Masculinity is at a crossroads now more than ever. Men today are confused by what it means to be a real man.
Traditionally, masculinity wasn’t something society bothered to question. Before the concepts of gender identity, toxic masculinity, and male dominance entered the conversation, masculinity was easily defined.
A man’s ability to protect, provide, and procreate was the only masculine trait that mattered.
But times are changing! Gender stereotypes and ideas about traditional masculinity are beginning to break down. And in their wake, an entire generation of men has been confused and lost about who they are and who they’re supposed to be.
We’re confused by what it means to possess masculine qualities and if masculinity is even something we should aspire to in the first place. And the results have been catastrophic.
In place of strong, virtuous, and purpose-driven men, we are a generation of boys. Boys who feel that they’ve lost their place in the world and that their very identity has been destroyed. But destruction always breeds creation.
And as our society destroys the lines between masculinity and femininity and deconstructs men’s identities, we’ve been given a gift – an opportunity to redefine what it means to be a man and to reconstruct masculinity based on our evolution as a society and as a species.
I won’t pretend to have all of the answers. But after coaching thousands of men over the past decade, I’ve discovered that several immutable traits separate boys from men. Modern masculinity traits are defined by courage, assertiveness, leadership, strength, courage, and compassion.
And in this article, I will attempt to share what the best masculinity traits are and how one can develop them – not for the sake of appearing manly, but for the sake of experiencing a fully lived and vibrant life.
Let’s dive in.
The Truth About Men: Toxic Masculinity vs. Healthy Masculinity
One of the most loaded and commonly misunderstood ideas is the concept of toxic masculinity.
On one side of the spectrum, we’re told that masculinity itself is toxic, wrong, and the source of all evil and suffering in the world. On the other, we’re told that toxic masculinity doesn’t even exist. That it’s a lie. That the concept of undoing toxic masculinity is merely a conspiracy theory designed to deconstruct masculine ideals and feminize society.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
But before I attempt to engage in the nuanced conversation around what healthy masculinity looks like and what traits one must develop to express it–it’s important that we first define masculinity to ensure we’re on the same page.
When I use the phrase “masculinity” I’m not referring to classic ideas of masculine behavior, gender roles, or male dominance.
Healthy masculinity–as we define it here–has nothing to do with the number in your bank account, the car you drive, how many women you’ve slept with, or the size of your… biceps (what did you think I was going to say!)
Instead, I believe that masculinity is an aggregation of character traits that tend to drive specific types of action. It’s about who you are and how you’re being in the world. Not some narrow definition based on society’s ideals.
Because masculinity, first and foremost, is a type of energy. Specifically, it is an energy associated with ambition, creation, order, growth, and freedom.
Femininity, on the other hand, is an energy associated with emotion, expression, pleasure, sensuality, and fully experiencing the present moment.
These energies exist inside of every human on the planet, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or personal predispositions.
We all possess some level of masculinity and femininity. We all express masculine and feminine traits and both are essential to a fully experienced life.
The problem is, that modern men have lost touch with healthy masculinity.
On one side, many men have abandoned the pursuit of healthy masculinity altogether. They aren’t the leaders of their lives. They aren’t willing to take action to create the future they desire. They aren’t living fully or progressing on important journeys.
Instead, they’ve simply settled for whatever cards have been dealt with them. They’re doormats and pushovers. They’re men without backbones, without power, and without purpose.
On the other, many men fall prey to toxic masculinity. Or as I prefer to call it, “Shadow Masculinity.”
They’ve bought into a version of masculinity where aggression, violence, competition, and dominant behaviors are their cornerstone virtues.
Instead of seeing women as equals and co-creators in the experience of life, they see them as objects of sexual conquest (often resulting in sexual assault).
In place of self-actualization, they see masculinity as a competition. In place of tribalism, they strive for individualism. In place of virtue, they see success as the sole arbiter of their worth.
However, unlike the mainstream pundits, I don’t believe that the path to undoing toxic masculinity requires the deconstruction of the masculine.
But rather that it requires a recommitment to true masculinity.
Neither of these paths captures what it means to be a fully grounded masculine man. And I, for one, believe it’s time for us to carve our own path. It’s time for men to evolve, grow, and lead – to pursue a version of masculinity that goes beyond gender stereotypes and outdated masculine ideals.
… a version of masculinity that is balanced, tempered, and virtuous.
And this is where it all starts…
The 9 Core Masculine Traits that Separate Men from Boys
All traits exist on a spectrum.
A man can be disciplined in one area of his life, yet completely undisciplined in another. He can be thoughtful and kind to some members of his social circle and not others. And for our purposes, he can be masculine in one domain and emasculated in another.
