don’t have to hunt our own food or protect our tribes from predators of the human and animal variety. And unlike our grandfathers, there is not a draft or world war to fight.”

So far, I myself have participated in three wars in the course of my 16 years in the military. Granted, I have not been drafted – but I *have* been prevented from leaving (stop-loss), and that’s almost as close (to me). And in two of the three wars, it wasn’t / isn’t uniform against uniform – my brothers and sisters in arms are truly protecting their fellow man from ‘predators of the human variety’ that terrorize their own nations as well as others. While I would never advocate to anyone to ‘man up and join the military/fight a war’ to achieve manhood, I would also say that many more of the men (and women) in the 18-23 bracket nowadays are *far* farther along in the Stage of Manliness then I was at that age.

Overall, I do agree with the concept of challenging yourself every day. I truly believe that nations are built on the ‘pioneering spirit’, and that they succumb and fall to things like laziness, irresponsibility, immaturity, and a desire to simply coast along in the successes achieved by our forefathers. I have taught my children three concepts (so far, successfully in two of them entering their adult lives): To realize that happiness is achieved through service, to realize that everything is a choice (and that choice has a concurrent responsibility), and to realize that, unless you’ve given your best effort, you have no right to complain.

So far they are successful. And (in my opinion) if the citizens of the nations could adopt these concepts, the world might be a much better place…

25 Thomas June 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

I would add expedition racing to the list of suggested physical challenges.

26 Michael V. Brewer June 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

RoninX wrote: “A morality grounded in faith is a cowardly abdication of reason. The spiritual man remains either partially a child dependant on the ‘whims’ of his belief system or a psychological bully coercing others to abandon their rational minds” (June 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm).

RoninX, thank you for that offensive and unproductive contribution to this conversation. On the subject of cowardice, you should consider your own conduct more carefully. Knowing your position to be controversial, you chose to use an anonymous alias to make that comment rather than include your real name. Your failure to accept responsibility for your opinion is a “cowardly abdication” of your manhood.

The question of morality without religion has been addressed at length by popular authors. One could refer to the works of Paul Chamberlain, Richard Dawkins, Greg Epstein, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Holloway, Stephen Pinker, and Michael Shermer, to name a few authors. No doubt your own beliefs have been influenced by some of these men, or their philosophical predecessors. While many criticize religion, few can offer a reasonable alternative as the basis for a moral or ethical system. Many have tried.

In brief, I think many men of this forum would be willing to continue a thoughtful discussion on the subject of faith and reason, on the condition that you take ownership of your comment and use your name. If you fail to “man up,” you are merely a provocateur.

27 Carter June 6, 2011 at 11:40 am

This series has allowed me to really analyze all aspects of my life and I can’t wait for the rest.


28 Mike June 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Ian, I see what you’re saying about reproductive success. Evolutionary principles, for reasons I don’t quite understand, are often used to determine what is good or right or permissible; this is certainly a step or two beyond what Brett is saying, as he clarifies that the section was explanation, not justification (“All this is to say that the men of the past were highly motivated…”). I would say that although some traits are effective and are what get passed down and define the current generation, they are not necessarily good (which I think was your point, Ian, in which case we are in agreement). If genes for behavioral traits that lead to unethical behavior are effective, passing them along is not good. That said, I find that the important point from that section is actually that, unlike women, men have had to take the described risks in order to be successful across our evolutionary history. It stands to reason that our current genes would rely on or encourage such risk-taking; either way, the end result is that success in the face of challenge (i.e., some level of risk of failure), perhaps even challenge itself, leads to a unique sense of well-being and/or improved psychological functioning in men.

I also agree that the luxury elements of manliness are not in themselves morally good (or evil, for that matter), but I would say such luxurious activities can be effective practice or effective in development of character, even if they are not effective in themselves. Just as reading expends time and does not help others directly, it can still benefit everyone in the end (much like taking classes, meditating, or praying from a secular point of view).

Luckily, with the advent and current prevalence of women-centered birth control in some societies, the link between the ability to simply get laid and reproductive success (evolutionarily speaking) are becoming separated. That said, there are plenty of other trends in evolutionary success that do not bode well for the functioning of typical individuals in the future, but this seems a bit afield from the current discussion.

