What do you envision when you see these words:
Is your mind flooded with images of wild cavemen eating with their bare hands, wiping their mouths with their forearms, while they guzzle down goblets of beer?
Maybe you imagine a group of Swanson worshippers cooking steaks, shooting guns, drinking whiskey, and whittling boats from freshly axed tree trunks.
Surely, events like these are a part of Man Camp, right?
Guns? Check. Eating with our bare hands? Check. Chasing meat with booze? Check.
Chopping down trees and crafting canoes, not so much.
When John Romaniello and Dave Dellenave announced they’d created Man Camp, I knew I was going.
No man in his right mind would give up the promise of guns, BBQ, personal development, whiskey, lifting, football, and more, right in the heart of Texas.
I know what you’re thinking. “Sounds like a bunch of dudes wanting to recreate their college years.”
No. Man Camp wasn’t an excuse to recreate Animal House for a weekend.
Man Camp was meant to be:
A 3-day event for men to strip themselves bare of the expectations put upon them by society, and delve deeply into their own sense of purpose.
Essentially, we were exploring the question: What defines a modern man?
Yea, What IS a Man?
What is a man (or at least what makes a good man) has been a question I’ve asked myself for over two and a half decades.
With a return to Austin on our calendar, Tanner and I decided to drive, again.
Fourteen hours in the car, however, gave us a head start on the discussion of masculinity and manhood.
It seemed fitting to talk about the men in our lives and how they’d influenced our upbringings. Not to mention how, today, one or two of our grandfathers would think we were a bunch of pansy ass wimps who didn’t understand “hard work,” but that’s beside the point.
Manhood, for our grandfathers, was defined by the work they did and the families they raised. They wouldn’t understand blogging, online coaching, or social media.
They were men of silence. They worked with their hands, not their mouths; speaking only when they needed to, not when they wanted attention.
What defined a man 100 years ago is different than what defines a man today. And the same will be true in 2116.
When I left Austin, I had a better sense of how I wanted to define manhood and masculinity for myself in today’s world.
What Lies Beneath
How do you kick off an event like Man Camp?
You ask NYT best-selling author, Tucker Max, to be your first speaker.
I’ve been a fan of Tucker’s since 2008.
Before I established the rule that I have to read every day for 30 minutes, I barely read at all. Tucker’s first book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell was one of the rare exceptions.
I was drawn to Tucker’s work, partly, because I grew up the “nice guy” in High School, a perpetual victim of Teddy Bear Syndrome.
Reading his stories, I felt as if I was vicariously living out his life. Admittedly, in college, I decided to drop the nice guy routine and I, in more ways than one, became a bit of a dick.
Over the last eight years, I’ve grown, evolved how I see the world (and myself) and I’ve dug deeper into the pain from my past.
And that’s what Tucker has done as well.
Gone are the days of him going out to pick up women, shitting his pants in hotel lobbies, or yelling at dumbasses who camp out for Duke tickets. (The latter I’ll always support because, fuck Duke.)
Tucker’s evolved. He’s a father now and a happily married man.
None of that would have been possible, if as he admitted, he’d not spent a few years mucking through his deep-rooted trauma with an analyst.
Much of his trauma can be traced back to his childhood and what he witnessed with his parents.
The first example of what a child understands about marriage or romance comes via their parents.
Even with my desire to not be like my father, there are times my actions are eerily similar to what I witnessed as a child.
Beyond what we see with our parents, everyone has traumatic moments that cling to us for life.
Whether this event happened with another family member or friend, these scarring moments can shape and mold our disposition, our view of the world, and leave us with buried pain that we spend years trying to avoid.
Years we spend attempting to drink it away, eat it away, fuck it away, or we end up passing on the life sucking virus to those we care about, yes, even to your kids.
I’ve never been to an analyst, but I’m self-aware enough to know that most of my issues stem from my dad. The others come from the fear instilled by my family in regards to a higher power (authority) and punishment.