Masculinity is not one “thing” you do. It’s not like you can go to the gym and do “masculinity curls” to feel like more of a man. Rather it’s the sum of your attitudes and behaviors across your life.
Once you understand this (and accept that masculinity is about your character and actions–not personality or genetics) you’ll realize that being a masculine man is a matter of choice.
It’s not a choice you can make once and forget. But rather, it’s a choice you must consciously make every day.
These are the choices and traits that separate the men from the boys.
1. Men Dare Greatly, Boys Settle for the Status Quo
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ~Hellen Keller
From the time you were a little boy, you were indoctrinated with a vision of what success looks like – go to college, get good grades, get a good corporate job with a pension and 401(k), marry Becky from accounting, have 2.5 kids, retire, grow old, and die.
There’s nothing wrong with this vision if a man truly wants it.
But after coaching thousands of men, I know from firsthand experience that most of us aren’t content with the status quo.
We don’t want a reality where we wake up, clock into a job we hate, come home to sit on the couch, drink a few beers, have lackluster sex, and then do it all over again.
We want to create, explore, and live on the bleeding edge of existence. We want to be in the arena, our faces marred by blood and sweat and tears as we dare greatly in the pursuit of what we want.
Instead, society has convinced us to play it safe – To sit down, shut up, and do as we’re told. We’re taught to avoid rocking the boat – to avoid risk, danger, and as a result, aliveness.
To settle for a numb existence where we never risk failure or rejection because it’s too dangerous–and we might get hurt.
When a man lives this way for long enough, it begins to eat away at his very soul. He loses respect for himself and confidence that he has the ability to build the life he wants.
Men we admire, respect, and envy do not play it safe. They aren’t content to live a mundane and “socially acceptable” life and they don’t settle for someone else’s definition of success.
They are the men who defy the status quo and say to themselves and others, “I’ll find a way or make one.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to travel to a warzone, fight in the UFC, or race a Formula1 car or engage in other risky behavior to be a “real man.”
Rather, you are willing to risk a life lived on your own terms.
For some men, this could mean quitting a job they hate to build a business that fulfills their true calling. For others, it means traveling the world and experiencing different cultures.
And for others still, it means abandoning the race toward money and materialism in favor of service. What separates the men from the boys is not a drive for danger and risk but a willingness to answer the call to adventure and respond to the deepest desires of their souls.
2. Men Embrace the Pain of Growth, Boys Pursue Comfort
“Before anything great is really achieved, your comfort zone must be disturbed.” ~Ray Lewis
Comfort is killing us.
We live in a world where the slightest inconveniences can be resolved with the tap of a button or banished with the quick swipe of a credit card – endless entertainment, same-day shipping, meal delivery, and abundant access to sugary foods, hard-hitting drugs, and porn provide us with a never-ending source of unearned dopamine.
The problem modern men face is not that these comforts or vices exist. But rather that our lives are engineered in such a way that discomfort can be largely avoided inside of our daily realities.
There’s nothing wrong with hot water, air conditioning, Amazon Prime, or social media. But when a man becomes too comfortable and when there are no immediate consequences for his unending pursuit of comfort, he begins to lose his edge.
As a society, we seem to have forgotten that this existence isn’t supposed to be easy. That discomfort and pain are a necessary and essential part of a rich and fully lived life.
We’ve become strangers to challenge and see anything that requires effort or sacrifice as an inconvenience we should be able to brush away with a single click.
But the truth is, everything worth doing in life is uncomfortable. It’s the adversity and discomfort that makes journeys worth pursuing. Because that discomfort leads to growth. It makes us better. Stronger. And more powerful.
How many men you admire have pursued a life of comfort? How many of them sat on the sidelines, Bud Light in hand, watching an endless stream of Netflix originals and doing only that which was easy?
The men we respect and attempt to emulate are the men who are willing to do the hard things. The reason we admire successful entrepreneurs, world-class athletes, best-selling authors, and adventurers is because they were willing to suffer and accept the discomfort required to fulfill their dreams.
This is true for them and it’s true for you.
It’s uncomfortable to face rejection on your journey to an abundant dating life and finding the woman of your dreams. It’s uncomfortable to develop the characteristics and traits needed to build a successful business or create a thriving career doing what you love. It’s uncomfortable to build a resilient body and do the hard work required to live a long and healthy life.
But it’s also worth it.
If you feel like the fire in your belly has died and the spark in your soul has been extinguished, start by embracing the discomfort of new journeys.
This doesn’t mean that you need to train jujitsu or run a marathon or take cold showers every day of the year–although these are all great options.
It simply means that you must begin to inoculate yourself against the curse of comfort by regularly doing the hard things required to realize your potential.
3. Men Master their Bodies, Boys Are Slaves to Them
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” ~Socrates
Your body is the vehicle of life.
