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Dressing Taller: 10 Tips for Short Men

vintage group of men standing in line tall to short

Short men have always had a tougher row to hoe than their taller fellows. It can be frustrating to be picked last for the pick-up basketball game, to feel like you’re overlooked when walking into a party, and to struggle to see your favorite band at a concert.

And then there are those studies that say that tall men are perceived as more powerful and better leaders, are more desirable to women, and make more money (almost $1,000 more for every inch of height).

But short men shouldn’t despair. The news isn’t all bad.

First, while height may give men a leg up in the race for success (US presidents have been on average 4 inches taller than the general male population), there are always exceptions to the rule. Andrew Carnegie (5’0”)! Martin Luther King Jr. (5’7”)! Harry Houdini (5’5”)! TE Lawrence (5’6”)! Robert Reich (4’10’)! And have you seen Dennis Kucinich’s wife?

And second, while there isn’t much you can do, short of gruesomely lengthening your bones, to physically increase your height, there are ways to appear taller.  Key in this is the way you dress and present yourself, and today we’ll share ten tips on how you can use style to enhance your stature, and perhaps more importantly, your confidence.

The  Guiding Rule – Always Streamline Your Look

Looking taller is all about getting viewers’ eyes to travel smoothly up your body. It’s pure illusion: the more their eyes have to sweep upward, the taller their brains will register whatever they’re looking at as being.

That means that a shorter man wants to ease and encourage the viewer’s eyes upward towards his face. Visual clutter–such as eye-grabbing stuff on the body–breaks up the impression of height. That means staying away from obvious accessories like big, chunky watches, but it also means keeping an eye out for things as simple as the pockets on your suits and shirts. Something as simple as a pocket flap instead of an unadorned slit pocket can clutter up your appearance and lessen the impression of height.

10 Tips on Dressing Taller

FYI – I put these ten tips in orders of practicality and cost.  I realize some of these are beyond some men’s resources or not options worth considering–but I lay them out there so that you can make that decision yourself.

1. Monochromatic Color Themes

Along the same lines as minimizing visual clutter, removing contrasting color from your appearance helps streamline the way you look. Keeping all your clothes within a fairly consistent color theme, especially a dark one, will create an illusion of height. Different color shades are fine–just try to keep it loosely monochrome.

When you do wear different colors or different shades of the same color, try to weight the darker colors toward the bottom half of your body. That way people’s attention starts down near your feet and travels upward. Dark trousers with a lighter shirt create a lengthening effect; a darker shirt with lighter pants shortens your appearance.

2. Wear Vertically-Oriented Patterns

Most people have heard that vertical stripes are “slimming” and horizontal stripes are “widening.” That’s just a simplification of the same visual effect we’ve already been talking about: where people’s eyes go when they look at you. Patterns that run horizontally make you seem wider because the eye wants to follow them naturally out to the sides of your body.

Unbroken vertical stripes are one of the best ways to add an impression of height without seeming to try for it.   Dress shirts that increase the perception of height ideally have striping that is narrow enough to not create broad empty spaces of monochrome but wide enough to be visible at a glance. The equal-width alternation of white and colored stripes–often called candystriping–is a good choice.

Textured cloth with a visible up-and-down pattern has the same effect as any other vertical striping, so corduroy or very narrow herringbone weaves are also worth working into the wardrobe. Other than those very definitively vertical textures, however, stick to smoother fabrics where possible — rough textures add the visual clutter you want to avoid.

fabrics for short men to wear fashion style


3. Wear Close Fitting Clothing

A loose fit on a short man actually emphasizes his petite frame–it makes him look sloppy, and it signals that he’s too small to find clothing that fits him right. Don’t let your own clothing send this message to the world.

When shopping for menswear, pay close attention to where your clothing sits on your body when you try it on. Most men are used to wearing clothing that is 1 to 2 sizes too large on them, and smaller men who have never given it much attention are some of the worst offenders.

Steer clear of jackets that hang loose in the armpits, even if the sleeves are short enough for your arms, and avoid any trousers with a lot of slack cloth in the crotch. Trust me, this doesn’t make you look more endowed. Instead, that sort of bagginess leads straight to the stereotypical “kid in his father’s suit” look.

Remember that most menswear is deliberately cut loose to accommodate as many body types as possible. Clothing marked small isn’t made for one type of small; it’s often made to try to accommodate shorter men who are anything from stout to round to thin. And the results are rarely flattering.

Savvy short shoppers often find a brand, oftentimes from a particular designer, that consistently suits them. They do this because designer clothing is often built for a narrower variety of body types, and as a result accommodates those limited builds better than the one size made to fit all variety. Designer clothes generally cost a bit more, but carefully watching sales and knowing when and where to shop for your particular size can lead to savings that make buying higher end clothing affordable.