Tucker explained that he realized without addressing his past trauma and deep-rooted pain, he’d continue the cycle of spreading his issues to those he loved. And that this was the one thing keeping him from a happy and healthy relationship.
I jotted down notes for over an hour, but some of what he said I took in for my own selfish needs. Still, Tucker said a few things that I think everyone can benefit from:
- Think inside out; you can’t change outside in.
- When you reach the mountain top, don’t curse the path that brought you there – Buddhist Proverb
- When everything is going right, but you’re still not happy, the problem is you. (I’ll let that one sink in. Read it again in case it didn’t.)
- To heal, we have to sit with our negative emotions. It’s the only way we can get through our own shit and actually start making long lasting changes
Then he ended with this:
What matters most in life is the people you have and what you do for those people that matter to them.
Empathy Doesn’t Make You “Weak.”
Girls have cooties. Ewwwwww
That all changes during puberty when our minds suddenly fill with “funny feelings.”
Instead of cooties, now we have to deal with “feelings?” Ugh.
We’re taught from a young age (at least I was) that men aren’t supposed to show emotion—it’s a sign of weakness.
Understanding? Compassion? Empathy?
Nope, those are emotions and for the Archie Bunker’s I grew up around— loud, opinionated, and too narrow-minded to see any other side of arguments except their own—emotions mean you’re a pussy.
Men don’t need to feel “feelings.” We handle them by stuffing them deep inside or lashing out with destructive behavior. Or completely ignoring them all together.
The only time my father said it was okay to cry was the day my grandfather died.
Death made emotions acceptable. But anything else? Baseball to the stomach, fall off my bike, stump my toe, not acceptable: “Dry your tears and man up.”
But what about empathy? Does that make you weak as a man to be empathetic?
Empathy’s defined as:
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
There’s that word again, feelings.
Marshall Roy came to Man Camp and challenged us to buck the system we’ve been raised in for decades.
We all know there’s a ton of awful shit going on in the world. Ignoring the feelings of others and not challenging our own minds to look logically at all avenues, will not only hurt us as humans, but as men.
Marshall decided to give us a unique challenge during his talk. Every single one of us had to pick one thing we believe wholeheartedly in; then we had to write from the perspective of someone who believed the opposite.
It’s easy to hate. But it takes more strength to drop your perspective and to see something, truthfully, from another’s point of view.
Many of the issues we face today could be solved with less talking and more empathetic listening.
Finding a common positive connection with others doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it takes strength to be empathetic.
When we arrived at Man Camp, we received a bag of goodies. In this bag were a few books.
One of those books is “The 5 Love Languages.”
My only experience with The 5 Love Languages was the time my wife and I took the test online to discover ours.
Here’re how the languages are divided up:
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
Each language signifies the acts of love you or your partner desire the most.
For me, number one is words of affirmation. Again, this goes back to my childhood and longing for the love and attention of my father or authority figures.
My wife, on the other hand, needs quality time and touch. Things I’ve neglected as an entrepreneur from time to time and it’s lead to a few issues.
Both John and Dave attribute this book to being a huge game changer in their relationships. And for anyone who’s never read it or taken the test, do it.
Our lives are filled with relationships, both romantic and not.
Understanding the love languages not only helps you with your romantic (and non-romantic) relationships. But when your friends bring their relationship issues to you (because we all do), you’ll have a better sense of how to help them if you understand the language they, or their partners, speak.
I considered this the most important tidbit about relationships mentioned at Man Camp:
Treat others the way they want to be treated.
Brotherhood Matters (and not the kind you see in movies)
Flags of Our Fathers, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, in all of these war films, we see the power of brotherhood.
But in our real lives, it’s often never mentioned.
Every man at Man Camp had different reasons for being there. Some were there because they’re fans of Roman and were curious about the event.
Other men were there because they were searching for the courage to venture out into a new business, some were there for the fellowship and networking, and I’m sure a few came for the guns and BBQ.
But some of the men were there because they’re going through life altering chapters of their lives and they’re searching for guidance and meaning.
