Dear Gen-X men:
I can see how successful you are. I can see how you’ve spent your life striving, trying to get better jobs, greater responsibilities, and higher management positions. I can see how hard you’ve worked. You’re at the top of your game.
And yet, for all this success, do you secretly feel like you’re going nowhere in life? It’s quite a contradicting predicament, isn’t it?
Do you feel your thoughts are conflicted? As though it’s hard to see which direction to go? Which decision is the right decision? Do you shove it to the side and just focus on the task at hand, telling yourself, “it’ll sort itself out?”
In your management role, do you feel like everyone looks to you for the answers as though magically you’re supposed to know it all, but inside you feel a nagging twinge of uncertainty?
Your team expects you to be strong. You can’t show vulnerability to anyone around you because they’ll lose confidence in your ability to do your job well. You are bloody good at your job, but no one knows the struggles and worries that you live with each day, do they?
There’s this voice in your head that questions every single, little thing you do. It puts you down. It belittles you. You cannot seem to make this negative part of you happy. You just want to make it shut up, don’t you? Once, just once, you’d like it to be quiet. But this part of you is a petulant child who will not listen.
To this part, this part that reminds you daily that you’re not good enough, that brings you times of darkness and clouds your judgement and holds you back… to this part I say, “it’s time to f- off!”
I have found that men in leadership positions (Gen X & Y) grow up with the stigma of their parent’s industrial era. You’re told that you must work hard, you must be your best, you must not fail and if you do fail, definitely do it in the privacy of your own home. Do not show weakness. Be a man, be strong.
And yet, you’re now living in a world that’s asking you to be real, own your feelings, and be vulnerable. You’re being asked to be a better manager and be transformational for your team. You are somehow supposed to be authentic and open, but how?
How are you supposed to do that? Do you know how? Is anyone showing you how?
Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that at a whopping standardised rate of 19.1 deaths per 100,000 men across Australia took their life by suicide in 2017. This reflects 75.1% of all deaths by intentional self-harm and makes suicide the 10th ranked leading cause of death for males. It’s a safe interpretation of the data that these people took their own life because they weren’t taught the skills to manage nor appreciate their emotions. The way out was to kill themselves.
We are taught through every facet of our society that women are naturally more emotional than men. This is false. Birth defects aside, all humans are capable of generating the same emotions. What differs is the societal expectations placed upon us to be a certain way according to the genitalia we were born with.
The most dominant form of manhood is called hegemonic masculinity, which is characterized by several key tenants: Men who distance themselves from femininity; men who restrict the expression or acknowledgement of emotions; men who avoid vulnerability and exhibit aggressiveness; men who are highly sexual with women; and finally, men who want to prove their heterosexuality via homophobic beliefs and actions (source).
What this dominant form of manhood does is demonstrate the extreme of what is possible when men have been taught a singular depiction of what it means to be a man. We know through the work of emotional intelligence that men who learn how to change their beliefs about what it means to be a man are not less masculine. In fact, they are better able to define masculinity on their own terms.
So, how did I, a young woman, come to work with men in leadership positions and come to write you this letter?
Let me tell you about a man I deeply respect but due to who he chooses to be is not someone I can have in my life: My father.
My father is a remarkably gifted and highly intelligent man. What he can do with his carpentry hands is truly an art form. My pre-teen childhood is filled with many blessed memories of a very special relationship with my dad. And yet, I knew he wasn’t well-received by extended family and family friends. Yes, he was strict and set high expectations upon my siblings and me, but I didn’t equate that to how he related to others.
And then one Christmas, I stood beside my mother and my two aunts and said something that caused my aunt to tap me condescendingly on the head and say, “Oh Caz, you’re just like your father.” And without pause, launched into a bitchy diatribe about my father to her sisters, seemingly unaware that the 9-year-old she’d just likened him to was still standing there.
For the first time in my life, I gained a perspective of my father I had never seen. I couldn’t unsee it. From that moment, I saw myself in his every action. I spent my teen years and 20s in the constant angst of actively seeking to learn what attributes of myself are his and what were my own? Of those that are of him, which did I like and want to keep? And which did I need to learn to change?
There were a great many attributes that I had to change. That change was hard. It was lonely. It was depressing. On too many occasions, I was suicidal. And yet, it humbled me and made me stronger. Little did I know that the work I was doing was building the foundation to strong emotional intelligence and a ready arsenal of techniques that serve my clients well today.
While I still love my father, after he vehemently verbally abused me in early 2011, I made the conscious effort to remove him permanently from my life. It was evident that despite him having a small semblance of self-awareness that he wasn’t liked or accepted, he had no desire to seek answers or to change. His attitude has always been, “it’s my way or the highway.” Self-reflection and personal development were never going to be options he’d take.
I believe that had my father been equipped to handle his emotions and their effect, he would still be in my life. He had the makings of a truly remarkable, transformational leader.
He was a good father. He tried so hard with the resources he had, but the fact remains he had demons we never saw. He never spoke about the dark days. He’s always just been my strict, dominant father. He’s never shown weakness nor vulnerability; he doesn’t know how to.
My father doesn’t have the skills to identify and express his emotional needs. He’s never been taught how to reign in the self-doubting monster. My father put change in the too-hard-basket with a lid labelled, ‘Never Open.’ He gave up on himself. He quit.
I encourage you to not do what dad did. Lift the lid, peek inside, a better you is in there. To you, I say this: “You are not broken.”
Let me say that again: You. Are. Not. Broken.
There is nothing inherently wrong with who you are. Like my father, I believe, you simply have not been taught or given the skills to know how to change.
Today, in this open letter to you men in leadership positions, I wanted to show you that someone appreciates what you’re thinking, someone gives a sh*t about you and to let you know that there is a way to get rid of that negative, critical monster in your head permanently.
I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, you can become a truly transformational emotionally intelligent leader. One who experiences the value from not needing to have all the answers, who is proud of the success they already achieved, and one who can lead their teams to be genuinely authentic because they know how.