What Makes a Man?

What Makes a Man? I’ve been wrestling with this one for a while. Strength, honor, intelligence, influence or power?

The definition of a man is elusive. The identity of men has shifted quite a bit over the past decade. In this piece, we examine the 5 types of men that have evolved over the past hundred years to find out what each man taught us, how they failed us and what we can learn from them.

Here’s a quick and wildly oversimplified rundown on the history of men:

The Industrial Man (1920s)

This was the typical blue collar worker in the industrial age. Think assembly lines and mustaches. This is the man who learned the virtues of hard work, strength, duty. He worked with his hands and didn’t complain about it. He had a backbone. He could build things. He knew how to survive and honor his values.

Men-at-Lunch-OriginalHowever, he was broke. And without financial mastery, it’s extremely tough to grow beyond the ever-anxious, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. As a result, his children vow to never be as broke as Dad.

The Sophisticated Man (1950s)

Here’s a man who has learned the value of hard work, but instead of trading his labor for pay, he worked primarily with his mind. He is persuasive, refined and unabashedly masculine. For the first time ever, this is when men began to experience financial success beyond what their father earned.


This newfound power goes to their heads a little and they think they can get away with anything. Leading to their greatest shortcoming, a LOT of men cheat on their wives. Or worse, they consider women to be something to be conquered. This is not what makes a man Most of this conflict is hush-hush, but children can feel tension in the home and this leads to broken families. Once again, young boys valiantly vow to never make the same mistake as Dad. They will be faithful.

The Emotional Man (1960-70s)

Capitalizing on the last generation’s greatest mistake, infidelity, this man masters the art of emotions. He learns how to listen, care, sense and connect (especially with women). Everyone rags on this man for being a turtleneck wearing pansy but this man brings with him an inarguable aura of truth. Where a masculine man in generations prior would join the army to serve his country, the masculine Emotional Man leads an anti-military protest group.


He stands for freedom. He teaches us to challenge authority, experiment and treats women as equals. While these gifts to masculinity are great, an unintended consequence is the confusion of gender roles and in some cases women exploit the Emotional Man’s sensitivity. Take Bill Burr’s commentary on Yoko Ono’s Chuck Berry Performance for example.

Yoko Ono dominates John Lennon and turns his sensitivity into a weakness. Burr’s commentary is comedic but unsettlingly true. Burr points out that John Lennon, at the pinnacle of his career finally gets a duet with the legendary Chuck Berry and then Yoko ruins the song. And what does Lennon do about it? Nothing.

The Sophisticated Man taught us how bad it was to walk all over women. And in an effort to correct this, the Emotional Man lets himself get walked over. So close. Yet so far.

The Wonderful Man (1980s)

Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman does a good job summing this guy up. He’s financially successful and romantic. He’s mastered the best of the Sophisticated Man and the Emotional Man. He’s everything a woman could ask for. 

Portrait of young beautiful couple in love

Yet there’s something about him that just annoys other men. This man is “successful” by society’s standards, which is exactly why men can’t stand him. He is a goody two shoes. He plays by the rules. He’s lost his fierceness. You can smell his weakness. He’s not someone you’d want to be stranded with in the wild.

This man doesn’t know how to do anything other than earning money and woo women with his charm and elegance. He may be a great family man, but deep inside there is an emptiness. There is a lack of connection to his primal self. Boys who look up to this man, begin to define themselves by their bank account and now that’s evidenced by the question  “What are you worth?”, which implies that men’s value can be measured with dollars!

This leaves the next generation to ceaselessly pursue wealth in order to validate their manhood. The tragedy is that no matter how much wealth they amass, they’ve lost connection with their own masculinity. Men at their best are providers. They have a presence that assures order and brings others calmness. They are strong. And strength cannot be purchased. It is earned.

The Missing Man (1990s-Today)

Bluntly put, many boys in today’s world don’t have male role models to look up to. The Missing Man feels a deep sense of guilt because he feels like there’s something he should already know. Many men in this category hide behind their careers and claim to be endlessly “busy” so they never have to confront reality.

The problem is that this man never learned the roots of his masculinity and doesn’t feel capable of taking responsibility for others. So he leaves the house and is an absent husband/father, he moves from one woman to the next, he abandons any sense of responsibility in life and is in a desperate search for freedom and control.

Sadly, no matter how hard he searches, he does not know what satisfies him. If he has children, they resent him because no matter what he says, they learn far more from who he is rather than what he says. They can tell that dad is unhappy which makes them scared, doubtful and eventually resentful.

This man is searching for his identity, yet plays emotional games to avoid feeling the pain he claims that he does not feel.