29 Joe June 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm


Very good article. Keep this stuff coming. Thank you.

30 Justin June 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm

“DESIRE”….been hearing that word a lot lately….especially in “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill. Great article by the way.

31 Michael Smith June 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

“For though a righteous man falls 7 times, he rises again”

32 Ben C June 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I think this is the perfect theme song for this Switch:

33 Jon June 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Don’t give money to churches.

34 Luke June 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm

This is one of those articles that really makes me want to get out of the computer chair and sink my teeth into something that will better myself. Great read, and you did an awesome job not sounding ‘preachy’

35 James B. June 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Another inspiring article, Brett. A great piece to follow your previous Manvotional about facing your mistakes. No matter what kind of men we hold ourselves to be, most of us need a good kick in the pants every now and again as a reminder to push our manhood further.

36 John June 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Another excellent article! This series is great.
I’m in my early 30′s and have been lucky enough to enjoy some success both academically and in my career, but I often feel than I’m much less of a “man” than my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. All three had successful academic/corporate careers while also raising large families and undergoing the various challenges in the last century. I’m unmarried, single, and feel I don’t have the “mental toughness” that they all had. I’m definitely going to try and add some of these challenges to my life.

37 Dean Mehrkens June 6, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Excellent article, Brett. Too often we men take the path of least resistance and don’t strive for anything more than being average. What a waste of our masculinity!

I’m taking up the challenge of transforming myself into a runner by completing a 13 mile run by September. Distance running is a great way to challenge yourself physically and mentally.

What challenge is everyone else taking up?

38 Lee June 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Certainly one of the better articles published lately. Incredibly thought provoking. I never knew or thought that most men did not procreate way back in the day. While I knew how things were and this conclusion was only a step of logic away, it was your article that brought the truth into the light. Incredibly interesting and thought provoking.

Challenging oneself certainly seems good, and your historical basis seems spot on. However, going from the historical basis, what exactly would be the reward? Self reward, while good, does not seem nearly as good a reward as procreation. Money is good, but as you have stated, the risks can be huge. Risk aversion probably has a lot to do with having something to lose than being part of the modern world. Anyway, this article has provoked a lot of thinking.

39 Phil E. June 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Perfect. On time. Every last topic and paragraph contains stuff that, I think, all men know deep in the guts. Confirming it is a solid for us, so a big thanks to you for laying it out for us. Wonder why it’s so hard to find “how to” examples of this kind of traits in main stream western culture… Well, I actually think I know why it is… Topic for another day. Cheers, and happy “manning up.”

40 Brucifer June 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

I am compelled to weigh-in, and perhaps unpopularly so, on the “challenge” facing men. To my view, the true challenge is EVOLUTION. First, we must evolve past our supposed “biological imperative” to procreate. Brett’s article starts by illustrating the forces dealing with procreation. But, I mean seriously, why do so many modern men *still* feel impelled to procreate? Surely, having a child to pass on one’s “family name” or to “leave a legacy” is rooted in vastly antiquated notions of what “being a man” is about. (for that matter, why must modern women *still* fell that they are “not a REAL woman” until they drop-out a kid?) Our childish clinging to feeling we have to have children to feel ‘complete’ is fraught with error. I’ll leave it to you chaps to witness all the feckless “men” who are willy-nilly, the “baby-daddy” of the children of clueless “mothers” and decide if my argument has merit.

Secondly, to evolve, men should cast-off the crutch of religion. Especially those religions which focus upon endless whining, bleating and abasement to their deities. Despite being perhaps led by a (eunuch) male priesthood, such doings are at root, unmanly and the realm of women! If men want a spiritual aspect in their lives, construction of meaningful rites-of-passage for themselves and their sons, would be a most worthy endeavor.

41 John June 6, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Brucifer, although you make a good point that people should not blindly have children JUST for the sake of procreation and/or tradition/societal expectations, I believe the main point of the article is that men need to challenge themselves to reach their full potential and be happy. Sure, you can “evolve” past your biological imperative to mate simply for reproduction, but I don’t think that’s the point here.

42 Yong June 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Thanks! Art of Manliness keeps me going when I feel like life is too much to handle.