Without it, the impact you want to have and the legacy you want to leave are impossible. And physical mastery is a key trait of any truly masculine man.
But there is nuance to this trait that pseudo-masculinity pundits ignore. Mastering the physical domain of life isn’t about the number of plates you bench, how fast you can run a mile, or how big your biceps are.
Instead, this trait is about using your body as a vehicle to experience the fullness of life.
We didn’t evolve to sit on the couch for hours on end or spend our days staring into the abyss of our Macbook. We evolved to live in the real world – to run, climb, play, fight, and engage with this one life fully.
The purpose of physical mastery is not to be bigger or stronger than other men. But to experience freedom from sickness, decay, pain and to enjoy all that this life has to offer.
The simple–and politically incorrect–truth is that the healthier you are in your physical body, the more joyful life is. Because your health is the linchpin of your life.
It’s what allows you to go on adventures, to experience the mind-blowing sex, to have the energy needed to pursue your dreams.
Everything in a man’s life is better when he prioritizes and protects his health. And everything suffers when he doesn’t.
Being masculine doesn’t mean that you need to become a bodybuilder or a martial artist or a professional athlete. Only that you understand the value of your health and prioritize it accordingly.
Train your body regularly and push yourself to become stronger, faster, and more resilient.
Eat real foods that grew out of the ground or had a heartbeat instead of settling for packaged crap.
Recover fully instead of simply zoning out and watching yet another episode of Billions.
Build a body that serves you inside of this existence rather than a body that keeps you trapped with pain, exhaustion, and prescriptions.
4. Men Respond to their Emotions, Boys React
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor Frankl
Joy. Sadness. Love. Fear.
None of these emotions make a man weak or feminine. They make him human.
Without them, we’re little more than cogs in a machine. We’re existing, but not truly living. The difference between the way boys and men approach their emotional landscape is simple.
Boys react to their impulses. Men choose their response.
Boys are controlled by their emotions. Men are in control of them.
It is a man’s ability to control and respond to his emotions that will ultimately make all the difference in the life he experiences.
Men and boys both experience emotions the same way. They both feel anger or embarrassment or sadness or resentment. The difference is what they do with that feeling.
When a man is triggered by a situation or another person he stays grounded. He breathes deeply, pauses, and thinks before he speaks or acts. He considers what is aligned with his highest values and then responds accordingly.
When a man feels unmotivated, he acts regardless of his emotional state.
When he feels angry, he responds calmly despite the impulse to punch someone in the teeth.
When he feels fear, he pushes forward, trusting himself to overcome it.
Boys simply experience the trigger and then react based on their first impulse. If they’re angry, they act violently or aggressively.
If they feel unmotivated, they don’t act.
If they’re fearful, they allow that fear to control them and hold them back from the life they want.
Boys give up their power to their emotional states, allowing feelings and desires to control their lives.
Men retain their power and, regardless of how they feel, respond based on their values and the vision for their lives.
5. Men Are Professionals, Boys Are Amateurs
“To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.” ~Steven Pressfield
Professionalism is not a byproduct of your chosen career or dependent on the number in your bank account. Rather it is an approach to life.
Amateurs wait until they feel motivated to take action. Professionals take action regardless of their feelings.
Amateurs run away from their calling and true potential to avoid the potential of failure and rejection. Professionals know that failure and rejection are a necessary part of the journey to success.
Amateurs use genetics, talent, and personality traits as alibis for mediocrity and failure. Professionals know that “What one man can do, another man can do. If it’s been done before it can be done again.”
Most men live their lives as amateurs.
They “talk” about what they’re going to do. They post on social media. They tweet about their new business ideas.
But they don’t act.
They fall back on an endless stream of excuses to prevent them from fulfilling their purpose.
“I would start this business, but…”
“I would go talk to her, but…”
“I would move to a new city, but…”
But to live fully, a man must turn pro.
He must embrace his calling and the action required to realize it. Giving up his excuses and disregarding the judgment and opinions of others.
And when he does, his life truly begins.
6. Man Are Self Reliant, Boys Seek External Approval
“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” ~ Raph Waldo Emerson
Nice guys and people pleasers chronically seek the approval of other people. They need their girlfriend, their parents, their friends, and society to validate that they’re doing a good job. That they’re enough as a man. That they belong.
Grounded men, on the other hand, generate approval internally. They’re clear on what they value and what their vision for their life is and they aren’t willing to compromise it for the approval or validation of other people.
A Nice guy will change his opinions, pursue a career he hates, or marry a woman he doesn’t truly love all in the name of acceptance. He will sacrifice himself at the altar of other people’s opinions even if it means losing sovereignty over himself.
Grounded men don’t.
They accept that other people won’t always understand their decisions or their actions.
