My essays about appropriate masculinity are written primarily for my sons. So I acknowledge that being able to understand and draw up appropriate masculinity can be beneficial to both men and women, but may use male pronouns inclusively when refering to someone trying to be masculine.
The next essay in this series describes how social norms are tests, not rules.
My sons, this eassy is the first one I write about appropriate masculinity for a good reason.
Confidence, as I am about to define it, is an attitude that affects almost everything you do.
Confidence is the foundation of an appropraiately masculine personality. All the other admirable and traditionally masculine attributes come from confidence. Examples include courage, risk-taking, fortitude, integrity, stability, objective and clear-headed thinking, leadership during crises, and goal-oriented teamwork.
Testosterone contributes to how confidence is a masculine attribute. Your mental framework can create more and more potential confidence. But "unlocking" greater access to your hidden reserves of potential confidence requires either more experence or more testosterone. Since men have ten to twenty times as much testosterone as women (depending upon which man and woman), testosterone is a kind of shortcut to confidence available to men with the right mental framework.
I do not use the word "confidence" according to any of its common dictionary definitions. Allow me to use some compare-and-contrast to be clear about what confidence means in the setting of appropriate masculinity.
First, remember that certainty is knowing what will happen.
For example, I can be certain that I will enjoy eating my favorite kind of ice cream on a hot day.
Next, remember that optimism is not knowing what will happen, but expecting to succeed instead of fail.
For example, a friend offers me a flavor of ice cream I have never tried before. I could sensibly say, "I am optimistic I will enjoy it," because success (enjoying it) or failure (not enjoying it) both seem possible outcomes.
Notice that optimism requires genuine uncertainty and chance of failure.
As a second example, my friend offers me my favorite flavor of ice cream but from a brand I have never tried before. This time if I say "I am optimistic I will enjoy it," my friend might look at me funny. There is no reason to consider failure (not liking it) a possibility. My friend would sense that I am using the word optimism incorrectly.
Also notice that optimism has no requirement for being proactive. It is possible to be passively optimistic.
As a third example, my friend is at the store shopping for ice cream. The store does not always sell the same selection of flavors, and my friend does not always remember which flavors I enjoy. But I know my friend would like to pick a flavor that makes us both happy. I can be optimistic that he will buy a flavor I will enjoy even though I am waiting at home while someone else is doing the shopping.
How is confidence different from certainty and optimism?
Confidence is not knowing what will happen, but through recognizing that life is more complex than success-or-failure embracing the uncertainty and acting with the expectation that the situation to be worthwhile and great.
Notice that confidence requires being proactive. A person cannot react with confidence.
As a final example about eating ice cream, imagine that I wonder whether I can eat an ice cream cone while hanging upside-down from me knees at the playground. I could attempt the experiment with confidence. Success or failure is not important. Whether I can or cannot do that, it will be fun to try. The experiment will be worthwhile because I am pushing myself for the chance to learn something about myself.
Most social situations benefit from confidence. Nearly any conversation allows you to learn something. You could learn about yourself, about the other person, and/or about how to relate to other people in general. There will be growth every time you push through your fears to try something tricky or new. You will grow, and perhaps your relationship with someone else will also grow. Focus on how trying is worthwhile, rather than considering "success" or "failure".
There are definitely example of foolish confidence. People who apply confidence inappropriately can be reckless and get hurt. But almost all examples of foolish confidence involve testing your limits physically. In social and educational situations a person must really behave obnoxiously and contemptibly to be inappropriately confident. I am not worried about you crossing that line, my sons.
Confidence makes you less vulnerable.
A person who acts with confidence is not worried about failure. (Failure happens, but is an acceptable part of learning, growth, and playfulness.) So he is relaxed, direct, takes risks, enjoys competition, ignores consensus, accepts pain, and relishes new opportunities to try proving himself capable.
A person who acts with confidence is not expecting any particular outcome. So he finds most situations workable, is secure in his competence, remains quiet if surprised, and can observe and ride his emotions without fearing them or being swept away by them. He is normally smiling and practical. He finds wonder in the details of daily life. He laughs often but seldom shouts or cries.
