Want to Feel Like a Man? Then Act Like One

by Brett on May 13, 2012 · 131 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Since starting The Art of Manliness nearly five years ago, I’ve interacted with thousands of men from all over the world. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that many grown men out there simply don’t feel like men. I’m not talking about “feeling like a man” in the cartoonish, hyper-masculine sense. Rather, I’m talking about “feeling like a man” in the sense of that quiet confidence that comes from moving from boyhood into mature masculinity.

Many of the guys I’ve talked to (particularly the ones in their 20s and 30s) have confessed to me that they still feel like a teenage boy walking around in a grown man’s body. Because they don’t feel like mature men, many of these young men are putting off adult responsibilities like careers, families, and civic involvement until they can look at themselves in the mirror and say: “I’m a man.”  In the meantime, these young men drift insecurely through life, wondering when they’ll finally start feeling like grown men.

We’ve talked a lot on the site about why young men today are struggling with the transition from boyhood to mature masculinity–lack of a rite of passage and positive male mentors, a faulty definition of manhood, and sociological and economical shifts are just a few of the reasons we’ve discussed.

While all those things have certainly contributed to the enervated state of modern masculinity, I think an underlying problem is that young men today are simply following modern, conventional wisdom on how a person “becomes” who they want to be.

I’ll Do It When I Feel Like It

Conventional wisdom tells us that before we do something, we first need to feel like doing it or feel like the kind of person who would do that sort of thing. And in order to feel like doing something, the thinking goes, you need to get in the right mindset, “find yourself,” or discover your “deep inner truth.”

So young men following conventional wisdom drift through life waiting until they feel like a man before they take their place in the circle of men. They believe that at some magical moment in the future, they’ll feel like a grown man, and once that happens they’ll finally have the motivation to start doing manly things. Or they read books, meditate about masculinity, and attend weekend men’s retreats, hoping that they’ll start to feel like a man through pondering manhood. But they don’t seem to make much progress. Sure, they have their moments of inspiration, but when the retreat is over or the book is finished, they’re back to feeling insecure about their status as men.

But the problem with conventional wisdom on how a person “becomes” is that it doesn’t work. At least not very well. Nine times out of ten you won’t magically start feeling like a man by simply thinking about becoming a man. So how can you start feeling like the man you’ve always wanted to be? By following the advice given by both ancient philosophers and modern psychologists: to feel like a man, you have to act like a man.

Ancient and Modern Wisdom on Becoming

Several ancient cultures and religions taught the way to belief and personal identity was not through contemplation, but rather though action. They understood the power that our outward actions have on our inner psyche.

According to the Torah, when Moses stood atop Mount Sinai and presented his people the stone tablets with the Law of Jehovah inscribed upon them, the Hebrews spoke in unison “na’aseh v’nishma,” which meansWe will do and we will understand.Basically the Hebrews covenanted that they would live the Law first, in the hope that through living the law they would eventually come to understand it.  Today, this statement represents a Jewish person’s commitment to live all the Law of Moses even if they don’t fully understand the reasons behind each commandment. Modern rabbis teach that na’aseh v’nishma is how one comes to understand God and His laws for man. By living the outward ordinances, a change happens within.

Esquire editor and self-proclaimed “Jew in the same sense that the Olive Garden is Italian food,”  A.J. Jacobs put the principle of na’aseh v’nishma to the test in his hilarious memoir, A Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Jacobs didn’t just try to live the Ten Commandments perfectly for a year, but also the over 600 obscure laws found throughout the Bible, like not shaving the corners of your beard, blowing a shofar before prayer, and not sitting where a menstruating woman has sat (that one got him in trouble with his wife).

Coming from a scientific and agnostic family, Jacobs saw many of the rituals and laws of his cultural heritage as strange and irrational. But after a year of trying to live according to the Bible, Jacobs felt his attitude shift about religious rituals and even the divine. While he didn’t convert from being a secular Jew into a full-on theist, Mr. Jacobs now considers himself a “reverent agnostic,” who believes “that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred.” Jacobs credits his attitude shift to living Biblical principles even when he wasn’t sure of the reason behind them; he acted first without understanding to become a more reverent person.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught something similar to na’aseh v’nishma in his Nicomachean Ethics. In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle lays out his idea of the “Good Life” and how to obtain it.  For Aristotle the Good Life meant living a life of virtue. Unlike some Greek philosophers who believed that virtuous living came only from pondering upon the virtues, Aristotle believed that understanding wasn’t enough. To become virtuous, you had to act virtuous.

But the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g., men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

Virtues don’t come through simply thinking about them. You have to “exercise them.” Aristotle’s promise is this: if you want a virtue, act as if you already have it and then it will be yours. Change comes through action. Act first, then become.

The Patron Saint of Manliness, Teddy Roosevelt, also lived by this principle of acting in order to become. He said:

There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to “mean” horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.

Teddy wanted to be fearless even though he wasn’t. Instead of sitting around and thinking his way into courage, TR put himself into dangerous and uncomfortable situations and acted courageously. Eventually he became the man who led the charge up San Juan Hill and journeyed down an unexplored river in the Amazon. He took action in order to become the man he wanted to be.