One night, while driving to eat BBQ, one of the men I met admitted he was there after three failed marriages because he had no other friends and was hoping to remedy this in Austin.
I’ve heard Roman mention a handful of times why events like Man Camp or other conferences can be life-altering. Not for the event itself but for the people you meet. Those words only became clearer as four grown men told this thrice divorced man, you have friends now.
Mental States and Testosterone
Dr. Jade Teta came to Austin to talk about testosterone. That hormone that makes a man feel like a man, drives our ability to build muscle, burns fat, and puts hair on our balls.
But there’s more to testosterone than that.
During Dr. Teta’s presentation, he outlined what he calls the state of man.
According to the good doctor, one of the largest factors affecting our hormonal state, as well as our virility, is our mental state.
Mental states –> create hormonal states –> create sexual potency
If your mental state is shit, everything else is pretty much shit as well.
You have zero drive, no energy; you’re stressed out, so your body produces excess cortisol, and that can lead to increased fat storage around the belly.
Oh, not to mention if your testosterone tanks, so too can your drive for sex.
Sex is fucking awesome. And if your life, your job, or other stresses are preventing you from even being able to get a boner, bro, you need to get something examined.
I’m not a doctor, I never played one as an actor, and I don’t pretend to be one online either.
Capability: The Measure of a Man
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein
I can do about 13 of the above.
David Dellenave, however, can (probably) do all of them. And if there is one he can’t do, he’ll fucking figure it out.
Curiosity is one of the main drivers behind what Dave does and doesn’t do. In his words, “invest in the things you’re interested in.”
The Most Interesting Man in the World was interesting because he could do, or did, cool shit.
So why aren’t you more interesting? What’s stopping you from exploring your curiosities?
Ever wanted to know how to build a dresser? Skin a deer? Plan an invasion? Write a song on the piano?
In today’s world, you have no one to blame but yourself for not discovering your curiosities.
Here’s what you can learn on YouTube:
- How to pick a lock
- Create a wi-fi extender
- How to play The Scientist by Coldplay
- How to speed read
- How to tie a tie
Exploring what you’re curious about could lead to amazing things.
I sent an email on my way to Man Camp, one my clients sent me the words below, and I feel that it perfectly wraps up this section.
A youth consumes more than he produces, a man produces more than he consumes.
Stay curious, my friends.
It ALL Goes Back to Campbell
Without Campbell’s work, there’s no Star Wars, possibly no Harry Potter, and I’d venture to say there’s never a Super Mario, Link, or even Pokemon, and absolutely no John Romaniello. (or at least not how we know him)
And without Roman, there’s no Side Quest Fitness.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t just relegated to movies, comics, or novels. According to Roman, “it’s the perfect framework for personal development.”
Want to start a business? Cool. You can use the Hero’s Journey.
Did you just go through a break-up? Great, no better way to view your bounce back than through the lens of Campbell.
Getting in shape? Well, aren’t you in luck. Roman’s already written a book about The Hero’s Journey and fitness.
I see Campbell and The Hero’s Journey, everywhere. It frames how I view my business, my relationship with my wife, and my growth as a man.
“Words have meaning.” – John Romaniello
Maybe I’m parsing words here. But within the definition of masculinity, sits the word “traditionally.” And it’s this word, and the examination of it, that I believe were at the crux of what David and John wanted most out of Man Camp.
Masculinity: possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men.
Should modern men be beholden to the traditional definition of masculinity? Are there aspects of that definition that are essential to our identity as men? Can we change parts of the traditional definition to mold and shape a more modern interpretation of masculinity?
More importantly, what within our traditional contexts of being men holds us back from being better men or better human beings all-around? Is this what we must explore?
Manhood: the state or period of being a man rather than a child.
I’m still not 100% clear on what manhood means for me. There are days I feel more like a man-child than anything else. But what I took away from Man Camp is that there are pieces of masculinity we should never apologize for or hide.
But there are parts in the traditional sense that we can evolve and modernize.
We can make the world a better place, but it first, has to start with making ourselves better men.