Break out of your rut and regain your confidence.
February 1, 2022
I’ve been a fan of John Mayer’s tunes since high school (his latest, the '80s inspired single “Last Train Home” is yacht rock at its catchy best). But more than being a fan of his music, I'm a fan of John himself. Because he's unapologetically and prolifically expressive. As far as I can tell, there isn't much filtering going on: he says exactly what he thinks when he thinks it, and plays what he wants—from jam band classics with Dead & Co. to the blues to legit country music. And while I don't connect with everything he does, his boldness inspires me. It reminds me that with the right amount of courage, I can be that expressive, too.
Everyone wearing a meat suit wishes they could express themselves more— it's a universal human quality to want to be loved, understood and seen for who we really are. But the reality is most of us are playing it safe. The opposite of expressed is repressed, and that's how most men walk through life. Since we grew up believing our needs, our feelings, our sexual desires, were a burden to others, we learned to play small, shut up, fit in, act tough, play it cool. The problem is that while shutting down our fullest expression may have saved us some criticism, bullying, or social pressure, we killed our joy and squashed our souls in the process.
Rock stars represent what we all secretly want to do: let it fuckin' rip. There's a reason why grown men will throw down thousands of dollars to watch Bruce Springsteen shred a Telecaster for four hours—it reminds them of the inner performer that already exists within them. The performer that wants to command the company Zoom call, drain the winning putt or super freak their partner in the bedroom. We all have this powerful urge inside us to express ourselves fully. And while there's nothing wrong with cheering on your favorite musician, many of us stop there, never asking ourselves, “What does this person inspire in me?” And beginning to do something about it.
1 Identify where you’re holding back.
The question to ask ourselves (unless you're operating on full John Mayer level—leather jacket, hot pink PRS Silver Sky) isn't if we're holding back, but where? One of the things I tell my coaching clients if they tell me they're holding back in one area of their life is: “Where else are you doing that?” I have a client who is a successful commodities trader—by all accounts a risky profession. But he came to me, hat in hand, and said: “I want to take more risk at work.” I told him: “Okay, where else in your life aren't you taking risks?” And our real project began.
Where in your life do you feel like you're holding back? In your work? In relationships? In your creative output? One of my favorite things about being a life coach is getting to hear people's dreams. It's a very vulnerable thing for a man to tell you what he truly wants, because for most of our lives, we believed our dreams were silly, selfish or stupid. But by owning our dreams, we make them real. We become accountable for them, and we begin to see how small we've been playing instead of chasing them. That's the first step.
2 Meet your heroes.
Make a list of three to five people in the world who inspire you, and the qualities they have that you feel particularly drawn to: It could be Ta-Nehisi Coates' fearless prose, Bob Dylan's vivid storytelling or Yo-Yo Ma's unbridled joy—these are the qualities that are calling for more expression within you. Remember: if you're drawn to it, you have it in you. Full stop.
3 Find some support.
Once you're clear on the qualities you want to express more of in the world, find someone to hold you to it. Maybe you have a friend who's been hovering over the 'Send' button on the script for his pilot, maybe your brother's beloved old Pentax hasn't seen daylight since the '90s. Call 'em up and say, “I'll help you if you help me.”
Men are tribal creatures. We like to feel like we're a part of a team. In my men's group, a bunch of the guys were struggling with putting themselves out there, so we created a challenge around it: every week, each of us will put something out into the world on social media: videos, music, long form posts. Before Facebook and Instagram became dumping grounds for political and social warfare, highly curated feeds and borderline pornography they were democratic platforms for sharing our lives. They allowed everyone to be a rockstar for a day, a minute or a 'Like.' Since the pandemic, I've seen a lot more people getting real on social media, stripping back the facade to reveal their true selves. And as someone who is always trying to express more of myself, that's inspiring to me.
Something to remember: Whenever we set a goal for more expression in our lives—whether that's penning an e-book, or tweeting our deepest thoughts—we're going to bump up against challenges. Our egos will jump in and say: Are you crazy? You're going to say that? This isn't safe! Steven Pressfield addresses this in his easy-to-read book, The War of Art, and gives it a name: resistance. Resistance is part of the expression game, and the more we can accept it—and even look to it as a sign we're about to do something exciting that will help us grow—the better. Resistance means you're on the right track.
Once you start taking risks with expression in one area of your life, the areas where you aren't doing it will begin to stand out more clearly. Address those next. I have a client who, after learning to express himself more at work, saw he wasn't doing the same thing with his wife at home. Every night, for several months, he would pull her aside after dinner and say: “Do you have a few minutes? I'd love to discuss my feelings.” His wife loved it. She felt more connected to him than ever before. And as a result, he felt sexier, more confident, and just generally better in his skin. Sounds like some rock star shit to me.