Modern psychologists have a theory on why acting-to-become is such an effective way of changing who you are and how you feel about yourself: cognitive dissonance. When there’s a conflict between your self-perception and how you’re actually behaving, you experience dissonance or tension, and your brain moves to close the gap by shifting how you feel about yourself to match how you’re acting.

In her book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now, adult developmental psychologist Meg Jay recounts an exchange she had with a 27 year old male client named Sam who had been drifting along for most of his adult life while living in his parents’ basement:

“It’s weird,” Sam said. “The older I get, the less I feel like a man.”

“I’m not sure you’re giving yourself much to feel like a man about,” I offered.

Sam had it all backward. The way he saw it, he couldn’t join the world until he felt like a man, but he wasn’t going to feel like a man until he joined the world.

Dr. Jay goes on to share how Sam’s attitude about himself started to change once he began doing grown man things like starting a career, establishing a committed romantic relationship, and moving out of his parents’ basement and into his own place. Sam started to act like a man and consequently he began to feel like one. He gave himself something to feel like a man about.

Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t feel like a man, you simply need to start behaving like the man you want to become and eventually you’ll start feeling like you’re that man. Act as if. Fake it until you make it.  Your brain will eventually align your attitude/belief about yourself with your new behavior.

Your Act Like a Man to Feel Like a Man Roadmap

If you’re ready to start feeling like the man you’ve always wanted to be, today’s the day you begin that journey. Like any journey, it’s nice to have a map:

1. Figure out what sort of man you want to be.  Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that contemplating manliness is a waste of time. Far from it. As we argued in Manliness Doesn’t Just Happen, contemplating masculinity and manliness is an essential step in becoming an honorable man. It’s not enough to know you need to act, you also need to know what actions to take. What should we start doing? Where do we hope our actions will lead us? So begin at the end. What sort of man do you want to become? Maybe you have a personal hero or a grandfather or a mentor who personifies your ideal version of manhood. Once you know what kind of man you want to be, study and contemplate how that sort of man would live his life. What would he do when facing adversity?  What would his daily routine be like? How would he dress? How does he treat his significant other? Form a Cabinet of Invisible Counselors to guide you on your journey.

2. Start doing the things that sort of man would do. Even if you don’t feel like it. Once you know what sort of things your ideal man would do, start doing them, and here’s the most important part, do them even if you don’t feel like it. Some of the stuff you’ll have to do will be hard, some it may make you feel uncomfortable, and some of it will make you feel like a phony. Ignore those feelings. That’s just the Resistance, as Steven Pressfield would say. Know that with time, your new manful actions will transform the way you feel about yourself. You will begin to see yourself as a man.

3. Virile agitur for the rest of your life. Even when you go through a rite of passage that really transforms you and puts you on the right path, you can’t rest on your laurels. Becoming a man is not a one time decision or event: it’s something you have to choose every day. It’s like shaving; just because you do it once doesn’t mean you’re done; you still have to wake up and do it again in the morning. Virile agitur is a Latin phrase which means, “The manly thing is being done.” Is being done. Always and forever ongoing. Take that as your motto for manhood.

{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Jrobertlysaght May 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I find so much value in this article, and do not wish to take anything away from it. I would however, like to pose a further question, or perhaps concern.
I shall use myself as an example. I just turned 40.Could never afford college, and should not need a degree to earn a modest living (I won’t get into why we don’t respect honest work anymore). I worked as a baker for over 15 years, then switched to retail after watching the restaurants and bakeries cut hours, revoke health care, etc. I am now in retail, at the managerial level, and find that the same trend is now occurring there. Even managers now get 20-30 hours weekly. And with the surplus of workers, good luck being hired for a second job without %100 availability. So much for manning up and working more if you are poor. Now, I had a grandfather for a role model, so I act like a man. I hold that door, look you in the eye, am first to do what needs done. At 40, I Live in a studio apartment (all I can afford). Don’t own a home. Drive a 1990 toyota with 300,000 miles.

So, when exactly do I start feeling like a grown man?

102 Pablo May 21, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Great article! I especially love point #2, “Start doing the things that sort of man would do. Even if you don’t feel like it.”

I feel like I preach this to my close friends too much sometimes. A lot of them complain but when given opportunity they shy away because “they don’t feel like it.”

I don’t feel like doing a lot of things that I do but I do them because it’s who I eventually want to become. I went from being the quiet and shy boy to an adventurous, curious and respectful man.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit – Aristotle

103 Rhygar May 22, 2012 at 12:25 am

The problem with “do it even if you don’t understand it” is that, all too often, you can do something bad. Habit, in and of itself, is NOT a good thing. It’s not a bad thing, either, for that mater–it just is. The problem is when something becomes habit, we don’t want to change it even if we think we should–and that problem only grows when we blindly pursue habits, thinking they’ll help us without really thinking them through.

Becoming “reverent”, to use just one example from the article, isn’t exactly a good thing if the only reason is because you forced yourself to adopt (unscientific and irrational) habits. That goes DIRECTLY against “Aristotle believed that man’s purpose was to take actions guided by rational thought [...]” as quoted from your “What is Manliness?” article, linked to from this article, which was put forth as a neat synopsis of part of the very definition of “manliness”.

Purposefully changing our personalities without anything more rational than through mere habit is–well, it’s irrational. There’s no purpose, there. There’s no good “reason” for it. Doing it because “I hope it might help me out at some point, even if I’m not sure how”, which is the core of the reason put forth for adopting these habits in the first place, is a bad reason.

