In the world of soul and purpose, the currency isn’t money, it’s meaning
Growing up as men in America, we were taught that our value as humans is defined by our ability to control outcomes– through power, money and influence.
But more of us are discovering that living a life based on the ability to dominate and delegate is unfulfilling at best — and destructive at worst.
We Were Good Learners
From our first ever “boys don’t cry” moment to the day we lace up as varsity athletes, every minute of every day we’re being taught how men behave, which is primarily defined as sexual prowess, the threat of violence over other men, dominance over women, and implicit, performative heterosexuality. In those early days, what we got in return for our good behaviour was social currency—belonging, coolness, fitting in.
But if you didn’t live up to the minimal standards, the pushishment was social exile, irrelevance and ridicule. The rewards and punishments were all clearly and freely handed out—even the parents were in on it.
From the Playground to the Boardroom
When we moved away from our parents, all of that training was yoked to commerce. Social training and incentives translate to money, influence and power. So, we play the game for a decade or two, make all the money we want, and live happily ever after— right?
Something seems to have eluded our grasp. We feel alone and powerless over the one thing we most secretly crave: a sense of genuine intimacy with our purpose, over which we cannot seem to exert influence. It’s frustrating, and if we admit it, a little scary.
Our training very clearly established its rewards for asserting and expanding our sphere of influence. We spend our money on getting everything we want, while also sensing that even inside the mechanism of buying, there exists a control hierarchy that keeps any hope of true meaning and intimacy at arm’s length.
As long as we can buy it, it confirms we’re in control, when what we crave is to be on par with, because meaning and depth and intimacy all require surrender.
Striving for Meaning is Laughed At
I remember after I left the corporate world and was riding my motorcycle through Central America. I came back to the USA for a friend’s wedding. An old friend of mine, who worked on a sales desk with a major investment bank in NYC, quietly pulled me aside and said, “I could never do what you’ve done. If the guys at my desk even got a whiff that I was thinking about looking for meaning or soul, they’d eat me alive. They’d never let me back in.” To even show an indication of being interested in meaning – or anything other than money as god – is to be executed career-wise.
Power Repels Meaning
The sad truth is, men are socially constructed to ignore meaning. The culture wants good, loyal, predictable soldiers to keep the gears moving—especially the successful ones who make all the money. That’s why it so often turns a blind eye to the sexual and financial misdeeds of the powerful because we think we need them to keep it going. There’s a tremendous motivation on behalf of companies — heck, the culture itself — to tempt us back to the job and the narrative we hate and to ignore that glimmer of something more that we’ve seen.
“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” Carl Jung
Eventually, there are two ways men begin to crave meaning. When certain men see there is an “off-menu” level to the game, they become tantalised by it. From time to time it visits them in dreams, in flickering side-glances, but everything else, in the culture, in their company, in their families, etc, is screaming that it’s childish, just a fantasy, unsustainable.
The other way it happens is through failure—through divorce, financial loss, a health or family crisis.
Both of them result in a soul-level need to find something that has so far not been attainable. Both these things require acclimating to a level of discomfort that many men are just not willing to do — and the culture tells us we shouldn’t have to do.
All the Edifices We Built Don’t Work Here
It is said that revelation must be terrible. What’s worse, when most men discover they can’t buy it, it’s humiliating. Their training didn’t prepare them for the growth of spirit required. Furthermore, it offends the classic belief that everything and anything can be bought. They use false pride to hide their shame, telling themselves that if money can’t buy it, it must not be valuable.
These men decide that cultural esteem, position and monetary wealth is a good enough bar for success. Meanwhile, something inside them quietly withers and dies, settling for safety.
And yet, there remains the softest whisper of longing: “there must be something more…”
Like Jumping Off a Cliff
Most men don’t make it through this crisis of meaning.
They don’t have the perspective to realize that it’s actually a good crisis— that it’s a crisis of heart, soul and legacy, of why they are on the planet.
When men learn to feel into this crisis, it feels like jumping off a cliff with no net, no one to catch us. We fear we could just as easily become the tragic cautionary tale as the success story—for every Che Guevara, there’s a Christopher McCandless. Our fear tests us, at times making us wonder if our health, our financial stability, our very sanity, isn’t under imminent threat.
