UNIVERSAL MAN – EP 20 – FEET OF CLAY

 

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in!

Anthem – Leonard Cohen

What do we mean by ‘feet of clay’?

Leonard Cohen’s song says, “There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in!” When we talk about ‘feet of clay’ we are saying that central to life is imperfection. No one and no thing is perfect and that is good.

One of the greatest challenges we face is an inner narrative that says “I must be perfect!”, “I cannot make a mistake’, ‘I cannot show weakness’. This is just crap. We all have brokenness, we all have faults, we all have weaknesses, we all have skeletons in the cupboard, we all have things we are ashamed of, and we are all vulnerable.

Our common imperfection is our starting point to growth. Feet of clay is linked to all our other themes. We don’t focus on nor allow ourselves to be trapped by our weaknesses and our brokenness. We accept that that is just part of being human and then we listen to them, learn from them and grow.

In psychology we often talk about our ‘shadow’ – everything has a flip or shadow side and this provides focus and fuel for our growth if we listen to it, become aware of it and plan our growth strategies from it.

Pricey was a teacher of young men for almost forty years. In all of that time he never worked with a young man who needed him to be perfect. In fact the perfect dad, the perfect coach or mentor is often a ‘bridge too far’ for the young person to emulate. The young man looks for and needs authenticity, honesty, integrity, fidelity and challenge; not perfection.

One danger of ‘the Universal Man’ is that we can hear well rounded as perfect. Sure we aim for excellence; that is good. But we set out on this journey of excellence knowing we walk with ‘feet of clay’ – we carry imperfection with us as possibly our strongest weapon. The Vitruvian man, the renaissance man of Leonardo de Vinci was not perfect but rather was striving for perfection. Framing our journey with our innate imperfection keeps us humble, keeps us open to learn, and keeps us from arrogance. The arrogance that says, “I am above you, I am perfect, I do not need anybody!” can only lead to pain. This person needs no wolf-pack. This person truly struggles within a team – who needs a team when you can do it all yourself? The Universal Man knows our shared humanity and brokenness and this gives a special quality to our brotherhood of one another.

All about the journey

We don’t want to be too cliché here but knowing we all begin from an imperfect place we can more authentically set out on our journeys to grow. In every aspect of our journey we walk towards growth. In one way the goal posts change constantly. When you are thirty and you think you have the perfect body and the perfect gym session you turn 31 and your body is constantly changing and its needs change – you set out again – in pursuit of the goal of being the best 31 year old you can be. Just as your ‘feet of clay’ will change as you journey the opportunities for growth from this space do too.

In relationships with your partner, children or members of your wolf-pack you will always meet blocks and struggles. Knowing you have feet of clay means that you have a learning space to engage in these struggles. The other senses this and does NOT read this as weakness but rather integrity and honesty. If you are in a relationship and you do not NEED the other the relationship is doomed to failure or unnecessary pain.

Comparison

One of the clear signs that you are not at home with your feet of clay and growing with it is comparing yourself with others. If the ego is constantly whispering in your ear, “I wish I was him!”, “I wish I had his gifts!”, “He is perfect – he does not have the struggles I do!” then you are marching to someone else’s drum. You are avoiding your weakness and not seeing its hidden wisdom for your own growth. When you are focusing on the other believing that they have life perfect you are not conscious that they have built the integrity of their journey on THEIR own weaknesses and the learnings from them. Feet of clay means being ‘at home’ in your own skin – warts and all.

A cousin of comparison is the ‘I’m the only one’ inner tape. I’m the only one with a rebellious teenage child, the only one with a fragile marriage, the only one struggling with some form of addiction, the only one who is often at the wrong end of unjust decisions and politics!

‘I’m the only one’ leads to ‘poor me’ and poor me rarely is aware of their feet of clay and is rarely then in the space to grow from it. Poor me traps you in a cycle of excuses.

There is a danger that people will interpret ‘feet of clay’ as aiming for second best. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Universal Men we aim to seek excellence. Knowing and accepting that we are vulnerable and flawed means we set out on the journey towards this excellence from a place of authenticity.

Our Greatest Strength

Feet of clay is intimately linked to our shadow. When you grow in self-awareness and you can name your ‘blind-spots’ ‘weaknesses’ and more then you are in a great place to choose growth from. For example if I know that I take criticism personally – then I can prepare myself for a meeting or an encounter from a space of deeper awareness. I can equip myself with some ‘self-talk’ inner cues that modify and work with the shadow reactions that WILL come. So when you get criticism you immediately ‘reframe’ it, you immediately become aware of your own inner narrative and don’t allow the criticism to rob you of confidence. Rather you hold the criticism more lightly and reflectively and then grow from it!