I agree that sitting on one’s thumbs and thinking ABOUT manliness while chanting in the woods during a glorified seminar will get you bupkis, but setting aside reason and ration in the pursuit of habit isn’t any better. One needs knowledge, data, and then they need to act ON that data.

I normally don’t comment on the articles, I admit, but that’s mainly because for most of them, all I’d be doing is adding one more “Nice article” comment in with the rest. Here, though–not only does the advice seem more of a hindrance, but it goes directly against the definition of what this entire site is about.

104 Kevin May 22, 2012 at 6:51 am

I think, Rhygar, your missing the point. If you need NEED to feel manly and you already are not then here is an option. Start. Start doing the thing. Now Rhygar if you have another idea for a man who doesn’t feel like a man to start feeling like a man please enlighten us instead of critizing the core. Or perhaps that is what a man is to you, someone who can tear down another man to feel he is manly. Is this a fencing match?
Truly Rhygar feel free to share your thoughts for the man who has no mentors because he can find little in other men to inspire him. That would be me in my crticle mind. In my grateful mind/attitiude I can see plenty to inspire me and life is really healthy for all those that have an attitude of gratefulness. Because it’s easier to be critical the harder thing is to share gratitude. You can see it most everywhere the faces of gratefullness are difficult to find.

105 James Poteet May 23, 2012 at 10:25 am

I really love this article, but there’s something in here that I think is missing the power of the Gospel. This “Do to Understand” is religion, it is the failure of the Law. It taught the followers of the Law that they could NOT do and that is the ultimate understanding through the Law.
The Gospel is really something quite different. The Gospel is that Christ has already done it. Christ is the Perfect Man and I am in Christ. You may not feel like it, there may be that psychological dissonance you were talking about, but Faith says “God’s Word is true and God says that in Christ I have been made perfect.” Then live based on that faith. It still looks the same way from the outside, but on the inside, the complete perfection of Christ is available RIGHT NOW for us to live. In faith then, we can go DO it, not to eventually understand it or become it, but in faith that in Christ I already am it. That it is Christ’s power that lives this perfect masculinity and not my own.

106 Michael May 24, 2012 at 5:21 pm


What I’m interested in is anyone’s thinking on the conceptual linkages, if any, between these two things. My question is this: IS THERE SUCH A THING AS COGNITIVE CONSTRUAL AUTHORITY?

I see this issue as an cognitive dimension to the issue over what “agential authority” consists in? Can an agent’s authority spill over into the cognitive domain, where the agent’s authority can (and, of a right, should) be exercised in making truth-evaluable judgments about the world?

An exercise of cognitive construal agency consists in a person’s — or cognitive agent’s — making a judgment, one that sets up an interpretation of a situation or event in life. That interpretation may only be one among various possible other spins one could put on a given life-event and some of these may be logically incompatible with it. I am not at all sure what “personal authority” means other than that people often use this word in a way that seems synonymous either with (1) the authority a person has in virtue of their domain-linked expertise or (2) general confidence in their personal–that is, individual–ability to make judgments. (2) entails a self-referential belief in the truth-detecting efficacy of one’s personal cognitive powers. This raises the question whether the ‘can’ of ability (ableness) is conceptually prior to the normative ‘can’ (of permission). Is agential authority grounded (justified) on cognitive competency?

I’m interested in the philosophical significance of believing in one’s own cognitive judgment, where that seems to entail a self-referential belief in one’s own “personal authority” to make truth-evaluable judgments about me and the world and my relationship to it, whether about what those de facto relationships are or what they ought to be. (I exercise first-personal authority in ‘deciding’ the truth of claims asserting what I’m supposed to be.)

The root of the issue seems to be this: that the world REALLY IS a certain way is itself a judgment that I believe and am persuaded of PRECISELY BECAUSE I am the one who originated the judgment. How can the world appear to me in a certain way and do so WITH a fairly high degree of believability or assurance (belief-likeness) to a cognitive subject (me) who knows that its so appearing is due, in large part, to his volitionally OPTING to view the world in that way (contrary to other, say pessimistic or self-belittling alternatives)? Does this require a *metacognitive belief* in one’s own cognitive efficacy, or is there some other property–call it “personal authority”–that is necessary for one to “live one’s own reality?”

To give this issue some concrete reality, I can state the problem in first-personal terms. My father died when I was six and my mother always suffered from very low -self-belief, I grew up never feeling that sense (that other men have) that what I think (of me or of life-events that concern me) is what MATTERS. So, I spent 15 years trying to get the PhD (now, I see, to compensate for this lack of, what? “personal authority”). Now I am starting to ACKNOWLEDGE MYSELF as a sort of PEER-MIND, one whose judgments have _____. Authority? For the first time in my life, I am, on more and more occasions, able to DISMISS the construals or opinions that others have about me or that other philosophers have about what constitutes ‘reality’. It’s as if I’ve discovered an ability that has been dormant ALL MY LIFE. But how can that be? But I have to exert myself, sometimes with extreme effort, to exercise this ability, this COGNITIVE CONSTRUAL AUTHORITY, if that’s what it is. I’m convinced that this is the sin quo non of being a “real man” or an “Alpha Male” (in the parlance of our times).

