When I was in my early 20’s, I thought I was bulletproof. I was optimistic, fully-charged and ready for anything. I felt invincible and I was going to change the world.
I don’t quite recall when all of that changed. But change it did.
As my life unfolded into my thirties, then forties and now I’m approaching my fifties, I look back at that kid and smile. He had all the answers. He was going to show everyone ‘how it is done’.
In reality, he had no idea. He thought he did. He thought he knew everything.
So where is that kid today? Who is he now?
I like to feel that I’m a good man (whatever that means?). I try to do ‘right’ by people. I am blessed with good friends and a family who love me. My home is warm and comfortable. Most people, who know me, if asked would probably say I have a good life. And I do.
But sometimes, I wish I could just hop off this rollercoaster we call ‘day-to-day life’, so I can just rest a while and gain some perspective.
It seems like I’m always busy performing some role, be it a; father, partner, son, son-in-law, brother, friend, peacekeeper, councillor, trusted confidant, negotiator, supporter, role model … the endless list goes on.
And as much as I love and appreciate each of these roles, sometimes I just get tired. Do you ever feel tired of always having to be the ‘strong one’? Sometimes the armour just gets too heavy.
Even as I write these words, I can feel resistance bubbling up inside; “You’re sounding weak.”, “Don’t show your soft side, you’ll get hurt again.”, “Suck it up princess!”, “Get your shit together.”, “Keep going.”, “You’re better than this.” … the self-talk never quits!
What I’ve come to realise is, just like my car needs regular maintenance and care, so do I.
If I keep running my life on high revs and I don’t take time out to slow down and self-care, I will eventually crash. And then rather than being the contributor or supporter to those I care about in my life, I become a burden. Dare I say, like a broken down car on the side of the road, which is little use to anyone.
Your car will usually give you warning signs before imminent danger, like; temperature gauge going into the red or a flashing warning light on the dashboard.
Likewise, I have felt the warning signs in my life; feeling constantly tired, frustrated and irritable, being short-tempered with those closest to me. I’m doing the best I can wearing all these different hats and yet, don’t feel like it’s enough. It feels like I’m slowly sliding backwards in life … letting others down, including myself.
How did I end up here? I had the world at my feet and now, I feel its dull weight upon my shoulders. This is not the life I want. This is not who I want to be. Something has to change.
I searched and searched for an answer; which initially, made me feel even more lost and alone. And then late one night while sitting at my computer, I discovered Men’s Wellbeing’s Common Ground course. [For more info … https://menswellbeing.org/commonground/]
I didn’t know much about the course but saw they had a Free Intro Night and thought, why not? What do I have to lose? There’s no harm in finding out, what this is about. They must be doing something right, reading all those testimonials from other men.
So I went and I immediately felt welcome and accepted. I met other men from all walks of life. Some I related to, others not so much. Some men seemed angry, others sad. Some men were like me, searching and just wanting to become better men.
I listened to the other men talk and felt humbled by their stories. I realise now that everyone has a story to share, if I just slow down and listen with genuine interest.
As we progressed through the Common Ground course together, some of those same men have become my closest friends.
I remember hearing once that; two neighbours can live side by side for 30 years and hardly know each other, and yet two wartime diggers who survived a week in the trenches together can become best mates for life. I don’t think it’s the quantity of time shared that counts, as much as the quality and depth of that connection. And that’s what I experienced throughout Common Ground.
Common Ground is different for every man. And every Common Ground course is slightly different, depending on the men who participate and the depth of their sharing and vulnerability.
For me, Common Ground was a space where I felt safe and could share openly without any judgement. No one tried to ‘fix me’. They just listened. It was my weekly reprieve from life where I could relax and spend a little time looking ‘under the hood’ of my life, gaining that perspective and breathing space I hungered for.
I used to think as a modern man, I had to be strong and bulletproof, always putting on a brave front in the face of any adversity. Now, as I look back, I wasn’t being strong. I was being cowardly. I built up such an impenetrable wall that no one could get in and no one could hurt me.
True strength (for me) is having the courage to be vulnerable, to take down that impenetrable wall and allow others inside. It feels so liberating and free, when I trust others to accept me with all my failings and insecurities, just as I am. And when I open up like this, I pay others such an honour, essentially saying; I trust you and this is ‘the real me’. No masks. No ego. No competition.
As I developed the courage to be open and share the real authentic me with the men in my Common Ground course, this same courage has gradually rippled out into my relationships and life.
Although my journey continues to unfold, I feel the circle is complete. As I continue to improve and become better; my life continues to improve and become better.