In time – this weakness will grow to be your strength and inner friend. But fear not – your feet of clay will then, like a chameleon, show up in some other aspect of your life and you will celebrate that as you grow in self-awareness knowing that life has beautifully sent you another opportunity for deeper inner growth.

Our best inner growth will come from our feet of clay. There is not one person who listened to this podcast who does not have skeletons in the cupboard, something they are ashamed about, things about themselves they want to hide from the world. It is these very elements that, when reflected upon with honesty and integrity, will provide our deepest and most profound, life lasting growth.

Sure this space will scare you but didn’t all the challenges of life that you have grown in scared you?

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk wrote a book called, “The Places That Scare You!” What she’s talking about in the book is going to those parts deep within yourself that you just don’t want to look at, you don’t like, and you don’t love. Stare them in the face. Embrace them. Walk with them. Learn from them.

Five Second choices

In Universal Man we often speak about the five second choices to become our best self. Too many men will turn this ‘feet of clay’ topic into something too hard, something beyond them. Imagine this: You are hanging around with your mates and maybe having some real trouble at work or in a relationship. You don’t want to admit any form of weakness and your ego is whispering in your ear, “You are the only one with these problems!”, “If I say anything my mates will think less of me!”

What crap! So when we, from a space of integrity and humility say, “Lads, I need some advice with this thing at work …..” or if they are really close mates, “Fellas, I’m really struggling with a relationship at the moment!” our mates will respond, will admire us and that space will often open up and invite them to share their challenges as well.

Freedom

The special thing about having feet of clay – and more importantly recognising it and integrating it into your outlook on life as a starting point for growth is that it liberates you internally. Within ourselves just knowing we don’t have to be perfect is liberating. Experiencing growth from fragility and vulnerability is liberating. Encountering your shared vulnerability with those close to you is liberating. Self-acceptance and celebrating who you are in your totality – is profoundly liberating! Yes, there is a crack in everything and, yes, that’s where the light gets in!

 

UNIVERSAL MAN – EP 19 – LIFE MENTOR

 

 I am not a self-made man.

Every time I give a speech at a business conference, or speak to college students, or do a Reddit AMA, someone says it.

“Governor/Governator/Arnold/Arnie/Schwarzie/Schnitzel (depending on where I am), as a self-made man, what’s your blueprint for success?”

They’re always shocked when I thank them for the compliment but say, “I am not a self-made man. I got a lot of help.”

It is true that I grew up in Austria without plumbing. It is true that I moved to America alone with just a gym bag. And it is true that I worked as a bricklayer and invested in real estate to become a millionaire before I ever swung the sword in Conan the Barbarian.

But it is not true that I am self-made. Like everyone, to get to where I am, I stood on the shoulders of giants. My life was built on a foundation of parents, coaches, and teachers; of kind souls who lent couches or gym back rooms where I could sleep; of mentors who shared wisdom and advice; of idols who motivated me from the pages of magazines (and, as my life grew, from personal interaction).

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Foreword to “Tools of Titans”

WHAT IS A LIFE MENTOR?

A life mentor is often it is an older person and someone who’s been there, done that. They’ve got the life experience, they’ve walked the journey and they’ve reflected on it.

Generally you have a relationship with them already and there is already a genuine reciprocity and trust.

Even though there’s normally a generational age gap, it doesn’t matter, they really do enjoy spending time with you anyway. There isn’t a dynamic of power there, it’s not as if they’ve got all the wisdom, you go with like an empty cup and they’re filling up your cup, it’s got that genuine mentor reciprocal sharing of an energy, of a need.

This isn’t a mentoring program at work where someone sets up a professional mentor, we’re talking about someone you’ve come across in your journey that you respect, find authentic and you believe in each other. Your mentor is comfortable in their own skin, they want the very best for you, they’re not threatened by you in any way, they just want you to be happy and to succeed in your life.

A life mentor is willing to share things like their own vulnerability and flaws and the stories of their challenges, the warts and all things that they’ve been through. When you see that, you know you’ve got a true mentor because they’re not pretending that they are in any way perfect.

There will be times, good and bad when your gut just says, “hey, I want to go and just share time with my mentor”. In crisis and in uncertainty, they have your back and they are just there to support you and guide you in the best possible way.

The time is, it’s generally informal, it might be over a beer or a coffee or a dinner or whatever, it doesn’t matter, sometimes just a phone call.

THE ROLE OF A LIFE MENTOR

A true mentor is not a warm cuddle every time. They will hard questions and that is good, you kind of want them to and they’ll do it in a really gentle, but a very firm way.