107 Michael May 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm


First, props to Brett for another well-written, soberly researched, and illuminating article.

Below I want to make a few additions.

First, I agree with the general formula that Brett argues for. Here are the main components:

1) Determine what kind of man you want to be.
2) Determine which actions, or action-types, are CONSISTENT with being this sort of man, which action-types are genuine expressions or ENACTMENTS of the man you want to be.
3) Whenever you are in a situation where you have the option to do whichever action-types indicated in (2 applies; do not hang around waiting for the ‘right state of mind’ before you act’. (More about this in a moment.)

****Commentary on Brett’s analysis****

Concerning (1): This has a lot to do with self-knowledge. You probably already have some idea of the man you ASPIRE TO BE — your ASPIRATIONAL IDENTITY, what you, not someone else, think you are *supposed to be*.

Possible Pitfalls:
Allowing someone else (parent, say) determine what you’re supposed to be. For a dramatic representation of the TRAGIC consequences of letting parents have the reigns of personal authority, see the film, DEAD POET’S SOCIETY. Ask: why did the character shoot himself in the head? Because he thought he was in a dilemma, both horns of which were self-negating or self-erasing.

Either Be what my parents want me to be, in which case, commit psychological suicide;
Or, be what *I* want to be, in which case in which case I disappoint my parents and fail at being the “dutiful son” — a mere vehicle through which my parent’s failed dreams are to be realized.

Third option (often not taken): Acknowledge that you are, at the very minimum, a PERSONAL AGENT, not an EXTENSION OF SOMEONE ELSE’S PSYCHOLOGICAL REALITY. You have the causal capability to direct and determine the course of your life.

Don’t be the invisible man. Assert who you want to be.

Concerning (2): Where do you find information about what kind of man you want to be. Answer: MODELS. Brett has made much of this point. And it can’t be under-stressed.

Where are good models of men to be found? either in real life or in the symbolic media (e.g., TV, film, or literature). Here are some of my symbolic models:

1) Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn, Lord of the RIngs)
2) Russell Crowe (Captain Aubrey, Master and Commander)
3) Johnny Depp (His “f**k you” attitude toward the movie industry’s attempts to commodify him into an entity that he wasn’t–his demonstrated ability to assert and maintain his conception of what/who he is and to not let anything compromise this all-important relationship with himself.

Note: Johnny Depp models, for me, two imporant dimensions of being a man :
a) That JD succeeded in acheiving self-differentiation — he didn’t see himself as an extension of somebody else’s aspirations (mom’s, dad’s, brother, etc.). He’s a separate entity.
b) That he had the “personal authority” to decide what/who he is supposed to be AND didn’t wait to get someone’s PERMISSION TO BE THAT KIND OF MAN.

This is very key point. Hanging around and waiting to “feel like a man” is *symptomatic* of the need to GET someone else’s PERMISSION (Mom’s, Dad’s) to be a man. This is a key psychological obstacle to even starting the process. If this misbelief is internalized (= believed), you (the prospective member of the ranks of men) can’t so much as aspire to be a man until and unless you get someone’s permission.

But consider this: even if you DID get someone’s permission, what does that MAKE YOU? Is it characteristic of any MAN to need the permission to be what he is? Or it is more charateristic of a man to LAUNCH OUT and be one with no more ‘authority’ than that THAT’S WHAT HE WANTS TO BE and BELIEVES THAT HE CAN BE. NOT waiting (for permission or approval) is itself the very thing that would make someone who isn’t a man (a boy, say) more “like a man,” since this implies, at the very least, that the boy’s desire to be a man OVERRIDES all other considerations, even the disapproval of others or the disbelief in himself. (See my prior posting for the significance of “cognitive construal agency.”)

permission to be a man => validation (I’m really a man!”) => behavior characteristic of a real man

The reason why a ‘rite of passage’ can have such a tranformative effect on you, on a boy, or a grown male that feels ‘like a boy’ is this:


Notice that ‘rite’ is a ritual or, as Brett pointed out, an achievement, which, when successfully attainted, gives you, the agent of the achievement, the RIGHT to THINK OF YOURSELF AS A MAN. And it OBLIGES everyone else to think of you in this way also. This is not purely subjective intra-personal contract you make with yourself. It has a social cash value (unless you choose as your rite of passage to, say, making the largest foil ball in the world).

Therefore — and this is key — in order for this to work, the ‘rite’ has to have some positive SOCIAL recognition. (For me, it was attaining the Ph.D. in analytic philosophy.) Individual acheivement is the ONLY secure way to getting your “MAN” badge. There’s no short-cuts.


This film is a DISSTILATION OF everything you need, in terms of understanding the process, of becoming a man. It shows that tehre is a subective (intra-personal) dimension to being a man–adopting self-belief and being self-directed, for example, which is illustrated by Rudy Matt, the central charater of the film. But being a man does not consist in BEING A MAN ONLY IN YOUR HEAD. There is an objective social dimension to being a man as well, one that is constituted in being RECOGNIZED as a person with GENUINE STANDING AS A MAN. The film shows how these two things are clearly linked through individuial achievement. See the film. See it again.

This brings me to the next topic.

***How do you learn from models?*** Answer: ***Observational Learning**. (See Professor Albert Bandura’s work for details.)

