A few years ago, I was speaking with one of my mentors about some of the hard times I experienced growing up, and some I am currently dealing with. He listened carefully, then asked me to be more vulnerable.
“I’ll talk about anything” I said. “What do you want to know?” He told me it wasn’t about the facts I was already sharing, it was much deeper than that – the real stuff, the stuff that makes you uncomfortable to share out loud.
He said if I wanted to have the impact I was capable of on my clients and students, and to be the kind of dad and role model I needed to be, I’d have to get comfortable with being vulnerable.
I soon realized how much I had been holding in for more than half my life – the pain, sadness, anger, and fear – all because I never learned how do things any differently. And for some reason, all the real, human emotions that men feel every day are ones we’re taught to keep to ourselves.
Sure, we can talk about sports, women, money, and power, but that’s as deep as we’re allowed to go, because “real men” don’t talk about their feelings.
I grew up watching Arnold courageously battle the Predator and John Maclean save the day in Die Hard, so my idea of masculinity was the same one so many of us learned. There’s an image we try so desperately to live up to – an image that surrounds us and makes us think that being ‘macho’ is a badge of honour when it’s really killing us from the inside out.
It wasn’t until I started talking openly about the ‘uncomfortable’ stuff that I understood how much of giant weight I had been carrying around, and how much it was holding me back. At first, I was afraid sharing my “flaws” would make me look weak, but the truth is I’ve never felt stronger. I was worried being vulnerable would push people away, but they keep getting closer. And the more I let down the shield I thought I needed to protect me all these years, the more people are thanking me, just for being honest and real.
I have a young son and another on the way. Being a dad is the greatest honour and responsibility I’ve ever experienced, and while the words I speak matter, I know the example I set matters so much more. In my work as a mentor with youth, I guide teens and young adults to be their greatest selves as they discover who they really are and how much they’re capable of – but that requires the kind of real trust that only comes with being vulnerable.
If that means being comfortable with the uncomfortable, then that’s what I need to do. And if that’s what it takes for the next generation of young men to be happier, healthier, more self-aware leaders than ever before, I’d say it’s something we all need to encourage.
As dads, mentors, and role models, our job isn’t to be perfect “heroes”, Arnold, or John Maclean, but daring to lead by example takes courage. And there’s nothing more courageous than putting down the shield, being vulnerable, and embracing who you really are.
As a role model, one small thing you can do is to participate in White Ribbon’s event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, on Wednesday May 30 at David Pecaut Square. Show your solidarity to end gender-based violence, and promote healthy masculinities- which are rooted in vulnerability, empathy and courage to get out of the “manbox.” You can register here. Walk a Mile is proudly presented by Town Shoes Ltd.
Cory Chadwick is a thought leader, speaker, mentor, and founder of The Personal Greatness Project, helping teens, young adults, teams, and organizations realize their personal greatness and thrive in a quickly changing world.
For more information, check out: www.personalgreatnessproject.com and follow @thepersonalgreatnessproject