They may leave a job millions of men would kill for–because it doesn’t fill their souls or give them the sense of purpose and meaning they crave.
They may break up with a “good” woman (even though their parents and friends love her) because he knows he’s settling and that good isn’t good enough.
They may burn everything they have to the ground and start over, building a new life from the ashes of their old one–even though society says they should just be grateful for what they have and stop acting so entitled.
But when all is said and done, grounded men know that they and they alone are responsible for the outcomes in their life and that someone, somewhere will always disapprove of their decisions.
As a result, they refuse to allow the opinions and beliefs of other people to dictate their lives.
This doesn’t mean that masculinity is about being contrarian or ignoring wisdom from those who have earned it. Rather, it requires an uncommon degree of self-trust and a willingness to face criticism and disapproval in the pursuit of a fully lived life.
7. Men Respect the Feminine, Boys Demean or Deify
“The way a man penetrates the world should be the same way he penetrates his woman: not merely for personal gain or pleasure: but to magnify love, openness, and depth” ~ David Deida
Boys treat women as objects, as sexual conquests, as things meant only for pleasure and validation.
And this is true of both “Nice Guys” and “Bad Boys.”
They both use the feminine as little more than a tool to feel like they’re enough.
While the tactics they use in this pursuit may differ, their goals are the same.
Nice guys plead, pander, and pretend in hopes that a woman will sleep with them and give them the approval they need to feel like a man. They place women on a pedestal and give them power over their feelings, opinions, and actions.
Bad boys manipulate, seduce, and disregard women in an effort to prove their masculinity.
They see women as things to be conquered and seek validation by sleeping with many women to prove that they’re a “real man.”
But a grounded man does neither.
He respects women as equals and sees them as neither toys for his pleasure nor goddesses who dictate his worth. He embraces the feminine qualities of his partner and knows that their differences are what add flavor and excitement to life.
He knows that the union of the masculine and feminine is meant to magnify the experience of life for both, and he acts accordingly.
He may marry one woman and settle down or share experiences with many women. But he does so from a place of authenticity and with a desire for genuine connection and the expansion of love and aliveness.
8. Men Seek Service, Boys Seek Recognition
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.” ~ Muhammad Ali
As much as our hyper-individualistic society may try to convince us otherwise, true fulfillment can only be found in service.
In supporting and helping the humans with whom you share this planet and living in a way that transcends your own ego.
This is not to suggest that your own well-being and needs are secondary to other people’s.
But rather lasting joy and purpose come from what you have to offer the world, not only what the world has to offer to you.
Boys seek only to fuel their egos and increase their own status.
They don’t care how many people they hurt or what damage they cause as long as they get “What’s theirs.”
They’ll lie, cheat, and steal in the name of success. And ultimately they alienate and repel the very people who could have helped them achieve what they wanted.
Men understand that the fastest way to help themselves it to help others.
They seek to live in such a way that they make the world a better place for all.
They strive for cooperation, not competition.
And they understand that doing what is right–even when it’s not easy–is the cornerstone of masculine behavior.
9. Men Accept their Mortality, Boys Hide From It
“All men die, not all men truly live.” ~ Willam Wallace
No matter what you do or how much you accomplish, you are going to die.
And there’s no escaping this fact.
The average human life is laughably, painfully, and insultingly short–a mere 4,000 weeks before our existence is snuffed out and our time is up.
To make matters worse, none of us know how long we have or when the clock will run-up.
In the grand scheme of the cosmos, none of us matter, and none of us will be remembered.
And this is actually a liberating realization.
Because it gives you the opportunity to live on your terms. To take bold risks. To march to the beat of your own drum and squeeze every last drop out of this one life we know we have.
Most men spend their lives trying to escape from this fact.
Feigning immortality and assuming that they have “plenty of time” to do, be and experience all they desire.
But the truly grounded and masculine men live with a sense of urgency.
Knowing that their time is limited and that tomorrow isn’t promised.
They strive to live so that fear and regret never enter their hearts.
Loving deeply, laughing regularly, and living fully.
Accepting that it is the very shortness of life that makes it so precious.
And knowing that at the end of the day, we all face the same fate.
What matters isn’t when or how you die. But what you do while you’re alive.
Developing masculinity traits, and becoming a true masculine and grounded man is not a simple or easy journey.
It isn’t for the faint of heart of those who are unwilling to step out of their comfort zone.
But if what I shared today resonated with you and you’d like to learn more about the work we do here at Knowledge for Men, then I want to invite you to watch this free training I’ve put together to help men become the strongest versions of themselves.
Inside this masterclass, I share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned after coaching thousands of men for the past decade.
It may not be comfortable and will likely challenge many of your beliefs. But I promise, if you’ll take action on what we teach inside of it, your life will never be the same.