You don’t just ‘watch’ so-called guy films–you STUDY them and the characters. Become astute in understanding why the character–the male lead whose masculinity you admire–acts the way he does and in what state of mind he would have, what motivation, etc.

Note: Take advantage of the considerable *work* the actor has already done for you. If he’s any good at all–and chances are, if you’ve seen him on the big screen, he is–then he is a student of human nature in general, and a specialist in the character he plays. An actor, who has studied his character, has provided you with invaluable detailed information, whcih you can adapt to your particular life-situation. Through his concrete performance, he has shown you how a real man would behave and think.

The take-home: Locate the CONTENT for your normative image of a man.

***Regarding (3) in Brett’s Model***

Why you shouldn’t wait to “feel like a man” as a conditon for acting like one. Here’s the deal. The “logic” behind the “Act as if” principle is this:

When you act AS IF you are a man, you produce real behavioral evidence taht you CAN (are able to) act in ways that are characterisic of real men. What does this do for/to you? It provides first-hand DIRECT evidence that you have the ABILITY to be what it is that you aspire to be.

What happens if you hang around waiting for the right state of mind? Nothing. Nada. Zip. You get generate ZERO behavioral evidence, so it’s NO WONDER you continue to ruminate and mire in self-DISbelief. Your belief does not exist in a vacuum; it is response to the information you have about your abilities and this information depends on your actual performances or attainments.

In order to be effective the Act As IF-Priniciple must be supplemented by a clear and accurate idea of what a man is. Otherwise you will obviously actionalize the wrong conception over and over again, thereby failing to give yourself positive behavioral evidence or self-validation. You must make sure your actions are genuine expressions or *instances* of the action-type you judge to be characteristic of a real man. if not, again, the result is no self-validation and consequently, no increased self-belief. (This drives home the value of reflection about what it is to be a real man — reflection that is guided a great deal by this website.)

Once you have that in tact, then the process amounts to CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN TWO THINGS:

1) Your *conception* of the man you aspire to be (a kind of realiable ideal) — an enhanced VERSION of you (not a totally different man).
2) Your *actual performances* — your attempts to be a man, in thought or deed, in whatever situation you find yourself.

With guided practice, you will start to CLOSE THE GAP between conception and performance and, in turn, begin to experience increased self-belief.

This is called the “conception-matching” process. (See Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy for further details.)

Your being UNPERSUADED about being a man can be addressed in two related ways:

a) You can start to regularly imagine yourself as the man you want to be, using the symbolic models from the media or other areas of your life. THis is called cognitive simulation. This is an important element to being a man. As Brett mentioned, being a man is not about unreflective action; no, you have a clear idea of what is for you-to-be-a man (or: me-as-a-man) which you are attempting to actionalize.

b) You can seek out real opportunities which require you to behave in ways that are characteristic of a man and learn the skills that are needed to succed in these domains.

All comments welcome. I’m on the path, same as you.

Strength and Honor.–Michael

108 Michael May 24, 2012 at 11:01 pm

***A Clarification On #106***

Above I said:

“But consider this: even if you DID get someone’s permission, what does that MAKE YOU? Is it characteristic of any MAN to need the permission to be what he is? Or it is more charateristic of a man to LAUNCH OUT and be one with no more ‘authority’ than that THAT’S WHAT HE WANTS TO BE and BELIEVES THAT HE CAN BE. NOT waiting (for permission or approval) is itself the very thing that would make someone who isn’t a man (a boy, say) more “like a man,” since this implies, at the very least, that the boy’s desire to be a man OVERRIDES all other considerations, even the disapproval of others or the disbelief in himself. (See my prior posting for the significance of “cognitive construal agency.”) ”

I neglected to make a key point. In the Disney film **The Third Man On the Mountain**, Rudy Matt, an 18 year old “boy” (as all the men refer to him) intentionally disobeys his uncle, a prominent mountain guide in the village, and his mother.

Neither of them approved of his desire to become a mountain guide like his (deceased) famous father, who was killed on The Citidel (the mountain). Here’s the take-home: Rudy could OBEY and conform to how other’s viewed him, to see himself as his mother/uncle sees him; OR he could choose to take a different view of himself. He has the ability — the cognitive construal agency.

If Rudy had waited to obtain *permission* or approval, what would have happened? He never would have climbed the mountain (guess who the “third man on the moutain” is?) and consequently would have retained the social status of a ‘boy’ his entire adult life. (In the film, the social dimension of being a man is vividly capture, when Captain Winters asks Rudy, “What are you in the village?”

Interlude: What are you in the village? Do people treat you as a boy or as a man. Think about that. What are you in the village?

By disobeying his parents (Mom and Uncle), Rudy is already modeling a key characteristic of being a man — viz., that it is not his parents or other authority figures’ judgment that matters but *his* judgment and what *he* wants. This entails a self-referent judgment – a judgment made by and about Rudy himself.

What is the judgment? That Rudy is the FINAL DECIDER concerning what Rudy is supposed to be. Rudy’s judgement is sovereign. It is through this implicit act of acknowledgement, that Rudy **shows up** in Rudy’s eyes as a man, in spite of the fact that everyone else sees him as “merely a boy.”

In fact, it may not be ‘in spite of’, but rather partly because of, the opposition to Rudy’s becoming a boy; this opposition may play an important functional role for Rudy self-development: It makes it necessary for Rudy to exercise, for the first time, his personal authority (which is sense all the more vividly in the face of social opposition).


