Getting Tough With Yourself

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 20, 2012 · 112 comments

in A Man's Life

Editor’s note: This is guest post from Marcus Brotherton. It originally ran on Men Who Lead Well (

One harmful mindset that can keep a man from fulfilling his calling and potential is self-coddling. This is when he convinces himself he deserves a break, and runs to something that ultimately harms himself.

The WWII Marines of K/3/5 had been fighting on Guadalcanal for weeks. C-rations had run out, and the men ate twice daily portions of coconuts and wormy rice they’d confiscated from the Japanese.

Sid Phillips, left, with W.O. Brown

PFC Sid Phillips (featured in HBO’s The Pacific) grew increasingly concerned for his hometown friend, W.O. Brown, racked with severe dysentery. Everything W.O. tried to eat ran straight through him. There was no medicine. No cots to lie on. The sick were simply stretched out on the ground. W.O. grew so emaciated he was too weak even to sit up. Flies covered him as he lay in his own diarrhea.

“It was bad,” Phillips reported in an interview with me. “I didn’t think W.O. was going to survive.”

Each day, Phillips carried W.O. to the ocean and helped him get clean. I asked Phillips if he remembered any specific conversations he had with W.O. during these times of carrying him. Here, I was expecting a poignant story. I pictured this young battle-hardened Marine carrying his nearly-dead buddy to the water. “Keep holding on,” Phillips would whisper. “Have courage. Just think of mom and apple pie.” Something like that.

But Phillips just chuckled. “Oh yeah, I remember. I told W.O. to stop being such a faker and take a salt tablet.”

The response threw me. I asked Phillips (who eventually became a medical doctor) what his strategy was.

“Well, it didn’t help a man to overly commiserate with him,” Phillips said. “If you did, it just depressed him. But if you kidded him, it made him smile. The ribbing was all good natured. He’d fire back some wisecrack at you, and soon he’d get to fighting again.”

How does this apply to manhood today?

Phillips respected W.O. Brown as someone who had the capacity to get up and go on. So let’s believe the same about ourselves.

Anytime a man is in a downed place—i.e. he’s annoyed, angry, tired, hurt, lonely, stressed, or frustrated—he is tempted to become overly sympathetic with himself. He gets that insidious, creepy, pampering mindset that tells him he deserves a break—just this once.

I’m not talking about kicking back on the couch with a bag of Doritos. Not that kind of a break.

I’m talking about blowing it: the lie that it’s okay to run to a favorite vice. We’ve all got them. We run to whatever ultimately harms us, because we’ve convinced ourselves it helps. It’s the worst form of coddling.

What’s the solution?

Get tough with yourself. Knock it off, ya faker. Take a salt tablet, and get back to the battle. Sure, frustrations exist. But you don’t need that bottle. You don’t need that porn. You don’t need to give in to that moment of rage on the freeway. You’ve only convinced yourself you do.

By the way, the strategy works. W.O. Brown survived the dysentery—and the war.

All Photos Courtesy of Valor Studios


Editor’s note: If you want to learn more about Sid Phillips I highly recommend watching this profile that was done of him for HBO’s The Pacific. A really great watch:

{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Chris August 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm

What about depression? Because… I’m really depressed…

102 james August 13, 2012 at 12:08 am

chris- depression is a different situation. getting a little sad- be tough with yourself, push through.

but real depression, not just “i’m sad” but “i want to kill myself” or a prolonged “nothing is worth it anymore” is a big issue. just like if your family died and you can’t just get tough, you can’t just get tough and get past depression.

i struggled with it for a long long time. how i got out of it is finding solace in exercise, learning my bad habits and fixating my attention elsewhere. it was a finding that everything is already worth it; you just have to love it.

i found my philosophies and life to stand on, but for almost a decade i just wanted to die, was struggling with school, had no social life cause i was too depressed to see people, and was constantly combatting myself so that i wouldn’t give in and take my own life.

you should get professional help if you’re really depressed. and it’s important that you do get tough with yourself; don’t give into the emotions every time you feel depressed. try to find your sanctuary- close friends, music, runner’s high- and keep going until depression doesn’t own you anymore.

i can only say so much here, but the important thing is that you keep taking a step forward. recognize that you’re in a place where you can’t just get tough and leave depression behind, but also recognize that you’re a strong person who can keep going.

