Coming of age in America is a process fraught with societal expectations, role models, and archetypes, but what does it mean to be a man? It isn’t enough to reach the age of consent, because in the case of manhood, it’s not about age, but maturity and a certain indefinable air that each of us crave? Manliness speaks of an easy social confidence, a strength of spirit, and an unassailable inner structure of values, but how can a young man build this charisma?
In the absence of adversity and rights of passage so often associated with strength of character, what can be done to cultivate the enviable image of manliness that seems to draw fortune, love, and all good things to it? Especially when we are confronted with the barriers of shyness, inexperience, and a fear of rejection; the space that separates us from what we see and what we wish to be can seem wide.
1. Develop Your Sense of Self
The first thing we all need to realize is that there is no single path, no codified way on how to be a more manly man. That said, the second thing we need to do is stop worrying over it. One important aspect of every ubermasculine, quality male archetype paraded before us by art and film is the abject inattention to others opinions. It’s not an act. They really aren’t thinking about whether that woman across the room notices how awesome they are.
They’re just being awesome. A part of this quality stems directly from the fact that they compete with no one, save themselves. Their goal is excellence in whatever they do; to attain the highest standard of their given pursuit and better yesterday’s best. You don’t have to be a high-powered businessman or a spy. You can practice this quality in your everyday life — as a student, a barista, a graphic designer, or whatever pursuit fills your days.
Follow what interests you, and work becomes play. Focus your time on becoming skilled at something that you enjoy, not on being seen as a talented person. If feel you’re clumsy, take dancing lessons or enroll in a martial arts class. This will teach you to understand how your body moves through space, which is the beginning of grace. If you aren’t born with it, don’t fret. It can be learned. However, it’s not something you’re doing for anyone else. Learning to balance motion and stillness as modern dance and martial arts will teach you, is the beginning of inhabiting your space with confidence. It’s for you alone.
2. Value Your Time
A large part of being a mature, interactive part of society is learning to cooperate and work with others. However, one of the signature qualities of manliness is valuing your time. While you accord those you encounter with respect, you are not there to pander to anyone. To do so communicates subservience, and that will do you no favors in the long run with coworkers, acquaintances or love interests.
When you make plans, stick to them. Be firm about your commitments and ask others to do the same, because your word is your bond. Those who break plans at the last minute too often, or expect you to drop everything for them, are not in your life because they value you. You must learn to let those individuals pass by the wayside.
Take people at their word. If someone indicates no preference for a hangout location or a meal, be decisive. If they fail to voice any wishes to the contrary, that’s not your problem and you should never shoulder the blame for their discontent. When you accept people’s statements, you are according them the highest respect — the right of first refusal, or the chance to set the course of your time together. If they wish not to do so, it is also a mark of respect to hold them responsible for their own lack of communication. Internalizing the unhappiness of another can only damage you and your self-esteem.
3. The Inner World
Another aspect of valuing your time as a man is investing it in people who matter. If this is your family or close friends, being steadfast and truly present when in company with them shows how much you respect and love them. Love and tenderness in their proper place are integral parts of manliness. Take time to truly see those you care about, to notice things that are important to them, and to be in the moment with them. This is part of cultivating a rich emotional life that will provide a foundation for you later in life, no matter where your path may lead.
As well, while excessive display of emotions may be unwise in certain circumstances, learn to own your emotional responses internally. If you feel hurt, loved, sad, disrespected, angry, or happy, notice it and attempt to understand it as part of life. This can help you to restrain yourself from speaking hasty words—whether spurred by physical desire or anger at an insult. Realize that acting and reacting are different things; the first is a choice, but the second yields your autonomy to another.
4. Owning Social Space
Lastly, whenever you have to move through the world in a social or professional manner, be sure to make eye contact. When you smile, mean it. It will make all the difference. Be certain your handshake is firm and your posture is good. This body language communicates to others in your social space, telling them they are meeting a man, not a boy. You need not be the life of the party. If you are uncertain what to say, then reserve commentary and practice listening. It is your life. Own it.