And no one can make you do that. You can’t out-source this to someone else; there may be ghost-writers for novels and plays, but there cannot be any ghost agents who can exercise your judgment for you. There is exactly ONE person in the world who can perform the first-personal act of acknowledgement: you. Someone else cannot enter your mind and perform the act of self-acknowledgement (that you are a man, right now) on your behalf, thereby saving you from responsibility.

Therefore: If you genuinely want membership in the tribe of men, you have to acknowledge yourself initially as a man-in-the-making — which is equivalent, minimally, to thinking that you have the potential to become one — and, upon completion of the ‘rite’ — upon completion of climbing the mountain (though you’ll see an interesting twist to this in the film), you EARN the *right* to expect others to TREAT you as a man (if they do not, they, not you, are at fault).

Strength and Honor. –Michael

109 Mr. X May 25, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Brilliant. My short theory is that we are becoming less manly, as there are less manly things to do. Civilization has been become safe and predictable in industrialized countries. Contrast this with men in less industrialized countries or less stable regions. Men in these areas of the world are manly because they need to be so to survive and protect their families and possessions.

110 Mister-J May 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm

This was a VERY eye opening article.
Especially Michaels comments.I myself am 23 years old and have struggled through my teens and so far since in my twenties,waiting for someone to give me permission,(basically),to be acknowledged as a full grown man.I am also married with children!That is probably the worst time to be having a crisis about your rite to manhood.For me it was basically waiting on my dad to LOOK at me as a man instead of a “boy”.Mostly because of this I have neglected a big part of being a man and that is providing substantial finances for my family,and also not giving them any daily structure or routine.Such as going to bed at a certain time or getting up at a certain time.Our life as a family so far has kind of been just “drifting” from one day to the next basically an extension of my single life.After reading this article and comments I think I finally realize that a real “man” does,nt need permission from anybody to be one.I thank God for leading me to this article and thanks to the authors.

111 David Lowry May 29, 2012 at 12:30 am

Thanks for starting this site 5 years ago. Love it. It’s always a good read and the comments are as well.

112 Michael May 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm


What I have not found on this site is how parental, but particularly MATERNAL, influences can impinge on a boy’s development into manhood. I’d like to see Brett do an analysis of this key issue. I believe that many men on this site who are struggling with “not feeling like a man” are experiencing this because of (what I call), the Maternal NO.

The rationale for paying attention to this issue is this: Human beings — little boys — don’t develop into men in a social vacuum. We grow up embedded in social environments. And we are influenced by these environments. (I’m not suggested at all that we are merely conduits of social or environmental forces; on the contrary, I believe and have experienced, the power of personal agency to overcome negative childhood or parental influences.)

The Maternal No operates, in the mind of a son, as a little boy, as a authoritative DIRECTIVE. The directive is aimed at the little boy (the son) and it says:


This may not be articulated in the boy’s mind, but he picks up the message. And since little boys raised by single mom’s already are disposed to see mom as the VICTIM (since Dad, the badguy has left her), they feel INTENSE GUILT if they contribute to mom’s unhappiness and stress. So they form another internal directive:


understands his mother’s attempts to prevent him from becoming a man. This is real. It happens. I have experienced it and only now in the last several years perceived its influence in my life. Part of the reason is that, in our culture, the single mother is the VICTIM, not the perpetrator; Dad is the bad-guy. So we hear a lot about how Dad’s neglect, is absenteeism, has adversely affected, boys’ development into ‘mature manhood’. But, as Michael Gurian explains, Mom’s are also responsible for doing serious harm as well.

Parents — for boys, the father; for girls, the mother — recognize inidividuals into the tribe of men (or of women). Parents have, in the eyes of the child, A LOT, of authority. So their approval means a lot to a boy or girl. When a boy’s father shows his recognition of his son’s developing manhood, that authenticates it. It operates as a legitimater of the boy’s desire to be a man and his belief that he can succeed at this.

Think about it. Dad is already a man (at least in the eyes of his son). So Dad already HAS MEMBERSHIP in the tribe, in the ranks of real men; he’s a made-man. Dad has his badge. So, Dad is a REPRESENTATIVE of men and obtaining his approval is tantamount to being ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE INSTITUTION OF REAL MEN IN THE WORLD. Conversely, if you don’t get Dad’s approval and acknowledgment — if Dad dies, is a dead-beat, is an absentee father, etc. — you don’t get your developmental badge. You enter adulthood feeling like something’s really deficient with you. Psychologically you feel like a kid.

Mom’s can do real damage, too, to a son’s developing manhood. She can, in fact, derail him completely. See Michael Gurian’s book (listed below) on this issue.

My Mother was a psychologically weak person; like Steve McQueen’s mother, she was an alcoholic; she had almost no power of self-belief; her father had died when she was a girl and I believe she computed that as abandonment — therefore contributing to self-devaluation. She grew up and had kids. I was one of them. Having kids was a means to SECURE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FROM ANOTHER HUMAN BEING — your kids. IT WAS A MEANS TO HAVING INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS THAT COULD NEVER BE SEVERED.

(You can’t dump your mother like you can an annoying needy girlfriend.)