“it gets better” is a campaign used to inspire gay people who are being bullied, saying that it might be terrible now, but it will get better in the future. the samething applies here- it gets better, so believe in the future, believe in yourself.

103 Jeremy September 21, 2012 at 11:37 am

This is a fantastic article.
I think that if everyone would use the wisdom of this article, our society would be filled with a lot more success and a lot less of an entitlement mentality.

Thanks for writing this.

104 Shane October 14, 2012 at 4:20 am

Wow, I have been coddling myself for the past 6 months :/ My ex. cheated on me, dumped me, and moved 1100 miles from me during my senior year of college; juggling that non-sense, trying to sign-up with the military, working out, and taking 18 credit hours of senior classes was a bit rough. After graduation, I move out for 2 days and my pops gets cancer, so I move back in to try and help.

Ever since I moved back have been doing very little, and the same excuses always pop up. I have a feeling this article is going to help with some reality checks of mine. I tell ya, there is nothing like hearing the truth from Marines. I really need to fucking shape up!

@Chris One thing I have noticed about depression is that it stems from more than just your current situations. The demons from your past and specters that are your future have profound effects on how you feel; hell, it’s who you are after all. Something I notice in people from day to day is their lack of meditation; I am not talking Eastern meditation, but just the ideas of reflection and projection. We are so caught up in the struggle of perfection that we forget who we truly are. Take some time out of your day and remember who you are, the good and the bad. The other day I was thinking about how I yelled at my dog when she was a puppy. I was trying to sleep and she wouldn’t stop crying (she was only 6 weeks old and I had her in ‘her’ cage); I got pissed and yelled at the top of my lungs, “shut the fuck up!!” Five minutes later I fell asleep. I woke a few hours later to find her shivering in her own urine and feces; at that moment my skin went pale, my eyes filled with tears, and I couldn’t but help see what cruelty can lead to.

I’ve never been the same since that happened, when I look back I feel serious pain and remorse, but I also learned a most valuable lesson. It’s painful and depressing to remember that incident, but I do so for good reason.

Lol, great article by the way!

105 JR November 23, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Great Article. Currently serving in K 3/5. Get Some.

106 Paul July 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm

My grandfather was on that island hopping campaign-he was 1/5…all four islands. I recognized that pic of Sid right away. Reading about what they went through puts everything in perspective over and over again. Peleliu was hell on earth x 10.

If you think you’ve got it bad, try fighting for your life under heavy artillary fire, smalls arms fire, and machine gun fire in 115 degree heat, with dead and rotting bodies everywhere, feces literally everywhere because the island is made of coral rock and you can’t bury it, and little to no water because the marine corps shipped it in oil/fuel drums that weren’t properly cleaned.

Then you’ll quit your complaining.

107 Blair July 19, 2013 at 2:58 pm

“suck it up” is a wonderful mantra, but be careful applying it to vices or addictions. ‘white-knuckling’ often leads to bigger problems down the road. If you’re being a little b*tch because your gf left you, then man up… But if you’re unable to control impulses to act out you really need to find the root cause.

108 Gary July 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Great article, thanks a ton, this is just what i needed to read today.

109 Gary Klein July 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

David Herbert Lawrence

110 Rob July 20, 2013 at 9:56 am

It’s worth noting that K/3/5 is still around. They are a Marine Rifle Company stationed in Camp Pendleton, CA and completed some of the most violent and difficult missions in the Afghanistan War.

These guys still exist. They still do what they do.

111 Tomika Warren July 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm

You just have to convince yourself that failure and dispair are not an option

112 Sam October 7, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Yea, true. And beware of those who are overly solicitous and compassionate at those times – they are usually not acting in your best interest. Clinical depression, of course, is another issue, and when that’s the case, one must seek medical help.

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