A person with confidence expects to act. He does not shun physical effort or labor. He is used to being creative and spontaneous. He might postpone an unimportant task to focus on what has more priority, but does not procrastinate. He is busy doing worthwhile things, which makes him appear bold and adventurous. He knows how to relax, but also realizes that peace is the ability to choose his next challenge, and peacefulness does not end with the start of new activity.
A person with confidence pushes through fears in social situations. Most anxiety is a harmless biological signal that means pay attention, this is a growth moment! A confident person learns to appreciate the physical experiences of nervousness and fear. The tightening of muscles or sweating serve as a friendly reminder to make the most of the opportunity.
A person with confidence expects to sometimes be misunderstood. He only explains himself on those rare occasions when it helps calm someone else. (Most often the desire to explain yourself is self-focused and ugly.) He understands the proverb "Unasked for help isn't". He spends more time creating resources for seekers to find than trying to discuss his current or past insights and growth with the people around him.
A person with confidence is comfortable making mistakes as long as he tried his best. His self-worth comes from his accomplishments, his maturity, and his desire to keep improving. Mistakes and failures cannot diminish these, so they do not harm his ability to value and trust himself. He understands that the best problems are those that are his fault, because those are the ones he can most easily fix.
A truly confident person displays these unconsciously. In contrast, someone who is acting macho will fake confidence with unhealthy exaggerations of these ways of being less vulnerable.
My sons, this is why some other parents tell their sons "Do not cry! Boys are tough and do not cry." These parents have observed that confident men are less vulnerable. But the parents are confused. Fearlessnes and resilience are results of confidence, not sources of confidence. These parents should be teaching their children to have confidence instead of denying the need to cry. That kind of crying shows fear or loss, which are genuine during the years a child is still leaning confidence. But then the confident child, who is eager to keep going and growing, becomes too busy at his or her task to cry.
Also notice how a confident person is both more open and less vulnerable. He is unafraid of other people's judgments, so he is willing to risk when sharing humor, topics of conversation, and opinions. He does not mask his true personality or hide his rough edges. Of course some jokes will not be funny, some topics of conversation will be refused, and some opinions will be rebuffed. That is normal, not distressing. Failing to make someone smile is not an emergency. Disagreements are not crises. Mistakes are noted with a brief apology and then become water under the bridge. Constructive criticism is appreciated.
One part of appropriate masculinity is managing your testosterone level.
There are choices that increase testosterone. These include strength training, high intensity interval training, eating salmon and healthy oils, taking vitamin D on cloudy days, taking a multivitamin with zinc, having a regular schedule for falling asleep and waking up, and meditation. If you have inherited my body's trouble regulating cortisol then taking a rhodiola root suppliment also helps.
Other choices decrease testosterone. The primary one is consuming more than a minimal amount of refined grains, sugar, or alcohol. Taking care of young children also decreases testosterone.
You can have too much testosterone. If you become socially awkward because you have become too spontaneous, competitive, and overconfident, then cut down on the behaviors that increase testosterone and perhaps also spend more time with young kids.
You can have too little testosterone. This will probably only become a problem when you are much older, because people's baseline testosterone level decreases with age. But if you are troubled by boredom or depression, or if you need more whimsey or confidence, then do more of the behaviors that increase testosterone. This will also help protect your bone density and sex life as you age.
My sons, testosterone is an important part of appropriate masculinity. But do not let it rule you. It is a resource, a tool in your metaphorical toolkit.
Confidence eventually brings independence.
Real independence only looks upward. Independent people still desire further growth. They appreciate opportunities to gain wisdom and guidance from people with even higher levels of maturity. No one is too independent to pray to God.
Confidence frees the gaze to look upward. A confident person is sure of himself and his decisions. He is free to live in the moment while playing attention to what he is learning and how he is growing. He pursues greatness for its own sake, not comparing himself to others. He feels no need to please anyone. He does not seek validation or value from other people. Neither insults or compliments are meaningful—yet contructive criticism is valued. His true personality and values can shine unhindered. His humor is special because he is funny for his own sake.
Currently society is mixed-up about independence. Socially, independence is falsely defined as being in charge of yourself and able to boss other people around. This is backwards. A truly independent person does not need anyone else to boss around, and is happy to personally test out the wisdom or guidance provided by those above him.
Unfortunately, confidence naturally looks like leadership.