I have found the following titles (see below) to be very illuminating. Some readers on this site may also. If you were raised in a single parent home — by a SINGLE MOTHER — it’s very likely that you are suffering from (what I call) the “Maternal NO!”. Very early on, your mother communicated to you implicity that it’s NOT OKAY for you to grow up to be a MAN. Why not? Because of any or all of the following:

a) When you grow up and develop as a man, SHE loses control over you. It is difficult — in fact it goes against the grain of a Mother’s instinct to protect and nurture — to WANT a boy to develop into a man because this means that he will have a will of his own, eventually turn his attention AWAY FROM MOM to another female outside the mother-son relatioship (which Mother computes as abandonment). When a son grows up he enters the dangerous world of MEN. Mom doesn’t like that. Better to keep son away from that (and to herself).

Right now (even if you’r not living with Mom, even if you’re married to another woman) chances are she sees you as her “little hubbie”.

b) A little hubbie is a child-man: you have none of the rights or respect of a real grown-up man; the ‘man’ part of the dyad consists in your playing a *spousal role* (minus the physical dimension) to your Mom, who has turned to you for emotional support due to not having an adult male partner.

c) As ‘little hubbie’ it may seem that you have been elevated status but in fact you don’t; you still have to take orders from Mother. You are a ‘man’ in body only; you are the adult tool of your mother’s needs and wishes.


Hold on to Your NUTs: The Relationship Manual for Men [Paperback]
Wayne M. Levine

Mothers, Sons, and Lovers: How a Man’s Relationship with His Mother Affects the Rest of His Life [Paperback]
Michael Gurian

113 Michael May 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm


Sorry, guys, somehow my entry was submitted before I had a chance to edit and complete it. I will have to do it later.

Note to Brett: Please delete entry #111.

114 Jim Araby May 31, 2012 at 4:17 am

Hello Brett

I just discovered this website and I enjoyed your article very much. I have been thinking about the subject of manhood in modern America for quite a while. I think the interesting thing that has happened in our culture is that the women’s revolution has allowed boys to remain boys for much longer because when women started to clamor for power, men stood back for many reasons, one because they wanted to “allow” woman to take the reigns of life so they could be boys longer and shuck responsibility longer. I think this goes over into marriage, and when men decide to enter into the relationship of marriage, we sometime allow that relationship to die over time because we do not work at it. We have a romantic ideal that is built within our culture and then we also “allow” the women to try and make the effort because we believe that they should carry this burden of the relationship. I have stared to blog about being a father, a working man and contending with the crisis in manhood brought on by modern life. I am glad this blog also exists.

115 Joe Lavin June 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Don’t think about it be about it

116 Chris June 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Thanks for this article. I agree with most of the advice here, especially the emphasis on DOING things rather than just thinking about them. I have spent a lot of my 32 years contemplating things, considering right and wrong rather than simply listening to my conscience and doing what feels right and honourable. Your website and books have really encouraged me to start getting out and being more active, confident and taking more risks. Thanks again!

117 Rob October 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Wow…I’m 40 years old and I don’t feel like a man. I’m glad I read this and stumbled on this website. Never been through a rite of passage, never played sports or even follow them. Never even really been hunting/fishing. No wonder my mental image of manliness is so out of wack. But I think He’s trying to tell me something because I had never heard act until you become until this week, and now I’ve heard it twice. Went on TED.com for the first time and listened to Amy Cuddy’s presenation….said the exact same thing as what has been presented here…but with more scientific backing. Again, great article.

118 rico567 December 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

Another excellent essay. I had to move into manhood by sheer emulation of adults and just allowing Providence to take care of the rest. And maybe a small minority of twisted souls who never find the path decide, in the end, that the only way to feel like a man is to commit some spontaneous and horrid act of violence. I believe it was Evelyn Waugh who said (speaking specifically of the U.S.) “It begins with bad manners and ends with random shootings in the streets.” Looks like we’re there.

119 Noah Revoy May 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Jrobertlysaght: “So, when exactly do I start feeling like a grown man?”
Answer: When you fully reject the victim mentality, take full and personal responsibility for your all choices and your current situation. Once you do that, you will be free to create the life you want.
I wish you success!

120 Vanessa May 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Although his site is not intended for the likes of me, I have been creeping around here lately and I’m so pleased to see so many men take the time to reflect on so many important issues. It really does seem that real men are hard to come by these days. And by real men I mean the type to do what needs to be done without GAF about what anyone thinks. I was raised by a real man- the kind who did any kind of physical labor necessary to support his family, the type who within 2 weeks decided that we would travel to America for better opportunities, a man of few words and big actions. Never asked for permission. We need more men like that. This website is great and you guys are freaking awesome.

121 Gary May 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

There are some good opportunities out there for training or providing a rite of passage. It’s easy to discount these as “chanting in the woods” but unless you’ve experienced something you aren’t in a position to make a value judgement. That said, any workshop will likely fade to memory unless there is a regular opportunity to practice what was learned.

There are many mens groups around where men get together and model mature masculinity for each other. Open discussions about being a man need to happen regularly and men need to be challenged when they appear to be hiding behind BS.

Mens groups provide the forum for men to behave like mature men, get honest feedback, get challenged, and find mentors.