43 Alejandro June 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Every self-righteous feminist should read this series, but of course, they’re too busy protecting abortion rights and condemning all men anyway. I disagree with only one thing, however: Baumeister’s statement that women automatically deserve respect and men must earn it. Just about everyone deserves respect, but more importantly respect is something we all pretty much have to earn. You have to show respect to get it. A lot of women in this politically-correct environment feel they can do and say whatever they damn well please, and men especially have to respect them just because of their gender. That’s a crock! I’ve always defended men against the misandric and often-homophobic rhetoric of feminist ideology and have been denounced as a misogynist pig (a typical response whenever I’ve had the audacity to defend men). I don’t care if my actions are politically incorrect, or if they fly in the face of new-age thinking. We men are the way we are because of evolution and our hormones – as badly as they’ve been demonized – are what got us this far. There’s no record of women leading voyages across the world’s oceans in ancient times, and we didn’t see any women running up into the Twin Towers on 09/11/01!

44 JeffC June 6, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Rob posted (post #24): “And unlike our grandfathers, there is not a draft or world war to fight.” (emphasis mine)

Rob, thank you for your service. I sleep in relative safety at night because of you and men like you.

It was apparent in my reading that Brett was referring to a world war, the kind of conflict that sweeps a whole generation of men into battle along clearly-drawn lines of purpose, protection and conviction, and so galvanizes a wide cross-section of young manhood. That kind of war hasn’t come around for a while, and surely our generation has not seen such a war.

That’s not to take anything away from the men who wear the uniform today, and who serve courageously. You’re just fighting a different kind of war; of no less importance, but on a smaller scale, which will not have such a universal impact on the psyche and character of a generation of men.

45 JeffC June 6, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Alejandro, the original author might have done better to ditch the phrase “earned respect” for the sociological terms achieved status (status that is given because of merit) and ascribed status (status that is conferred by circumstances of birth by a particular society. Sex is a primary example: we ascribe different status to males than to females).

I believe his point, if I may re-phrase him, is that women tend to have an automatic status ascribed to them by virtue of their ability to carry and bear new life, and that has pretty much always been seen as completely adequate, whereas whatever ascribed status men enjoy by virtue of being male is not usually seen as adequate: they must achieve their status in the eyes of their culture by some measurable means of success.

46 JeffC June 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Addition: women’s primary achieved status has always come from 1) marrying, and 2) bearing children (just look at how desirable those two statuses are for the majority of women). Yes, in sociological terms, getting married is an “achievement” for both men and women, as it is something that you do, and almost always raises one’s status in the eyes of society-at-large.

47 Aleksanteri Karjalainen June 7, 2011 at 12:38 am

Just brilliant.

48 Splashman June 7, 2011 at 2:45 am

@Brucifer, you wrote “we must evolve past our supposed ‘biological imperative’ to procreate.”

Honestly, I laughed when I read that. Perhaps you are unaware that the theory of evolution states that desired traits (from genetic variation) are passed on to successive generations through . . . (wait for it) . . . procreation. Thus, from an evolutionary perspective (also a common-sense perspective) the biological imperative is self-sustaining, while your imperative is self-destructive.

But by all means, feel free not to procreate. My numerous progeny won’t complain.

49 Don E. Chute June 7, 2011 at 4:55 am

The Switch is ON(^)
The Challenge ain’t…it just is(^)
Now if I could just fornicate again…Where’s my club?


50 ivniv June 7, 2011 at 7:31 am

“Make it a goal to pray or meditate every morning and evening.”

Praying is completely pointless. Praying doesn’t do anything.

51 ivniv June 7, 2011 at 7:36 am

As I wrote above – > Make it a goal to pray or meditate every morning and evening.
What for? Challenge what, my patience? ->Challenge yourself to read your scriptures for 10 minutes or more a day.
If you like to help people and have some free time, sure! -> Commit to doing several hours of community service each month.

This is real wacko to me, coming from Sweden, however I believe most readers here are from USA thus Christianity is sadly still very big -> Start tithing 10% of your income to your church or to a charitable organization.
Take Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues Challenge

52 Will June 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

I was living in the mountains and highly active. Skiing all winter, hiking and flyfishing all summer. My county was over 80% public. Glorious. Then I moved to the burbs. I started working out but quickly got bored. Then one day i decided to run a half marathon. It took six months to get there and when I finished I wept. Now I tri and compete in at least two races a year. Challenge.