To worsen things, oftentimes he isolates himself from other men. Missing Men often love touting the fact that they are “self-reliant and independent.” But in reality, they’re hiding. They see connection with other men as a sign of weakness.

The irony is that when a man doesn’t allow himself to connect with other strong men he will weaken and develop issues with trust, jealousy, criticism, fear and contempt towards other men. As a man of this generation, I am guilty of many of these issues. But that guilt has driven me to figure my s***out.

There is hope brothers..

The Spartan Man: What to Aim For

Those damn Spartans had it down. This man was a role model for his family, his community and future generations alike. He possessed strong character and morality. He balanced the demands of manhood brilliantly and was basically a mash-up of all the other men we’ve discussed.
  • He was strong with foes, yet gentle with his children. (Industrial Man/Emotional Man)
  • He respected his wife as an equal, yet he was never dominated. (Wonderful Man/Sophisticated Man)
  • He was fierce hearted, yet wise-minded. (Industrial Man/Sophisticated Man)
  • He protected his family, yet welcomed a sense of duty to protect his society. (Wonderful/Emotional)
  • He was a fearless individual, yet was part of a larger group of men. (Industrial /Emotional)
  • He stayed at home, yet when battle called he left because he knew he had to. (Industrial/Emotional)
  • He was successful in his endeavors, but wasn’t consumed by “success.” (Sophisticated/Industrial)

Now, I’m not saying that we all need to trade in our cars for broadswords. But the point here is to glean some of the values and apply them to your own life. It’s time to reconnect with your inner Spartan. I assure you, he’s still in there.

Portrait of a legionary soldier

Most men consider themselves manly because they’ve mastered one of the archetypes we just went over. They idolize whichever archetype they consider to be the coolest and shoot for it. Here’s how the inner monologue goes. I’m a man because…

  • I can build things.
  • I can survive in the wild.
  • I am financially successful.
  • I am refined and charming.
  • I am artistic and romantic.
  • I am wise.
  • women flock to me.
  • I have a cute, 1920s style mustache.

You can’t just master one of these. Fixating on one of these definitions of masculinity doesn’t make you a badass, it makes you dull. It highlights your fear for expansion and uncertainty. The dating coach who knows women but not himself is as sad as the old, fat, bald, divorced CEO in the red convertible. The man who lives off the land but does not contribute to the betterment of his fellow man is a selfish prick. This is not what makes a man which stands the test of time…

Mastering women, career, sex, fighting, survival or anything else doesn’t make you a man. Blending all of these to make the unique YOU is what makes a man truly remarkable.

You are on a journey to discover your own sense of self.

And your fears will direct you like GPS to your inner Spartan. It’s time to reconnect with your inner Spartan and let him guide you home.


Reconnecting With Your Inner Spartan

So…basically you’re telling me that in order for me to reconnect with my own masculinity, I have to reconnect with some part of myself that is completely foreign to me, give him the wheel to my life, hold onto my nuts, close my eyes, leap and trust that it’s all going to work out fine? Exactly.
Where the hell do we even start looking for our Inner Spartan? Start with your fears. Your subconscious fears will act as a high-powered GPS for discovering your own core of manliness.
Here were some of my fears:
  • Being broke.
  • Being a bad dancer.
  • Not knowing how to fight.
  • Being successful, but unfulfilled.

So rather than whining (or writing) about it, I did something about it.

The key here is to confront your fears head-on and commit to things that literally drag you to victory. Leverage your own sense of integrity to force you to be your ideal self.

For example, I was scared of being broke so I started 2 companies and partnered with someone that KICKS MY ASS when I’m slacking off (Greeks Love and William Painter). I was an awful dancer, so I signed up for salsa classes and asked friends to hold me accountable, so if I chickened out I would look like an asshole.

I didn’t know how to fight, so I signed up for a 2-year contract at an MMA gym, that I literally CANNOT GET OUT OF. There are several with very angry, giant men who regularly want to punch me in the face… hard.

Today, I start my mornings off by attending Muay Thai or Boxing classes and I cannot describe how liberating it is to go from feeling like a scared little boy who has to watch what he says in bars, to feeling like a Man Made of Iron who is free from one of his deepest childhood fears. This is the best feeling in the world. Don’t believe me? Look at people’s faces when they skydive for the first time.


“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What Makes a Man? – The Bottom Line

Let your fears be your guide. Burn the ships. When the only way out is through, you will be astounded by your own strength. When you are living at your edge, with an open heart, fully aware of your fears yet no longer governed by them, I promise you that you will feel the most insane sense of aliveness and thankfulness to be in your own skin.

Not to mention…chicks dig it.

Thanks for reading.


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One Response to What Makes a Man?

  1. Sprigley Allan March 26, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    Fantastic article Zach! A lot of fun to read and a great conversation starter.