122 Chris Fowler May 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I read some quote “When in doubt, get really, really strong.” That has been my moto for the last year. I think part of being a man is being strong. Taking care of your body. For me it is not about luring the opposite sex or being vane. It is about being able to move heavy stuff, do yardwork, etc without littl risk ov injury due to a weak back. At 38 I’m in better shape than I was at 18.

123 distributistdad May 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm

This essay properly identifies an issue in society and it’s clear enough for just about anyone to grasp and see.

Perhaps the truth is a little more difficult to swallow that many would be willing to admit. The root cause of this lack of manliness is a lack of true fathers. I would like to offer that it is of course true that in bygone days this issue was nonexistent. Why? Because the vast majority of boys had fathers. Their fathers were men, and boys wanted to emulate them. There is too a parallel that corresponds with the direction family life in general has strayed from what it had been for many centuries before, but alas the comment box of a blog isn’t the best place to discuss this.

I’d suggest a book — it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. I’d suggest it to anyone, but particularly to men who either find themselves identifying with the subject of this article or men who have sons:


124 Jeremy May 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm


Your comment moved me. I understand what you are saying. You are a hard worker and yes the business culture today abuses their low level laborers. No, you do not need a college degree to make a decent living. However, you DO NEED skills. A skill of some kind. Something that sets you apart. You can spend your time debating the right or wrong of this necessity or you can except it as a reality and figure out “What has your life equipped you to do well?” Then you go out and get what you are worth. You do that by providing value. Look for ways to improve your bosses business save them money and make them more. Make yourself an asset. Just showing up to work every day doesn’t make you an asset any 18 year old without skills can do that. If you can’t identify a skill set (I’m sure you have them find some one you know to help you). Then you must identify the skills you want to have THEN GO GET THEM! You can learn on the job. Also, you can feel like a man in you Carola and studio apt as long as you are GOING AFTER SOMETHING you are passionate about. With you 300,000 mile carola and your studio apt. You have it better than 90% of humanity does right now and live like a king compared to our ancestors. Got get it man chase a passion down and make it yours. Then you will feel like a man.

125 Ben May 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm

As Hemingway once to say, ” Go to war!” Learn to box or even simple things like learning to hunting or woodworking skills have all seemed to help. Fishing is one American past time where a guy can relax away the day and still say he caught his own meal. Men need to motivated to WANT to learn new things and not be scared of what we look like or how we do it.

126 Toby Barnett May 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm

As a man who turns 35 next month I can relate to the sentiment of not acting like a man till feeling like one. Throughout my twenties it was a continuously haunting thought – I’m just kid, I’m just a kid. Well my actions portrayed that thought. I’m not sure where it happened, sometime in the last year of college, but something clicked. I felt as if I needed to act like a man and then life started to change. I appreciate the TR reference and how he wanted to be a courageous man and did so by acting courageously. It makes perfect sense.

127 javad June 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm

i just wanna say thank you
your article changed my life

128 david October 13, 2013 at 10:13 am

In short, the fastest way to feel like and be a man, is to stop complaining. If you are unhappy with your current situation, take deliberate steps to change it. Seeking comfort will only prolong the agony. Take comfort in knowing that you have done what you can do. We all have only one pass through life, so do not feel like you are not living up to your potential as long as you are doing all that you can.

129 John Q. January 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Good article, I am actually going to put it to practice now.

130 Steve January 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm

It is a sad state of affairs when we have so many of our young boys trapped in a mans body around. Lack of positive male influence is definitely a factor. However, I find many of these college grads living in Mommy and Daddies basement still were handed everything in life. I remember when I turned 18 I was still in high school and my Dad asked me when I was moving out. He said it had better be when I graduated. I was raised by Men who expected their sons to become men. I decided to become a Marine like my Grandfather who served in WWII. I couldn’t think of a better Man than him. I gurantee you one thing; if you are lying around not feeling like a man then join the Corps (you can join till your 29). We will make you one or wash you out. In my opinion it is a better education than getting a degree in Sociology or Pencil Pushing. You will learn things that will be of value to you your whole life. We used to be a nation of Iron Men and wooden guns/ships/wagons, now we are a nation of iron guns/ships/tanks and wooden men.
Semper Fi

131 Brandon March 28, 2014 at 9:28 pm


Love the last line of your comment. Thanks for your service, man.

This is a great article. It reaffirms a lot of the decisions I made since I left college. Many of them didn’t seem to make sense at the time – leaving home, moving away from friends I’d known since I was a teenager, starting a career in a state I’d never even visited, marrying a woman for no reason other than that nagging feeling that I’d kick myself every day until I died if I didn’t lock her down when I turned 25. And that really sums it up – I was just going off instinct. I could have made things so “easy” by staying in my comfort zone with my same old college buddies, doing the same old shit, dating the same type of women, switching the same old jobs every few years with no real end game. Instinct brought me back every time. I kept making decisions based not on how good they would make me feel at the time, but on the long-term consequences.

In my experience much of reaching manhood (and God knows I’m still trying to perfect it) is taking a long view on significant life decisions.

Thirty-three now, holding down a great career and married to a strong and beautiful woman. Had to move to the edge of the earth to get to this place and I definitely miss the friends, family and relative freedom of my pre-man days. But I have to say, there’s something both haunting and rewarding about looking back at the boy you left behind. Never really took the time to reflect on it until this article. Reminds me why I made these decisions in the first place.

Thanks for the great article.

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