53 Evan West June 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Great article Brett. I wanted weigh in what I think is the most important aspect of a challenge, and that is purpose. I fully agree that we as men often feel a lack of challenge in our lives, but beyond that is a lack of purpose. Splashman touched on this when pointing out the differences of things that scare us, such as the difference between cold calling for a job interview or jumping out of a plane. The men of the Greatest Generation had purpose behind their motivations. Often we challenge ourselves not knowing what the purpose of the challenge is, what our goals are. Brett wrote a great bit on making goals several months back, which ultimately requires a good deal of introspection. The same goes for these challenges, a man must face himself and understand why he is pursuing something or attempt to perceive what he will gain from a challenge. Physical challenges, like the adrenaline related challenges, often become boring because we don’t take the time to let them affect change within us. We simply check off the challenge and move to the next. Some challenges seem to have built in purpose, like supporting your family, others require more thought, more asking “why?”. I think there is value in all challenges, even adrenaline or physical focused ones, but it is up to the one being challenged to make sure they are taking and receiving all that they can from that challenge. Without purpose that is found to be meaningful to the one being challenged challenge is empty.

54 D. Todd June 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

@Alejandro: Baumeister points out that there are some important biological controls on the differences between men and women (as opposed to only cultural controls). Women don’t engage in dangerous exploration missions because they bear the ascribed status (thanks JeffC) of bearing children. Same reasoning for rushing into burning buildings. Would you want groups of women adventuring around, conducting war and performing male-type heroic acts on a regular basis? The human species would be very different indeed. And it would be very different, if — imagine with me here — both men and women bore young. That is, if two were mated, what if it were up to chance which one–the male or the female–ended up bearing that particular offspring? That’s the stuff of science fiction and it is a world, I think, none of us would like.

We should all appreciate the different qualities of men and women. Thanks, AoM, for an engaging article.

55 Work In Progress June 8, 2011 at 12:34 am

Preventing myself from masturbating has been, and continues to be, my greatest challenge. At least once a day the thought will cross my mind. Some times I cave, other times I am able to resist. Every time I think about wanking off, I also think about what is causing me to do so. Naturally men every where have a libido to some level. But what in particular is motivating me? Is it anxiety? Am I remembering promiscuous moments with an ex? Am I thinking about porn (I used to be on it)? After I try to solve those problems by way of another method besides quick sexual gratification. I’ll admit, I’m stopping as it’s one of the requirements of the Catholic Church. But it has taught me so much. To deal with my problems. To respect women (by not entertaining fantasies). To never give up.

In my worst, I used to masturbate 3 times a day. It has been about 5-6 years since then. Now, I am able to go free my first week, think about it on and off by the end of week two, and cave around the end of week three. This is my challenge, and as we say in Christianity, “taking up the cross”. Good luck and God Bless to everyone else and their challenge.

56 Daniel Starr June 8, 2011 at 6:09 am

Thank You AoM,

And to Brett McKay, for another timely article to fuel and focus. Thank You ivniv for reminding us to be pragmatic, we all come from many walks of life and we must do what we feel is right for us. Thank You D.Todd for reminding us to question and wonder, what would the world be without possibility? Thank You Evan West for your input about having purpose, keeping the big picture in mind will undoubtedly serve as an unwavering compass. Thank You Work In Progress for reminding us to acknowledge the need for lack of vice in ones’ life, honesty very much a part of the human condition.

I must admit; every one of the challenges listed in this article has rested squarely on my conscience, and In truth, I find the effort to struggle against the dictates of my conscience a greater challenge than all obstacles I should meet if I were to keep it a trusted friend to ride into battle with. I believe this starts with the most basic need of instinct, and carries through to self-actualization.

My challenge is this: To make my Conscience a friend, knowing it’s essence to be a divine spark of creation, who has the best interests of all at heart. It is with earnestness I devise this, and I hope it will touch as near the truth as possible.

Fair Journey To All.

57 Magnus Ward June 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Five switches thing is good.

Something you to comment on is the flip side of the coin. If you DON’T challenge yourself, you start a vicious cycle downwards to mediocrity. The only way to get out is to get the ball rolling with a challenge.

