THE BLOG
09/04/2012 10:07 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

Be Your Own Hero

A man who runs into a burning building and saves someone's life is everyone's notion of a hero. The opportunity to perform that level of heroism is rare. That's likely a good thing.

Unless you're a fireman, policeman, or soldier, all of whom assume daily risk, there's another less dangerous road to personal heroism, although it still involves risk. I know this is true, and my confidence derives from thousands of emails and comments from men and women over the years.

A man can't be anyone's hero, until he becomes his own hero first. This is a far more complex task than it might sound at first. It has nothing whatsoever to do with money, power, ego, bragging rights, good looks, physical power, athletic ability, sexual prowess, or how much stuff a man owns.

To become his own hero a man must be willing to plumb the depths and explore the aspects of his life that are most dear to him, his relationships with his wife, girlfriend, men friends, children, and even coworkers. When he's accomplished this task, he is his own hero, and everyone else's too.

Mythological fables that tell the stories of the right of passage from boyhood to manhood always involve a staggering task a young man must perform before the king allows him to marry the princess. Slaying a dragon or a giant is frequently his challenge. In mythology, the young man always succeeds, marries the princess, and lives happily ever after.

Today, to become a man, he has to embark on a different right of passage journey. Instead of slaying a dragon, he has to slay his flawed notion of manhood. He has to prove his inner hero courage by becoming a fully empowered, authentic, emotionally open and honest man, first with himself, and ultimately with everyone. A man on this path is claiming his right to be his own hero.

Not convinced this act requires courage? One of my recent articles about men being emotionally honest in relationships received thousands of comments. Half were from women. Nearly all agreed with my premise. The half from men mostly disagreed, and what's significant and revealing is that nearly all their reasons were fear-based. Clearly, they haven't slain their fear dragons yet, and in fairness, few men in our culture ever do. Is this the stuff of heroes? Absolutely. Ask any woman.

The risk I assumed when I began doing my own right of passage, to work to live in integrity with myself felt very real, because I quickly realized there were some men who considered my efforts unmanly. But they represent a small percentage. Actually, it's wimpy not to make this journey, because remaining shut down precludes change, and I've yet to meet a man who couldn't benefit from some change in his behavior.

When I rejected emotional honesty in my relationships, I realized I was doing so out of fear, which was so powerful that it blinded me, and prevented me from seeing the potential for heroic behavior. When I moved beyond my fear and embraced emotional honesty with women, they rewarded me with their trust. They became vulnerable, which deepened our relationship. That reward is worth the risk, because access to a woman's heart is the greatest gift a woman can give a man.

There are absolutely no aspects of becoming his own hero that are related to a man's ability to buy stuff. Money has nothing to do with his manhood or being his own hero. A man who brags about his wealth or power misses being his own hero by a mile, because inflating his own ego is the least manly or heroic act. A man's personal heroism isn't for sale. Being your own hero is priceless. Men, who other men look up to, know this.

I urge each man to take this challenge, and stand in front of his mirror and ask himself some critical questions, the answers to which are relevant to his hero status. When I took this challenge decades ago, I was surprised how far I was from being my own hero. Building character is like constructing a strong and durable wall, and it begins by placing the first brick in place.

Do I honor and respect my men friends, and keep their confidences?

Do I live in a manner that reflects my highest ideals?

Do I have the courage to be emotionally honest with women?

Do I love my children unconditionally and selflessly?

Do I respect and support my children's choices?

Do I treat my employees or coworkers with a level of respect I want?

Do I volunteer in my community or reach out to help others?

Do I live in integrity with myself?

Nearly all men daydream about performing heroic deeds of some sort. And, whether or not a man is conscious of the inner conflict that is the struggle to live his highest ideals, the notion lingers in his male psyche. Sometimes it's stirred by conscience, and sometimes it's simply about whether or not to make the effort.

Every man deserves to feel proud of his manhood, but many aren't clear about what that entails or how to achieve it. The proof of this inner conflict is that nearly all men still link their sense of self-worth with their net worth, which is tragically flawed since they're unrelated. The former is entirely about character, while the latter is about purchasing power. They don't necessarily share the same space.

A man who treats his wife or girlfriend with dignity and respect, listens on a deep level, and maintains the highest level of emotional honesty with her regarding how he's feeling about their relationship, is that woman's hero. I know this because I've experienced it, and I've heard it from countless other men too. Women frequently mention this as a desirable quality when they comment about relationships.

Actualizing his inner hero is the manner in which a man grows fully into his manhood. I've worked with men for decades to help them discover their best versions of themselves, their own heroes. Owen Marcus and I host weekend retreats to help guide men onto the path to becoming their own heroes.

Achieving anything worthwhile in a man's life isn't ever easy. What Owen and I refer to as Manhood 2.0, Be Your Own Hero, is no exception. When a man musters the courage to share his deepest truth, he creates a platform for his inner hero to develop. This discovery isn't something a man will likely forget because it's his manhood Eureka moment.

A man who is his own hero doesn't surrender to fear, and never allows fear to dictate his behavior. He stands up to his fear because he knows how to move beyond it.

Whether or not a man considers Manhood 2.0 his path, every man deserves to be his own hero. The road is clearly marked. To be your own hero, live in integrity, embrace your authentic manhood, and become a man other men look up to. Life is too short to aim any lower.