Finally, have a trusted tailor who you can take your clothing to. Ensure he has an understanding of proportion and the needs of your body type, and you’ll find the adjustments he makes can transform your look more than any of the other tips in this article. It’s relatively inexpensive to have sleeves or cuffs shortened; more complicated work like having your trousers slimmed or jacket torso tightened isn’t too expensive either. Having a jacket shortened, or adjusting shoulders on a shirt is often limited by proportion–but again these small adjustments will transform your look from dopey to dashing.

short man dressing taller image

4. Smaller Proportions

Be aware that as a smaller man you won’t always want the exact same proportions in your clothes as other men. For example, it’s traditional to wear a sport coat or suit cut so that a half-inch or so of shirt cuff shows beyond the end of the sleeve. A shorter man, however, wants to pair shirts and jackets so that there’s less of a broad band–as little as a quarter-inch. A sliver of cloth color down around the wrists will look more proportional on shorter arms than ¾ of an inch.

The parts of your clothing that fold over one another contribute a lot to your visual effect. On your upper body, that usually means the shirt collar and the jacket lapel, if a jacket is worn. Try to keep both of those on the narrower side–though be cautious with lapels; jackets with very broad or very wide lapels run the risk of looking dated, depending on when that particular extreme was in fashion.

Collars with shorter points that aim downward help as well. Stay away from anything with an extreme spread (more than 120 degrees) or longer collar points (2.5+ inches), especially when the collar points are angled dramatically outward.

Your necktie should be on the slimmer side as well, particularly if you have a smaller torso; if your torso is very broad, a narrow tie may start to look undersized. However, this is a better problem than overemphasizing the latter.

It may seem like splitting hairs to recommend narrower collar spreads, shorter trouser cuffs (or no cuffs at all), 2 or 1 button jackets, thinner lapels, and pockets closer together on a jacket. But when you start combining all the usual elements of a piece of clothing in smaller proportions, the effects add up. A small difference here, a small improvement there–next thing you know you have a significantly improved look.

Most of these details are things that different companies do in their own style–you don’t need lots of expensive tailoring, just the patience to figure out which brands have the smaller, more vertically-tilted details that work best for you.

5. Wear Attention Grabbing Details Up High

You can keep attention moving up from your feet toward your head by weighting the brightest details at the top of your body. A pocket square or a brightly-colored tie help guide the eye’s motion upward. Just be careful of adding too much clutter all at once. A bright lapel pin on its own is helpful–worn at the same time as a patterned tie and a pocket square, it edges into the distracting category. More casual outfits can utilize details such as epaulets on a shirt’s shoulders or a contrast inner collar on a dress shirt.

Resist the temptation to add a few inches with a hat unless you regularly wear one–if not worn naturally or with confidence it can backfire on the wearer. Some even argue that the visual effect is actually shortening–a hat puts a “lid” on your body and stops the viewer’s gaze dead. I have seen it work both ways. Again, this is an attention-getting detail that takes confidence, practice, and the knowledge of which hat compliments you.

Always keep it simple, vertically-oriented, and limited to one or two extras at most.

6. Wear the Right Clothing

Wear a Jacket – Wearing a sport jacket or suit jacket builds up the shoulders–taller and more pronounced shoulders emphasize height. Use this to your advantage every chance you can and match the jacket with either trousers of the same fabric (suit) or trousers of a similar shade (sport jacket).  Again–know how to buy the right type of suit for maximizing height by following the guidelines in this article.

Trousers at the Waist – Shorter men benefit from a longer leg line, and you get a longer trouser leg by wearing the waistband higher. Wear your pants at the natural waist rather than down on the hips which only makes your legs look stubby. Trousers at the natural waist don’t need a belt cinched tight the way that they do on the hips, which helps your middle from looking distractingly pinched. For the best effect, wear trousers without belt loops and use suspenders.

Avoid Shorts and Short-Sleeved Shirts – Short men are short because their limbs are smaller than those of their tall counterparts. Wearing clothing that draws attention to your limbs, especially if you’re big or built, makes you look shorter because your limbs are proportionally more compact. Although not always practical–especially in the summer–a man on the short side should consider linen trousers and lightweight long sleeve shirts he can roll up on the forearm. A classier look that helps create a streamlined appearance.

7. Physically Add Height

Playing around with patterns and collar sizes and details are all good ways to make a combined impression of extra height. But what if you actually want to add real height?

It’s doable. But remember to do this in moderation. Some short men find it useful to wear a heeled shoe, and there are definitely styles that look fine with a half-inch or so of heel on them, but know what you’re buying. Manufacturers that advertise specifically as “for short men” are often slapping chunky heels on styles meant to be worn with a more moderate heel, and the result is eye-catching and tacky. Stick to black pumps for a formal look or heeled boots in more casual situations. And always avoid athletic shoes or regular dress shoes that come with an exaggerated heel–you’ll just end up tripping.

Heel inserts are a matter of personal preference. They add height but can be uncomfortable, and it can be embarrassing to have to take your shoes off in public if you have inserts. Definitely don’t wear them with an already thick-heeled shoe–you’ll end up tilted forward like a woman in high heels.

men's shoe lifts for short men fashion style dress tall

8. Shop Internationally

Mass manufactured clothing is made for specific regions based off taste and average target customer size. As such, American clothing is big; however, there are regions outside the ole USA that make clothing for a smaller demographic. Think Japan & Italy–two countries where style is at the forefront and clothing is manufactured for a man who is much smaller than the average American frame.