Taking challenges builds the testosterone you need to take more challenges. When you have man hormones in you, challenges won’t be perceived badly, but as ways to test your DEPTHS. Something SATISFYING not frightening. Real Men have a particular ZEAL for Challenges. Imagine the difference between their reactions to challenges and a wuss’s reaction and you’ll have a direction in which to head. The blog in my link “” has a few articles on this

“Problems Only Weaken Wussies”
“If you don’t learn to enjoy Manhood, you might as well chop off your balls.”

I think that about sums it up.


58 JeremyM June 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I thought this was a great post, thank you Brett for the time spent preparing it. I wanted to respond to someone who criticized the comment about the respect that men and women receive and how that respect is granted in differing ways between the sexes.

I don’t believe that the author of that quote intended to say that women SHOULD automatically be respected while men SHOULD have to earn respect; I feel that he was simply stating an observation of how these things work in our culture.

Think about it…men are perceived as being relatively worthless until they graduate, start a career, maintain their own residence, pay all their own bills, start a family (in some circles)…you get the idea. Men have to BECOME men. There is a great deal of achievements expected of men before they can receive respect. Not only do they have to reach these achievements, but they also will gain or lose respect based on the level they reach in comparison to other men and also based on their perceived integrity, confidence, and a number of other perceived traits.

Is it a bad thing that so much is expected from men before they can be respected? No…I wouldn’t say so. It pushes them to get out and achieve something. As Brett discussed, if these expectations go away…suddenly civilization falls because we stop producing.

On the other side of things…not as much is really expected of women solely as it relates to INHERENTLY being respected as they come of age. (Please, to all of the trolls out there, notice that I didn’t say that people don’t expect much of women period, keep any responses relevant.) This has been gradually changing with the rise of the feminist movement as those leaders teach women to become men (not going to get into that one right now), but…………to pull this back in………..women are inherently respected without any consideration to who they are or what they do until they do something to LOSE that respect. That is what the author stated. That is NOT how things should be. Even among feminists who push women to attain advanced degrees, climb the corporate ladder, and push men out of their way because “women can do it better”……………it isn’t expected or required of them to undertake these challenges to be respected as women. That is the point.

59 Eldon James June 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm

For starters, ivnir, praying might just reduce the huge number of suicides in your forlorn Sweden. Never understood why athiests become so offensive when they come in contact with people of faith, especially when talking to the famously non-violent Christians. Athiests do, however, seem to show deference to Muslims. Maybe it’s that nasty fear of beheading and all, but on the whole, still smacks of cowardice.

60 Rob June 8, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Eldon James, I don’t think Christians are considered particularly non-violent by anyone other than themselves. There are countless historic examples of violence committed in the name of Christianity (not so many in the name of atheism). Christians (as well as people of most other religions) are, however, famously self-righteous and superior in their own assessment.

61 Rob June 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm

That being said, I’m a big fan of this blog. I just try to ignore or tolerate the religious stuff.

62 Evan June 9, 2011 at 10:33 am

@Ivniv, of course you wouldn’t see spiritual growth as a challenge, because you don’t hold spirituality as a value, which is a shame. Those who are in touch with their spiritual sides are often much more able to deal with problems better than those who aren’t.

@Work In Progress, good job man, I’m pulling for you! Many people fail to see the crippling effect mastication has on a man’s life (and it goes for women too), whether or not they are religious.

@ Eldon James, I admire your passion, but next time try a little more tact, eh?
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” -Proverbs 19:2

@Rob, proud Christians irritate me as much as they do you, and none of them should be self righteous, for as any of the “good” ones should know; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” -Romans 3:23
However, the assertion you made about violent acts is false, and I IMPLORE you to actually do the research to back up this claim. As it turns out, democides committed by religious regimes is only around 3%, while democides committed by non-religious regimes is around 97%, many of which were committed when atheist leaders were in power. This should be surprising since atheism is a relatively modern worldview. Not that I am attacking atheists in any way, I’m just saying you should do your research first.