Confident people are more secure, comfortable, upbeat, reliable, candid, brave, and accepting of responsibility. Other people will notice these traits and try to receive a share by becoming a follower of the confident person. This can cause a backlash of disappointment when the confident person does not realize that he has been appointed as a leader and disappoints that expectation. "Why are you all looking at me? I am not in charge." It might even spoil a friendship.
Because of the overlap between confidence and leadership, confidence can help a person lead well. A confident person can lead without being controlling, pushy, or domineering simply by embracing uncertainty. But the true goal of confidence is independence, which can only be experienced without dependents. This is why appropraiately masculine heroes save the town and then depart into the sunset.
A confident person works to build a legacy. Ultimately his wisdom, maturity, and growth should endure even after he dies. A great person leaves behind a wake of great ripples.
My sons, I cannot predict what your legacies will look like. But they should come second in your life. Prioritize God first, then your legacy, and then your family. That is the only way to have peace and make peace in your families.
Ignore the ways society teaches people to be useful. Do not feel obligated to give your best without expecting anything in return. The societal imperative demands you help strangers, work needless hours to earn more than you need to live comfortably, provide for family, not give less to your job because of your responsibilities to family, give sacrificially of your time, treat people with respect whether or not they have not earned it, offer reliability and commitment to people who will not reciprocate, serve institutions that do not serve you, provide finanicially for other people's parents or children, give up any enjoyments of which other people disapprove, keep silent about any priorities or values that might cause other people discomfort, and change yourself in response to the criticisms of people who refuse to hear your advice.
Building your legacy will probably involve stages in which you follow some aspects of that societal imperative. But only do those with intentionality. Then you can depart into the sunset whenever your personal boundaries are crossed. No town is so special it deserves you. There is always another town that needs you. And most of your growth will happen in between towns.
Be warned, my sons. The reason that most growth happens while ignoring the societal imperative to give your best without expecting anything in return is that society unashamedly makes use of what confident people have achieved to make people who lack confidence feel secure and comfortable. Most institutions of society lash out at displays of confidence, initiative, independence, and originality. Attempts at enforcing personal boundaries are shamed as as "selfish" or "irresponsible" or "shallow". There is a reason why prophets traditionally go into the wilderness to grow, and innovative people cluster at society's edges and frontiers as they create new technologies and understandings.
Own and nurture your sense of wonder. What is inspiring? Fascinating? Intriguing? Impressive? Allow those to be part of what guides you. Mention them in conversations. Ask other people about them, and ask other people stirs their sense of wonder.
My sons, you will work hard to become mature, heathy, and worthy individuals. That effort means you deserve spending time with other people who are also mature, healthy, and worthy. Your own integrity and high standards is enough to earn their attention and friendship—just as theirs is what drew you to them. Your valuable time is enough to show them that they are special—just like theirs is a suficient gift for you. Do not let people shame you into wasting your time or energy. Do not tolerate disrespect, rudeness, or unscrptural advice. Walk away from those intolerables despite how much you enjoy people, conversations, and intercessory prayer and aid.
Be relaxed, easy-going, and fun. This lets you value and trust yourself and maintain the healthy boundaries that protect your independence without treating others as devalued or untrustworthy.
Remember that the concept of free time is a lie. Do I have free time? I spend my time building my legacy. I work to be a great disciple, husband, and father. I help other people with my math teaching and volunteer work. I play games, tell stories, and write poetry. I make sure my family is secure in its values, theology, finances, and social skills. It is all great! Even the not-fun parts (grading math tests, changing diapers, and so on) are interesting and rewarding because they are part of how I oversee people who are growing to become capable on their own. My life has no division between "at work" and "free time" because I enforce my personal boundaries. Free time is just an imaginary reward the societal imperative offers to people without sufficient personal boundaries.
And in conclusion, remember to live in the moment and keep your gaze upward. Be wary of putting the tangential benefits of confidence on a pedestal. People are attracted to confidence, but the goal of confidence is not to be attractive. Careers are helped by confidence, but the goal of confidence is not to aid careers. Confidence is needed to build a robust legacy, but the goal of confidence is not to build a legacy. Be a good disciple. Learn from other people's wisdom. Try new things, test your boundaries, and push yourself. Keep growing and maturing. Protect your independence. Become great simply for the sake of greatness.