The internet has made it possible to get clothing from overseas without a trip yourself–the downside is that international shipping isn’t always cheap and many of the best online stores in Italy or Japan do not have an English storefront. Google translate helps–but it doesn’t translate size, especially when you’re trying to figure out what equals what–inches to centimeters, and then you have to account for brand variation! If you go this route, try to work with a merchant with excellent customer service or a website that gives you exact measurements of the garment you’ll be sent. Start slowly, ensure you get the fit right, and then buy in bulk to save on the shipping!

Ideally though, you’d be able to travel to the country and find the deals yourself, getting a closet full of great clothes and a memorable experience.

9. Visit the Young Man’s Department

There is great clothing to be found in the “Youth” section of American stores. Some styles obviously won’t work on an adult, but there’s a good number of clothing manufacturers who make scaled-down versions of perfectly presentable adult outfits.

The biggest challenge of the Youth/Boys department may turn out to be fit in the chest and stomach. Most adult men wearing youth sizes need an XL or a L, which have recently started to be made looser and looser. “XL” for a child carries an expectation of weight as well as height, which wasn’t as true ten or fifteen years ago–you may need to seek out long-established and more old-fashioned manufacturers to find youth-sized clothing that’s long enough for a short adult and also not cut for a very heavyset kid.

An added bonus is that these clothes are oftentimes value priced. If you’re small enough to fit clothing marketed for children and young adults, it’s worth the minor hit to the pride to browse the children’s section of a few high-quality clothing or department stores.

10. Go Custom or Buy from a Specialty Store

Seeking out a custom men’s clothier or short clothing specialist who can help optimize your look is an option many men take. They realize a second set of eyes and years of experience dealing with hundreds of men with similar problems gives a clothier expert status; the best study their craft and can build entire wardrobes for their clients that not only make them look taller but are interchangeable and functional for maximum wear.

Finally, keep your look natural.  By this I mean you have to be comfortable in your clothing – wear IT, don’t let it wear YOU.  There are a lot of tips in this post…DO NOT implement all of them into a single outfit. Instead pick a few and apply them in moderation over the next few months. Keep the ones that work, discard the tips that don’t.

And remember that being a sharp dressed man is all about confidence. Know who you are and have fun expressing that individuality with your personal style.

VIDEO: 10 Style Tips for Short Men

I’m going to try putting videos in some of my posts for those of you who prefer to have somebody talk you through it.

Fun with a Pocket Knife: How to Play Mumbley Peg

vintage men playing mumbley peg pocket knife game

Every man should carry a pocketknife. It’s handy for cutting open packages, severing twine, and, of course, eating an apple like a bad ass.

But it can also be a source of instant, anywhere entertainment. Because it’s all you need to play the game of mumbley peg.

Never heard of the game? Don’t worry. Today we’ll give you the scoop on how to play this knife throwing pastime that was once popular among 19th century schoolboys, Wild West cowboys, and World War II soldiers. All you need to play mumbley peg is a friend, a couple of pocket knives, and a bit of skill. It’s the perfect way to pass the time when hanging outside with your friends, relaxing around the fire on a camping trip, and bonding with your son.

Watch the Video

The History of Mumbley Peg

vintage men playing mumbley peg pocket knife game

Versions of mumbley peg (also known as mumblety-peg, mumblepeg, mumble-the-peg, mumbledepeg or mumble-de-peg) have been around as long as jackknives have been in the pockets of boys and men who had time to kill. The game gets its name from a stick driven into the ground by the winner of the game, which the loser must pull out of the ground with his teeth. Mumbley peg was an insanely popular schoolyard game in the 19th century among boys. It was right up there with marbles and jacks. In fact, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Detective, mentions “mumbletypeg” as being a favorite game with the children at old Tom’s school.

The game continued in popularity well into the first half of the 20th century. If you’re an old timer who participated in Boy Scouts or went to summer camp, there’s a chance you played a version of mumbley peg.

men vintage playing pocket knife game mumbley peg

Mumbley peg wasn’t just popular with boys. Men played the game, too. Cowboys would often circle around the campfire after a night of calf wrestling and play a few rounds of mumbley peg. Soldiers in both World Wars also passed the time throwing their knives in the ground.

The game waned in popularity starting in the 1970s as over-protective adults put a kibosh on the game at summer camps and as pocket knife-carrying became less prevalent among the male population.

How to Play Mumbley Peg

There are different variations of Mumbley Peg. One version involves two opponents who stand opposite from one another, feet shoulder-width apart. The first player takes his pocket knife and throws it at the ground, so that it sticks into the ground as close as possible to his own foot. The second player take his knife and does the same. The player who sticks his knife closest to his own foot wins. A player could automatically win if he purposely stuck his knife into his own foot. What can we say, this was a time before Xbox 360. Kids needed something do.

Mumbley Peg: American Boy’s Book of Sport Edition

A much more complicated and, I think, more fun (i.e., less likely to end in a tetanus shot) version of Mumbley Peg can be found in the American Boy’s Book of Sport, from 1896. Instead of trying to get the knife to stick as close to your foot as possible, the aim is simply to get the knife to stick in the ground. What makes this version tricky is that it involves progressively more difficult trick tosses. The first man to successfully perform all the trick tosses wins and gets to drive the mumbley peg into the ground with the handle of his pocket knife. The loser has to pull the mumbley peg out of the ground with his teeth. While mumbling curses at the winner, naturally.