@Brett, a good article, as usual. I’m glad to see that you decided to tackle the concept of the “switches of manliness” because although it could/can be a difficult and complicated issue, I do belive it is a real one that we as men have to deal with. Men live for challenges, and men who don’t challenge themselves aren’t really men. In the words of William Wallace, “All men die, not all men truly live.”
I think what really flips this switch though is a PURPOSEFUL challenge. When we are doing something for a reason, something that matters, that’s what gives us the drive to overcome, and the satisfaction of reaching our goals…

63 Carlton June 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Faithless manhood is an oxymoron. Your choice of words…reread what you wrote. Unless you are severely undereducated…”Thems fightin words.”

At 51, I would still enjoy the challenge of punching your teeth in…assuming it knocked any sense into your faithless skull!! LOL.

64 Warren June 10, 2011 at 3:48 am

Fucking brilliant article. Never felt like more of a man. I feel like i can bench press the earth
Very inspiring

65 Smart T June 10, 2011 at 4:57 am

Very Inspiring. Thank you!

66 Mike June 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm

@Splashman, regarding the biological imperative. I attempted to explain the difference between mechanism and value in a previous post. The mechanism of evolution does not select for what a person or people consider valuable (e.g., strength, intelligence, character), it selects for what genes further themselves, which is problematic in a post-scarcity society (for a silly example, see “Idiocracy”). Although I disagree with most of his points, Brucifer makes a strong suggestion in explaining that we should evolve past the mechanism of evolution. Our ability to intelligently select for what is valued culturally has not yet significantly replaced simple selection (note modern, first-world survival rates for previously fatal conditions, which indicate how simple selection is reduced; most people survive well enough to reproduce, hence the ~50/50 male/female population), but even evolutionary principle would suggest that we would be served as a race and as individuals if we manage to control our genetic makeup (assuming our values are reasonably effective compared to pseudo-random mutation). Further, even if you have millions of progeny, very little of your genetic information will survive (and it will be obsolete at some point anyway), so even the curious notion of genetic pride is a silly value to hang your hat on. Instead, we should seek to continue to evolve as a species, transcending the current form. Of course, even this is meaningless unless it is explicitly valued. If we can ensure our survival as a species process, we should “artificially” select for those things that are valued (altruism, physical and mental abilities, etc.) regardless of how many survivable offspring they result in. Then again, this seems to imply that the lesser based on cultural values are indeed the less valuable or worthy, which is only somewhat more sophisticated ethically than natural selection. What Brucifer is saying is that we have metaphysically evolved past the notions of eugenics and self-propagation. I understand the eugenics mindset and the mindset that one should have as many effective progeny as possible (a common, self-centered version of eugenics often inexplicably “justified” by science) are tempting and even highly effective, but I am of the opinion that it is a moral imperative for our species to move past these ideas in ways that solve the actual implications of (read: problems associated with) moving past them.

67 Mike June 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm

First off, I apologize for the double post, despite the secondary topic.

@Evan, I am quite surprised that religious groups don’t have a better share of killing than 3%, given the way people have been able to twist religious ideas and channel religious zeal into horrific actions. Is this an exact figure given the data or an approximation/estimate/guess/exaggeration? Would a range of confidence be a more appropriate measure? Also, do you have a handy source.

My attempt at a post-hoc explanation is that, given atheism or no religion, you can simply skip the twisting part through power, or use nationalism or some other zeal that lacks an explicit morality as justification; with fewer hoops to jump through, turning people against people would be even more efficient.

Makes sense now that I hear it. I guess it’s fitting that the religious episodes tend to document and publicize (that is, “confess”) their crimes best; hopefully, this so-far highly effective history will prevent the natural rate of repeats without distracting from the other sources of atrocities. It does seem that most modern religions have learned from these mistakes and/or now have a strong theology to largely prevent these twists.

68 Robert Weedall June 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I suppose it behooves someone to point out that there are also countless multitudes who reached for greatness and failed at it? Repeatedly.

Sorry to be a downer, but a bit of reality is needed in this sort of situation I think.

Oh and a quick history lesson, since at least the 17th century every generation is depicted as more decedant, more pleasure loving and more stupid than its predecesor. It is also complete and total horseshit to suppose that that is actually true. The georgians wore wigs the size of sofas and drank more gin and beer than water, they also happened to eventually spread classical liberalism throughout the globe and beat Napoleon.

