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Being a Man in the 21st Century (Part 2)

Being a Man in the 21st Century (Part 2)

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    Earlier this week, I began a discussion of the way that manhood in American society is changing. Today, I want to revisit the topic with some of my own ideas about how these changes could lead to a more enriching and satisfying take on masculinity.

    Before I do that, though, I want to say how thrilled I was at the response the first post got – I had never expected such lengthy, thoughtful comments and the depth of insight that you, Lifehack’s readers, have shared with us. I had intended to respond directly to some of the comments, but they turned out to be so rich and complex that any response I could give would hardly do them justice. If you missed that post, I implore you to go back and look at the comments.

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    I also want to point out that these changes are not limited to the American scene, though that’s the context I know best. Around the world, women are emerging as major players in the increasingly global economy. One sign of the role women are playing is the success of the microloan movement, many of whose programs lend primarily or solely to women.

    I don’t claim that I have all the answers, by the way. In fact, despite the fact that I teach women’s studies for a living and have spent more than a decade dwelling on the issues I’m raising in these posts, I am as prone to chauvinistic thinking, objectification of women, and just plain dumb behavior as the next guy. It’s the way we’ve been socially and culturally conditioned — creating unconscious thought processes that aren’t always immediately apparent. The best I think we can hope for is self-awareness and growth, not the instant transformation of every man into a superhero overnight. It will be the next generation, the kids who grow up in a world where women are full participants in our public lives, that will show us best how to be men that embrace true equality – and I have no doubt that they’ll look on me as unkindly as I look on, say, the anti-Suffragists of the last century.

    We are all feminists now.

    Aside from a few hard-core traditionalists, just about everyone now accepts as a given that both men and women will have an education, a career, and a public life. Each and every one of us benefits daily from the greater participation of women in our society: we use medicines developed by women, we use products designed by women, we live by laws written by and voted on by women, and so on. By lowering the barriers that prevented women from developing to their fullest extent in the past, we have effectively doubled the pool of talent that we as a society draw on.

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    The idea that a woman can’t be this or that is falsified by the reality that there is virtually no job category that women haven’t entered and excelled in. Real men encourage those around them, male or female, to realize their fullest potential, regardless of their own or others’ preconceptions. That’s feminism.

    There is no “men’s work” and “women’s work”, there is only work.

    Sociologists estimate that there are as many as 2 million stay-at-home dads in the US right now. And fathers as a whole – stay-at-home dads or otherwise – spend almost as much time with their children as mothers do. Men do laundry, cook dinner, buy groceries, and drop the kids off at soccer practice. Meanwhile, women write legal briefs, run for office, work construction equipment, and direct corporate mergers. The idea that certain kinds of work are “feminine” or “masculine” is dead in the water. Although there are plenty of holdouts who are still inclined to fill positions based at least in part on gender, the most successful businesses work hard to focus their hiring on demonstrated talent. Likewise, the most successful families have found that splitting household tasks not according to gender but according to skill and available time. There are plenty of un-handy men around, and plenty of non-domestic women, and we all benefit when they’re encouraged to do the things they’re good at instead of the things their gender allegedly suits them for.

    Parenting is fundamental.

    The reason that so many men are choosing to spend all or a significant part of their lives elbow-deep in domestic parenting tasks is that we are finally learning how much we’ve been missing in our traditional 8am-8pm work+commute+overtime workaholic schedules. Whole generations of men have missed not only seeing their kids grow up, but seeing themselves grow up. Parenting is about so much more than financially supporting someone through their childhood years, it’s about tending to cuts and scrapes, putting a balanced meal on the table, and dealing with the scores of childhood traumas that mark our growth into personhood. It’s about sacrifice, hands-on responsibility, and struggling alongside our kids to make sense of the world. The stereotypical middle-aged man sporting a ponytail and a convertible is, I think, a product of the kind of selfishness that real parenting necessarily eliminates.

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    Passion is a priority.

    Manhood in the 20th century was about financial success – working a job you hate because it puts food on the table. With both men and women supporting their families, though, some of that pressure is lifted. Of course, we still need to work, but just as important as earning a living is the passion that drives us to excel – even at careers that are not especially lucrative. We can see, for instance, the rise of “lifestyle entrepreneurs“, people who start their own businesses not so much in hopes of getting rich but in order to support themselves doing something they love, as an indicator of the way that income is giving way to passion as a measure of one’s manhood.

    Embrace difference.

    It’s becoming harder and harder to take people who rant about the difference between men and women seriously. For every generalization, we can point to a thousand exceptions – men who love shopping and women who hate it, women who whoop and holler over their football team’s victory and men who couldn’t tell you if the Cleveland Browns play in the American League or the National League*.

    Traditional masculinity was about punishing any man who stepped out of bounds, whether it was because he was gay, feminine, physically weak, or in some other way short of the masculine standard. That simply doesn’t fly any more – there are as many different ways of being “manly” (or “womanly”, for that matter) as there are men (or women). And success doesn’t come in spite of those differences, it comes because of it – they create the diversity that allows businesses, organizations, and other endeavors to be flexible, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to innovate. In short, difference allows us to thrive, and we need to stop fearing it and embrace it.

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    And that goes for other kinds of differences, too – racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, religious, national, linguistic, you name it. Being a confident man these days means not being threatened by what we don’t understand, it means seeking greater understanding.

    * Yes, I know. It’s funny, see?

    It’s about us.

    Though “being one’s own man” has long been held up as a standard of masculinity, it’s rarely been realized in practice. The eras of manhood that we look back to nostalgically as models of “when men were men” – I’m thinking, for example, of the Mad Men era – were times of stunning conformity. We weren’t our own men, we were beholden to a particularly narrow model of what men should be, and men who didn’t fit that model were punished, often brutally.

    The 21st century offers men a real opportunity to live up to the ideal of being our own men, though. The possibilities for personal development and self-expression have never been greater. It’s no longer about what women find attractive – freed from the need to find man to support and protect them, women are finding themselves attracted to a wide range of types that in the past might have been considered “unmanly”. It’s no longer about being “one of the boys” – that kind of conformity is poison to the modern workplace and to modern communities. No, manhood today is about us, about living our own lives as fully and satisfyingly as we can.

    It’s about you.

    Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m intensely curious about your thoughts. I’ve left some things out, too – most notably sex, but also fashion, personality, and matters of taste or style. These things have become so various that there’s no way I could do them any justice here. By and large, I think they fall under the category of embracing difference – of recognizing that in a society where diversity is a crucial value, men will find a huge variety of ways to dress, act, enjoy their leisure time, and make love. But maybe you have thoughts on those topics as well – the conversation in part 1 was brilliant, let’s see if we can keep it up in the comments here!

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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