In the American Boy’s Book of Sport, there are 24 different trick tosses that must be performed correctly to win. Players take turns doing the throws. A player that completes a throw successfully can move on to the next. So it’s possible to have one player breeze through all the throws while the other guy is still stuck on the first throw. Got the basic gist? On to the throws!

1. Hold your right fist with the back of your hand to the ground and with the blade of the knife pointing to the right, resting on top of the closed fingers. Like so:

how to play mumbley peg game grip diagram illustration

The hand is swung to the right, up and over, in a semicircle, so that the knife falls point downward and sticks, or should stick, upright in the ground. Like this:

how to play mumbley peg game toss diagram illustration

2. Same as the first toss, except done with the left hand.

3. Take the point of the blade between the first and second fingers of the right hand, and flip it with a jerk so that the knife turns once around in the air and strikes the point into the ground.

how to play mumbley peg game throw diagram illustration

Throw #3

4. Same as #3, except done with the left hand.

5. Hold the knife as in the third and fourth positions, and bring the arm across the chest so that the knife-handle touches the left ear. Take hold of the right ear with the left hand like so:

how to play mumbley peg game hold knife diagram

How to hold the knife for throw #5

Flip the knife so that it turns once or twice in the air and strikes on its point in the earth.

6. Same as #5, except done with the left hand. Take hold of the left ear with the right hand.

7. Still holding the knife in the same manner, bring the handle up to the nose and flip it over through the air, so that it sticks in the ground.

how to play mumbley peg game nose throw diagram

Throw #7

8. Same as #7, except bring the handle up to the right eye before flipping it.

9. Same as #7, except bring the handle up to the left eye before flipping it.

10. Place the point of the blade on top of the head. Hold it in place with the forefinger, and with a downward push send it towards the earth, where it must stick with the point of the blade in the earth.

Throw #10

11-15. Hold the left hand with the fingers pointing up. Place the point of the knife on the tip of your thumb. Hold the knife in place with your right forefinger holding the handle like so:

With a downward motion with your right forefinger, throw the knife revolving through the air so that the knife point lands in the grass. Repeat this throw with the left index finger, the left middle finger, the left ring finger, and the left pinky.

16-20. Repeat what you did in throws 11-15, except reverse your hands.

21. Sit down with your knees up. Place the knife point on your right knee and hold it in place with your right forefinger. With a downward motion with your right forefinger, throw the knife revolving through the air so that the knife point lands in the grass.

22. Repeat with the left knee and left forefinger.

23. Hold the point of the blade between the first and second fingers and, holding the hand near the forehead, flip the knife back over the head, so that it sticks in the ground behind you. Like so:

how to play mumbley peg game back throw diagram

Throw #23. Behind the back throw.

Basically, you’re doing a behind the back toss. Very tricky.

24. “Ploughing the field.” After the 23rd throw, leave the knife stuck in the ground. Then with the palm of the hand, strike the knife handle a smart blow that will send it revolving over the ground for a yard, more or less, and cause it to stick in the ground where it stops.

Ploughing the field

Winner gets mumbley peg bragging rights. Loser gets to chew on a stick.

Did you play mumbley peg growing up? Still play? Share your stories with us in the comments.

The 5 Switches of Manliness: Challenge

vintage antique electric light switch lever rusting cobweb

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.

vintage soldiers military storming beach war

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.

maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid diagram illustration

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

Manvotional: Facing the Mistakes of Life

vintage man learning against tree mountain dirt road

Facing the Mistakes of Life
From The Crown of Individuality, 1909
By William George Jordan

There are only two classes of people who never make mistakes—they are the dead and the unborn. Mistakes are the inevitable accompaniment of the greatest gift given to man—individual freedom of action. If he were only a pawn in the fingers of Omnipotence, with no self-moving power, man would never make a mistake, but his very immunity would degrade him to the ranks of the lower animals and the plants. An oyster never makes a mistake—it has not the mind that would permit it to forsake an instinct.

Let us be glad of the dignity of our privilege to make mistakes, glad of the wisdom that enables us to recognize them, glad of the power that permits us to turn their light as a glowing illumination along the pathway of our future.

Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom, the assessments we pay on our stock of experience, the raw material of error to be transformed into higher living. Without them there would be no individual growth, no progress, no conquest. Mistakes are the knots, the tangles, the broken threads, the dropped stitches in the web of our living. They are the misdeals in judgment, our unwise investments in morals, the profit and loss account of wisdom. They are the misleading bypaths from the straight road of truth and truth in our highest living is but the accuracy of the soul.

Life is simply time given to man to learn how to live. Mistakes are always part of learning. The real dignity of life consists in cultivating a fine attitude towards our own mistakes and those of others. It is the fine tolerance of a fine soul. Man becomes great, not through never making mistakes, but by profiting by those he does make; by being satisfied with a single rendition of a mistake, not encoring it into a continuous performance; by getting from it the honey of new, regenerating inspiration with no irritating sting of morbid regret; by building better to-day because of his poor yesterday; and by rising with renewed strength, finer purpose and freshened courage every time he falls.