And as they say “history is written by the victor” you don’t think that a lot of people who were beaten in war were immediatly depicted as incompetent pleasure seeking fools. You need only look at the vast amount of literature about the mandate of Heaven in Imperial China to see that.

69 Mike June 11, 2011 at 1:38 am

I have to address a few things that are just too blatantly wrong:

Tithing isn’t pointless. Tithing teaches a man that money and possessions aren’t the most important things in his life. If you’re having a hard time trusting that your church uses the tithe for proper purposes, find another church! There’s millions of them. If there isn’t an honest and doctrinally sound one within a reasonable distance, START ONE! You did want a challenge right? Prepare to struggle with that one.

Reading the Bible isn’t pointless either. It’s actually one of the hardest things for a Christian to do. There’s an unending tide of problems in everyone’s life that compete for their attention, and reading the Bible every day is one of the first things to get sidelined. As for usefulness, the Bible is the manual for the Christian. It establishes a worldview that touches every aspect of life. If one wants to make life work, it surely pays to RTFM. Otherwise one is vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation. The violence that is so often laid at the feet of Christ is really caused by a lack of knowledge among Christians.

Praying isn’t useless either, and likewise it’s also a great challenge. It seems so trivial that it’s often left undone, but in addition to its value as communication with God, it also provides a means of examining one’s life. What did Socrates say about the unexamined life?

The biggest challenge in my life so far has been a term of service with the Army. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a change in their life. It will stretch the bounds of what you think you can do and it can really make you examine who you are and what you stand for. It’s not just the physical stuff either, as you have to be able to answer the question of what you’re willing to give your life for.

Another worthwhile challenge is staring a small business. There’s a huge volume of information to learn and countless ways to fail, but in the end if you succeed in showing a profit it’s very rewarding.

70 Soberus June 11, 2011 at 3:32 am

Great article!!! I especially applaud the daily prayer and scripture portion as I am not the best at keeping this goal. I am tired of the political correctness agenda in which God is left out but non-spiritual agendas are encouraged.

71 josef bugman June 11, 2011 at 3:58 am

Oh yes, starting a church. I mean there is a fine line between “challenge” and “pointless thing that will cost money” but THIS? This is a line between “challenge” and “Trying to break the moon with a ball peen hammer”.

I will admit, staying awake through some of the books of the bible is a great deal more of a challenge than some of the things on this list.

And why not just give your own money to charities right away? Doing it via tithe just means it going through one additional layer of bureacracy before it reaches it’s intended audience.

72 Josh Knowles June 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Rather than arguing about all sorts of things (religion, human biology, etc) I thought it might be worthwhile to share a challenge I’m currently working on.

It’s not a huge thing really, but for me it’s important. I’m working on fixing up my wife’s old bicycle. She’s had it for a few years now. It was one of those old bicycles that has seen better days. I think someone left it behind when they were moving. She’s always said she likes it because it’s nice to ride and she finds it comfortable. It’s just ugly as all get out. It’s rusty, the hand grips don’t match, it has too different kinds of tires and rims, and it only has one fender. I decided that it was still worth saving.

I managed to scrounge parts off of some abandoned bicycles. (I live on a college campus, and people often just leave bicycles behind when they leave). I got some help and a few parts from a local guy who fixed bikes as a hobby. I broke down and bought a new seat for it since the seats on most salvaged bicycles I found were in tough shape.

Last weekend I started. I had never really worked on a bicycle much before, other than just adjusting brake calipers and so on. That part went well. My grandpa taught automotive for years, and dad’s a mechanic, so I guess it’s just in my blood.

Things went south in a big way on the paint job. The long and the short of it was that due to a shortage of paint I mixed two different kinds and they didn’t bond correctly at all. It blistered and sagged and looked really bad. I was tempted to just give up on the project and buy a new bike. But in the end I decided that would be the worst thing I could do. This is a challenge I need to see through to its completion.

I bought some more paint: this time better quality automotive paint. I’m reading up on how to did a better job. I’m planning on trying again over the July long weekend. I’ve really learned a lot through this challenge already – not just about how a bicycle works, but also about determination and patience.