They help you find your own wisdom. They know that if you work it out yourself, even if you’ve got a battle to work it out, the lesson is kept, like they taught you to fish.

There’s this deeper authenticity and what they do is they help you to understand that you can be the architect of your life or the architect of the situation, because one of the things, when you’ll find yourself in the crisis, even in good times is you can feel like you’ve got no choice, you’ll be in a tough situation. What a mentor, a life mentor does is help you understand that you have that power within you, you’ve always, always got a choice.

They set the bar high, there’s something in the actual relationship where they not only believe in you, they believe in the very best, best you. Sometimes they will draw a line in the sand and say no. And you know that they are right.

That’s right. And one of the things that you might find is they might really, really sting you, every now and then with love and care, but the toughest feedback is the feedback you get from the person you respect the most.

Because they know you so well, they will actually surprise you occasionally, there will be that left field comment you did not see coming but you know they believe in you, they just want the best from you.

They really want you to be very congruent, comfortable in your own skin, don’t take the easy road, take the right road, do it now, do it properly. They will say, hey, you’re running off, you’re going too fast, you’re avoiding, you’re blaming and you know what? There’s a guy in the middle of all this, who’s a great person and if you just slowed down and if you listened, he’d be even greater.

And one of the tests, could almost say of the litmus test of the life mentor, is there’s a great freedom about it. You don’t owe them and they do not owe anything to you. There’s a sense of, we’re in this, we actually respect one another, we are doing it because we really kind of want to.

HOW A LIFE MENTOR RELATIONSHIP WORKS

These things are normally informal, there’s not a monthly, two hours on a Monday morning over a coffee at Bob’s Café. They last for a long time and you see them in turmoil and in joy, the good times and the bad.

Don’t go running out and say, I have to rush off and get myself a life mentor now. You will know, you will have a gut feeling of when you’re wanting this person in your life, how you’re wanting them to be within your life and then, who.

You might have a different life mentor in sort of different aspects of your life so one might help with your family, two might be a little bit more career oriented. You have different mentors for different parts of your life and different chapters or stages in your life. You might even find along the way you outgrow them.

Don’t go forcing it. When the person’s meant to be within your life, you will find them.

There are a couple of pitfalls with mentors and the very first one is this following blindly.

They might give you some advice but remember they don’t understand all the complexity of where you’ve come from, so you’ve got to translate that for you and what’s right for you.

The point is you have to take some action to pay it back a bit, like there’s no point in meeting a mentor and they say, hey you should go and do this and then you do nothing. Do something that is congruent and right for you.

The second pitfall is that you don’t put the other up on to a pedestal. At the core is recognising they do have their own feet of clay, they are flawed, they might be a flawed genius, but they still have their own challenges, and it’s through the sharing of that, that it’s important. So one of those big pitfalls is, you assume that they’re perfect, then you get in this relationship and maybe you find out something that tells you they’re not and then you’re disappointed.

CONNECTING WITH A LIFE MENTOR

Simply start small. Don’t ask them to be your life mentor. That’ll probably scare them off a little!  Just ask if you can go for a coffee or a beer or come over for dinner. Say youd like to ask them a few questions, generally people are going to agree to that, particularly the kind of life mentor you are trying to look for.

WHEN YOU’RE THE MENTOR

In the film Good Will Hunting, there’s a relationship between Matt Damon, Matt Damon’s character and the actual Robin Williams character. The beautiful thing at the end of that is, Robin Williams lets him go. It’s not about clinging to the particular thing, he engages with him, he walks with him, he lets him go. Damon goes freer, stronger, he’s grown into the person he wants to be and they both accept and they celebrate the particular friendship that they’ve had.

So if you’re going into a situation where you’re going to be the mentor, it’s really important to remember your authenticity, being truly, truly interested in that individual and helping them be the very best version of themselves. Don’t be always soft, be firm and  help them grow.

And sometimes grow means you’ve got to take a few blows and look hard within yourself and that’s the perfect role for a life mentor.

When you find someone’s looking up to you as their particular life mentor, just trust who you are and what you have been doing. You’ve obviously been walking in that real authentic way trust yourself, accept them, just be you.

Being a life mentor or having a life mentor is a very special thing. It’s a real honour and a privilege if you become a life mentor of someone and also, it’s just such a special thing when you’ve got someone there that you can go to. You don’t always have to have it but every now and then in your life, it is something that can just be super valuable for men.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful privileged, privileged space and when you’ve got someone within your life who, you just look at them and you know they believe in you and they are going to walk with you. Then you fly.

Pricey and Grego