In great chain factories, power machines are specially built to test chains—to make them fail, to show their weakness, to reveal the mistakes of workmanship. Let us thank God when a mistake shows us the weak link in the chain of our living. It is a new revelation of how to live. It means the rich red blood of a new inspiration.

If we have made an error, done a wrong, been unjust to another or to ourselves, or, like the Pharisee, passed by some opportunity for good, we should have the courage to face our mistake squarely, to call it boldly by its right name, to acknowledge it frankly and to put in no flimsy alibis of excuse to protect an anemic self-esteem.

If we have been selfish, unselfishness should atone; if we have wronged, we should right; if we have hurt, we should heal; if we have taken unjustly, we should restore; if we have been unfair, we should become just. Every possible reparation should be made. If confession of regret for the wrong and for our inability to set it right be the maximum of our power let us at least do that. A quick atonement sometimes almost effaces the memory. If foolish pride stands in our way we are aggravating the first mistake by a new one. Some people’s mistakes are never born singly—they come in litters.

Those who waken to the realization of their wrong act, weeks, months or years later, sometimes feel it is better to let confession or reparation lapse, that it is too late to reopen a closed account; but men rarely feel deeply wounded if asked to accept payment on an old promissory note—outlawed for years.

Some people like to wander in the cemetery of their past errors, to reread the old epitaphs and to spend hours in mourning over the grave of a wrong. This new mistake does not antidote the old one. The remorse that paralyzes hope, corrodes purpose, and deadens energy is not moral health, it is—an indigestion of the soul that cannot assimilate an act. It is selfish, cowardly surrender to the dominance of the past. It is lost motion in morals; it does no good to the individual, to the injured, to others, or to the world. If the past be unworthy live it down; if it be worthy live up to it and—surpass it.

Omnipotence cannot change the past, so why should we try? Our duty is to compel that past to vitalize our future with new courage and purpose, making it a larger, greater future than would have been possible without the past that has so grieved us. If we can get real, fine, appetizing dividends from our mistakes they prove themselves not losses but—wise investments. They seem like old mining shares, laid aside in the lavender of memory of our optimism and now, by some sudden change in the market of speculation, proved to be of real value.

Musing over the dreams of youth, the golden hopes that have not blossomed into deeds, is a dangerous mental dissipation. In very small doses it may stimulate; in large ones it weakens effort. It over-emphasizes the past at the expense of the present; it adds weights, not wings, to purpose. “It might have been” is the lullaby of regret with which man often puts to sleep the mighty courage and confidence that should inspire him. We do not need narcotics in life so much as we need tonics. We may try sometimes, sadly and speculatively, to reconstruct our life from some date in the past when we might have taken a different course. We build on a dead “if.” This is the most unwise brand of air-castle.

The other road always looks attractive. Distant sails are always white; far-off hills always green. It may perhaps have been the poorer road after all, could our imagination, through some magic, see with perfect vision the finality of its possibility. The other road might have meant wealth but less happiness; fame might have charmed our ears with the sweet music of praise, but the little hand of love that rests so trustingly in ours might have been denied us. Death itself might have come earlier to us or his touch stilled the beatings of a heart we hold dearer than our own. What the other road might have meant no eternity of conjecture could ever reveal; no omnipotence could enable us now to walk therein even if we wished.

It is a greater mistake to err in purpose, in aim, in principle, than in our method of attaining them…Right principles are vital and primary. They bring the maximum of profit from mistakes, reduce the loss to a minimum. False pride perpetuates our mistakes, deters us from confessing them, debars us from repairing them and ceasing them.

Let us never accept mistakes as final; let us organize victory out of the broken ranks of failure and, despite all odds, fight on calmly, courageously, unflinchingly, serenely confident that, in the end, right living and right doing must triumph.

Learning to Ride Your First Motorcycle

vintage man learning to ride motorcycle bike tippingEditor’s note: This is a guest post from Michael Reid.

So you’ve already read up on how to buy your first motorcycle. What about learning to ride it?

If you’re like most men, you may be thinking, “How hard can it be? I’ve had that two-wheeled thing down since, what, age 6?” But a motorcycle does not suffer fools. Most motorcycles will go from zero to 60 faster than you can read this sentence. There are no seatbelts or airbags on motorcycles. If cars are more and more about being protected in a cocoon, motorcycles are about being out there in the wind. With a motorcycle, you wear your protection. Screw up in a car and you might bend some sheet metal; screw up on a bike and you might die. Riding a motorcycle will always include an element of danger; there’s no way around that. But there are ways to minimize your risk and put the odds more in your favor.

How To Ride a Motorcycle

1. Get some training. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has training programs all over the country. Find out where by going to Many of these programs are official parts of state programs. Some, like those in Ohio for example, even provide the bike for beginning students. They’ve trained close to 6 million students since 1974. They’ll teach you the techniques of throttle, clutch and brake control, and more. And they don’t stop there. As you get better, you can also take their Experienced and Advanced courses.