73 lovjatho June 13, 2011 at 2:44 am

Good website, but stop trying to convince people to be religious.

74 lovjatho June 13, 2011 at 2:54 am


“Tithing isn’t pointless. Tithing teaches a man that money and possessions aren’t the most important things in his life.”

You are correct. However, the author is suggesting people give to a church. That’s a pretty damn stupid thing for someone to do who thinks religion is bad. The post is obviously targeted at a religious audience.

“If you’re having a hard time trusting that your church uses the tithe for proper purposes, find another church!”

See above.

“Reading the Bible isn’t pointless either.”

See above.

“It’s actually one of the hardest things for a Christian to do.”

You have evidently never tried wrestling a bear while playing strip poker with an angry Scotsman.

“reading the Bible every day is one of the first things to get sidelined.”

Because for most people, it’s pointless. Even Christians.

“As for usefulness, the Bible is the manual for the Christian. It establishes a worldview that touches every aspect of life.”

The bible is so massive, loosely translated, and vague that you can draw any meaning you want about anything from it.

“The violence that is so often laid at the feet of Christ is really caused by a lack of knowledge among Christians.”

Yeah, the problem is that being Christian means you fundamentally have a lack of knowledge.

“Praying isn’t useless either, and likewise it’s also a great challenge. It seems so trivial that it’s often left undone, but in addition to its value as communication with God,”

You did not say why praying is useful. You jumped straight to ‘in addition’ (which by the way, is useless for someone who does not believe in God).

75 Tim June 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

Thanks, Brett, for another awesome article.
To add my two cents to the Christian/Atheist thing going on right now: In my personal experience, Atheists I have known do very little reading outside of their worldview. So I hereby challenge readers interested in the roots of morality to start with C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Abolition of Man’, which can be read in its entirety here:
It’s short, it’s worth every minute.

Atheists/Agnostics/other religions- feel free to respond with books you feel that we Christians should read to expand our worldviews.

76 Corey June 13, 2011 at 11:17 am

Great work. I have really enjoyed the ongoing series you have done. I think they best exemplify what this site is about. A man could gain a lot through challenging himself in each of the areas you suggested. I enjoyed the links to the Greatest Books of the Western World and Benjamin Franklins virtue challenge.

77 Mario June 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm

After college I started bartending, just sort of coasting through life. After an argument with one of the chefs who was bitching about how much harder his job is and takes so much more skill than bartending i decided to make a life changing decision. So what did I do, I asked if he could train me as a chef. Best decision of my life. I finally have found a true art form that I am a natural at and I am currently opening my second restaurant. Sure beats bartending

78 Steven June 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I’ve never heard anyone blame the financial crisis on “male risk taking.” I’d love to see a source for this claim.

The consensus is that the crisis was causes by predatory lending, and securitization of overvalued assets.

79 Brett McKay June 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm
80 Daniel June 16, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I fully agree with the post.
I’m a paramedic by profession, because I found the course and it was basically a three year compliation of stuff I was too scared to do in school. So far I’ve jumped out of a chopper from a hight of 3 storeys, been in a gun fight unarmed, done hostage rescue with the south african SWAT (again unarmed), done rope rescue in the mountains despite a fear of hights, done fire and confined space rescue despite a fear of small spaces and tons of other stuff.
I’ve never grown as a man like I did over those three years; so literally, just make a list of all the stuff that scares the s**t out of you and then do it.

81 Andy O June 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Great article and series. Haven’t been on AOM much of late (due to a Challenge I just took on and will describe below), but seems like it’s only gotten better in the interval.

I can attest to the energizing properties of immersing oneself in a serious challenge. I lie in Nigeria, where politics is often violent and corrupt, and elections are seldom free or fair. Let’s just say challenging an incumbent in a local election is considered futility, madness or suicide. Politics here is also expensive like America, but with none of the public fundraising. The political class is close-knit, so newcomers -especially young ones- have it rough. So when a 30-year-old is picked to run his friend’s campaign against the sitting Governor of an oil-producing State, he’s signing up for a 5-month nightmare.

Well, we won the popular vote, even though the final results were changed by military interference. We’re in court, and while it’s all quite annoying, my confidence is now through the roof. I have found other, more mundane problems freak me out much less than before.

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