2. Ride like you’re invisible and everybody else is drunk. Car drivers, at least the ones who aren’t texting, fighting with their spouse on the phone, applying make-up, or messing with their iPods, are looking for moving objects the size of cars and trucks. A motorcycle is a much smaller thing and might not even register with a driver. And since so many cars are wired to have their lights on all the time, even the bike’s headlight doesn’t make it stand out in traffic. Never assume that the car driver sees you. Always assume that the car driver will do something dumb. Be ready for it. Plan accordingly.

3. Look as far down the road as possible. This is a corollary to the previous paragraph. The best riders don’t want to be surprised, so they anticipate. They see a truck on an entrance ramp and move left long before the truck merges. They see cars waiting at an intersection, so they slow down and put the first two fingers of their right hand on the front brake lever so they can reduce reaction time if they have to get on the brakes. They ride a little faster than average traffic to stay out of blind spots. In short, they anticipate the dumb things a driver might do and position themselves to avoid the consequences if the driver does, indeed, do that dumb thing. The best riders are the smoothest riders, constantly moving their machines to the least risky place.

vintage man riding motorcycle 1920s 1930s wearing suit fedora

Head protection: A fedora doesn’t count.

4. Wear a helmet. A helmet won’t protect your head if you hit a tree at 60 mph. Nothing will. A helmet is designed to protect your head in a fall from ride height (4 or 5 feet) to the ground and the ensuing scrapage. You’ve seen riders whose only head protection is a bandana. These people aren’t cool; they’re stupid. Years ago, Bell Helmets had an advertising campaign that said, “If you have a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet.” What does it say about the value of your head if you don’t even wear one?

5. Always wear your gear. Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Guess what happens to your skin if you fall off your bike. Experienced riders call it road rash. So protect your body’s largest organ with a jacket, pants, and gloves every time you ride. There are jackets on the market that pass air almost as well as a t-shirt, yet protect well in a crash. Jeans aren’t the best in a crash, but they protect better than shorts. Shoes that lace up will stay on your feet; loafers or flip-flops won’t.

6. Practice, practice, practice. Given a good surface, a motorcycle will stop faster than any car. But it won’t if you’re timid about using the brakes. Go find an empty parking lot and practice a series of stops from 25 or so, squeezing the brakes a little harder each time you stop until you get used to maximum braking. Some motorcycles have ABS, most don’t, so practice is valuable when it comes to stopping as quickly as possible. Get used to the fact that the front brake contributes far more to a fast stop than the rear brake.

7. Learn to maintain your machine. We’re not talking about rebuilding the engine — we’re talking about the really simple stuff. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have enough tread. Check your oil. Make sure your lights aren’t burned out. Ask your dealer’s service department to teach you how to adjust your chain. Here’s why all of this is important: If your tires are underinflated, or even overinflated, your bike won’t handle properly. If your lights are burned out, it’s harder for cars to see you. If your chain isn’t adjusted properly, well, chains are expensive and you don’t want to replace one if you don’t have to.

8. Don’t scare your girlfriend. Don’t ride with your significant other on the back until you’re thoroughly comfortable riding by yourself. Adding a passenger drastically changes the riding characteristics of the bike. Do some short distances at lower speeds with a passenger to get used to how the bike handles. And don’t give in to the temptation to show your passenger how quick your bike is. Scaring the crap out of your passenger is not manly, just dumb.

Riding a motorcycle will never be as safe as driving a car. But, as Helen Keller once wrote:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Get out there and ride.

Are you a veteran rider? What other tips do you have for guys who are learning to ride their first motorcycle?

So You Want My Job: Olympic Hopeful

Casey Burgener weightlifting in competition olympic hopeful

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

Daah daah duh don don don da. That was the Olympic “fanfare and theme.” So hard to convey in writing. Every four years the world’s top athletes gather to compete against the very best of the best. They compete for country, for glory, and for the love of their sport. For these athletes, the Olympics are the culmination of years of all-consuming training, of copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears spent in the pursuit of one goal: the sound of their national anthem playing as the gold medal is placed around their necks.

Casey Burgener knows all about the highs and lows of this struggle for athletic glory. He’s been competing in Olympic-style weightlifting for almost two decades. He and his wife Natalie, who is also a weightlifter and competed in the 2008 Olympics, live together at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Co.

Casey qualified to compete in the 2008 Olympics but had his spot taken from him the night before the opening ceremonies when weightlifters from other countries were disqualified, thus changing the results of the qualifying rounds. Such a disappointment might have crushed a lesser man, but Casey just got back to work, setting his mind on training for another four years to compete in London in 2012. Not only is Casey a man of great resiliency, he also has an amazingly sweet red beard. I’m sure the AoM army will be cheering on Captain Redbeard the Fierce next year when Casey goes for the gold.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc).

I’m originally from a little town in Northern San Diego County named Bonsall, but I currently live in Colorado Springs, CO. I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been competing in Olympic-style weightlifting since I was 12.

My father was a high school strength coach and is extremely passionate about weightlifting, so he had me start training to develop some extra athleticism, speed, and body awareness for the other sports I was playing at the time.

2. A lot of men lift weights as a hobby. When did you know that you wanted to really make a go of the sport and compete at the highest levels in the world?

I switched over to lifting full-time when I was 15, and I knew that it was something I wanted to pursue at a high level after watching the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. My father volunteered at the Games and was able to work in the back rooms with all the weightlifting athletes and coaches. The stories he told about his experiences in Atlanta made pursuing the Olympics very appealing.

Another big incentive was the travel. I remember playing baseball when I was younger and thinking, “I’ll never play outside San Diego County, but if I lift, I can compete around the world.” I love to travel.

natalie Burgener professional weightlifter barbell on ground

Casey’s wife Natalie is also an Olympic weightlifter. Female Olympic lifters aren’t scary huge (or tanned and oily) like the female bodybuilders you see in other competitions where juicing is the norm and getting ripped is the end goal.

3. You and your wife live at the Olympic Training Center. Do the majority of Olympic athletes/hopefuls choose to do that or do many train on their own in various locales? What’s the advantage of living at the center?

It depends on what sport you’re talking about. There are currently three Olympic Training Centers in the US. They’re located in Colorado Springs, Lake Placid, and Chula Vista. Each one has different sports that train there full-time. Most of the bigger sports (swimming, track and field, women’s gymnastics, etc.) will typically use the training centers for camps, but not to house residents. I wouldn’t say the majority of Olympic athletes/hopefuls choose the OTC as there is a limited amount of space or they don’t have access to it, but I think a lot of athletes would like to use it full-time. Regardless of whether or not someone has permission to use the OTC, the most important aspect is where the athlete believes they’ll be the most successful.

In my opinion, I don’t think there’s a better place to train than at the OTC. Our training environment makes a huge difference, but you also get your food and housing paid for, as well as having access to sports medicine, sports science, a recovery center, and plenty of other athlete services. We’re really fortunate, and especially with the current economic climate, it makes pursuing the Olympic dream a much more reasonable reality.

4. Do you live at the center year round or are there training seasons?

Weightlifters live at the training center year round, but we’ll travel to competitions throughout the year. There isn’t really a season for weightlifting like there is with other sports, so we don’t have to travel nearly as often, but we never have an “off-season” or break from training. However, a lot of other sports, in addition to traveling to competitions, will go to camps in a variety of places. For example, some Bobsled and Skeleton athletes will train in Colorado during the summer, Lake Placid in the winter, and then travel all over during their season.

In weightlifting, a fair amount of countries will travel around the world to train with fellow competitors, or just to get a break from their home-gym. France, Puerto Rico, Iran, Ecuador, Slovakia, and Uganda have all come to lift with us. The same happens with other sports. Right now in Colorado there are cyclists from the Netherlands, track and field athletes from Poland, and wrestlers from Finland as well as a variety of ex-Soviet block countries. There are constantly people from around the world coming to train here. It’s really quite exciting.

Casey Burgener professional weightlifter competition jerk

5. What is a typical day like for you? How many hours a day do you train?

Our training depends a lot on where we are in relation to a competition (time-wise). The further out we are, we’ll usually spend more time in the gym, and the closer we get, we’ll start to taper and rest up for the competition. Our week typically involves nine training sessions: twice a day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then once a day on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Each session is around two hours, but that doesn’t include the time spent on recovery, rehabilitation, and active rest. It’s very realistic at times to be doing weightlifting related activities from 8 in the morning until 7 at night. I think it’s even more dramatic for sports like pentathlon and decathlon that have to train a large number of events. At other points of the year there can be a fair amount of down time, so a lot of athletes go to school or develop hobbies to help keep them occupied. Most play Call of Duty.

6. People like Hannah Teter have their own—really delicious—ice cream. But how do less high profile athletes support themselves as they train for the Olympics?

Unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’ll most likely have to get a job. Living at the OTC takes a lot of the financial burden away, so we really only need to make enough to pay for all the normal expenses one incurs, plus travel costs for national competitions.

Right now, my wife and I coach Olympic weightlifting part-time. She coaches at a Crossfit gym in town, and we’ll go with my father around the country instructing at Crossfit Olympic Weightlifting Certifications. Making ice cream doesn’t sound like a bad idea though.

For athletes who don’t live at the OTC, it’s a little trickier. Some have been able to get a couple sponsorship deals, but it’s usually for supplements or outfitting. Most Olympic sports aren’t really popular except for a couple weeks out of every four years, so we’re not exactly shoe-ins for multi-million dollar endorsement deals. Most athletes who compete in less well known sports don’t do it for any sort of compensation, so it’s fine, but there are plenty of Olympic gold medalists who will never come close to the salary of a fourth string quarterback in the NFL.

That being said, since you have to support yourself, you need a job that caters to your training and competition schedule, and doesn’t cause any negative effects on you physically or mentally. Most elite lifters I know work at a gym, but I’ve known others who have worked as bouncers, EMTs, waiters/waitresses, teachers, or were in the military’s elite athlete program.

7. What does an Olympian do after their competition career is over? What kind of job options are there for folks with such a unique resume?

For most athletes who don’t have any sort of education or training, they’ll usually go into coaching. This is by no means an obligatory career path though. If you’ve been involved with sports for awhile and are a competent hard worker, you can possibly get a job working for a National Governing Body, or with the United States Olympic Committee. The USOC does a great job of providing athletes with career opportunities during and after their athletic endeavors, but you always have to work for it, it’s by no means a handout.

I know of some athletes overseas who became involved in politics; one is a presidential aide, and another works for the Latvian Parliament. They did this without any formal training as far as I know, but I could be mistaken.

Even if an athlete decides that they want nothing to do with sports ever again, being able to put “Olympian” or “World Team Member” on a resume can say a lot to an employer about your work ethic and dedication to a goal or job.

8. What is the best part of your job?

Traveling and the thrill of competition. Since major weightlifting competitions are generally 3-6 months apart, we have the option to stay a couple extra days at a meet location to see the area. A lot of other sports don’t have that luxury since their season usually consists of one competition every week or even every couple of days. They fly in, sleep in the hotel, compete, and then fly out to the next competition or tournament.

The emotion that goes into competing is unparalleled. I used to throw up before every competition from being nervous, but I loved being there. There’s nothing like stepping on a platform in a foreign country and getting to push yourself to your absolute limits. It’s exhilarating.

Casey Burgener and natalie riding elephant thailand jungle

After the 2008 World Championships in Thailand, Casey proposed to his wife atop an elephant.

9. What is the worst part of your job?

The pressure of continuously improving, which especially grows as you start to approach your peaking age, and the sacrifices you make for your sport. Every job is going to require some sacrifice, and with being an athlete, every single thing you do needs to revolve around your sport. How you train, recover, what you eat, how much you sleep, etc., all play a part in your performance. Having to monitor your entire life 24/7 can cause an athlete to become unbalanced. I’ve had a lot of invitations to do some exciting activities with friends and family, but I’ve had to decline because I’ll have a hard week of training, a competition is coming up, or I need some extra rest from a previous session.

It’s also difficult sometimes to get past the notion that the amount of dedication and effort we give to reach the pinnacle of our athletic career (or Olympic dream) is really just for the entertainment of others.

10. What’s the work/family/life balance like?

Since my wife lifts weights as well, we get to spend plenty of time with each other. If one of us didn’t compete, I think it would be very manageable, but frustrating at times. Since athletics is typically a pretty selfish career, some things may be hard to deal with, like trying to find time to spend together with all the travel and a demanding training schedule. There are plenty of people who have families and are still able to train, but it’s probably just more difficult. I’m not a parent yet, but I’d imagine raising a child the way a man should requires a lot of self-sacrifice, which would be tough to do as an elite athlete.

11. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That we are all on drugs (a whole other conversation altogether), eat ridiculously large quantities of food, and that we are powerlifters, bodybuilders, or compete in strongman competitions. I can’t even count the times I’ve told people I’m an Olympic weightlifter and the first thing they ask is “How much do you bench?” We don’t bench, curl, or do donkey calf raises.

12. It seems like most Olympians have been practicing their sport since they were knee-high-to-a-grasshopper. Are there any Olympic sports you can get into later in life or pretty much if you’ve graduated high school and aren’t on the path to the Olympics already, all hope is lost?

While most coaches agree it would be best to start when you’re shin high to a beetle, it’s not completely necessary. Again, a lot of it depends on the sport. Female gymnasts peak at 16 or 17, although I don’t know if many AoM readers have aspirations of becoming a female gymnast. Weightlifters usually peak in their mid-twenties, but that’s if they’ve been lifting since they were 9 or 10. Some of the greatest weightlifters in history didn’t start until they were 19 or 20 and became World champions in their early to mid thirties.

I’d say for most sports, athletes peak in their mid to late twenties, but there are numerous examples of competitors who are exceptions to that statement (e.g. Dara Torres). Once your twenties pass by, your chances start to dwindle quickly, but that doesn’t mean they disappear. If you’re older (over thirty) and want to participate in a sport, then shooting, archery, and curling are all very viable options if you want to compete. Susan Nattrass won the 2007 Pan Am Games, and competed in the 2008 Olympics in shooting, and she was born in 1950.

13. Any other advice, tips, commentary or anecdotes you’d like to share?

No matter what sport you get into, make sure you take the time to develop. A lot of people will undertake an athletic venture, and if they don’t become a world-class athlete within 6 months, they give up. Rather than quitting, they need to read your article on “Deliberate Practice,” which is spot on. You referenced Gladwell’s “Outliers,” and how it typically takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field. I think this is very true, although some people, who are genetically blessed and put in the time and effort, will just be a little further ahead after those 10,000 hours.

Another tip is to surround yourself with others who want to be successful. Find a coach who is knowledgeable and energetic about what they do, and train with people who chase perfection. The right people and environment makes a huge difference.

One thing I love about athletics is that you can’t measure heart, desire, and discipline. Less talented individuals who are willing to push themselves everyday will beat the favorite who doesn’t give that extra effort. Not to seem too cliche, but there’s this great Versus commercial that speaks exactly about that. It has a wonderful quote in it: “Passion has a funny way of trumping logic.” I’m not saying that somebody without a shred of athletic ability will win the Olympics, but if they push themselves and quiet that voice inside that tells them to quit, they’ll be able to go further than they ever thought possible.