It’s this fear that chokes out the nascent soul-adventurer in us, that keeps us small. It’s this fear that the culture installed when we were children, promising safety in return for loyalty.
It’s this fear that we must question if we are to discover the meaning of our life.
Run Towards the Roar
It is said that on the sub-Saharan plains of Africa, the bush-people know an old trick the lions use to trap their prey. While the lethal lionesses lay concealed, waiting for the gazelle to appear, the male lions – who do not hunt – let out a terrific roar that can be heard over 5 miles away. The gazelles, spooked by the awful sound, run in the opposite direction – straight into the waiting jaws of the real threat: the lioness.
For those in search of meaning in the modern world, it is so similar. The voices and terrifying fears “roaring” at us are attempting to keep us small, herding us into the waiting corrals of our day jobs where we can be counted on to do what we are told. When we run towards the roar, when we have the courage to feel the fear and not react, we are taking the critical first step towards a life of genuine sovereignty and power.
We are claiming what is ours to claim, what no one can do for us: our one, wild and precious life.
You Have to Do It Alone, But You Don’t Have to Do It All By Yourself
For men with the courage to take this first step, there are two things that can help. These “bumper guards” are critical because, at a minimum, they challenge the lie that we have to do it all by ourselves.
The first is a men’s group and the second is a trusted mentor, coach or therapist.
A men’s group is a small, regular gathering of men with a similar desire for authenticity, meaning, and healing. They provide accountability, real talk, and the kind of support so many of us crave from other men, but that the culture of “man” doesn’t foster or allow for.
The role of a mentor, coach or therapist in a man’s life is to amplify the voice of soul that the culture at large — including our employers, families, and friends — cannot affirm. A man will best be served by choosing a trusted guide with no agenda, other than advocating for the health of his soul.
You Must Ask for What You Really Want
If we are really, truly, bravely honest, there are some things we want from life that we cannot buy with money. There are things our souls truly long for.
If we only had the courage to believe we deserved them, we might discover we could have them.
A slower life with wider concern. Does the speed and frenetic individuality we are all expected to perform actually serve us? Does it serve our families? And what is the point of it, really? We convince ourselves that we must go this fast, we must fight this hard– but for what? To protect our families, to ensure the kids excel, to keep up with our social circle.
As men, we are the ones who traditionally would have cast a much wider net of concern. We were the ones who held the sacred questions: How are the forests? How are the salmon? How are the children? When we hold a narrow radius of concern — worried only about “our stuff” — we lose sight of the role our souls would rather occupy: to be stewards of beauty, meaning and the very web of life itself.
A vulnerability that connects us. Innocence is wildness. To dominate or dismiss innocence is to disregard the very wildness we prized as small children, our imaginations carrying us well beyond the concepts of value and efficiency we claim are our own, but secretly despise and wish someone would release us from.
We keep our own creative potential inside a prison of “toughness” and “OKness” that oppresses us– and we don’t even realize it.
A deeper sensual experience in our bodies. All people connected to their soul, connected to their moment-to-moment authentic experience report increased access to pleasure, sensitivity, and a sense of dancing with life, not controlling it. One cannot have increased freedom without increased responsibility for the power of our sensual body. It’s no wonder alcoholism, depression and suicide are all highest among men. But in avoiding discomfort, in numbing out our pain, we abdicate our true freedom. We trade our own sexual-sensual-creative potential for the safety of whatever we can order on Netflix.
Feeling life behind you rather than against you. Even though it scares us, deep down each of us must decide, as Einstein advised, “Is the universe friendly?” The culture that raised us fed us the narrative of a zero-sum universe of winners and losers. We were taught that to be a “man” is to be, ultimately, a ruthless individual.
This posture is violent to the world, to nature, and to our soul. Getting past it requires the courage to believe in a flow beyond ourselves. We feel it on our best days. Living from it is discovering a sense of belonging that cannot do it without us.
The quiet confidence of having faced your fears. Catching a wave is scary. Jumping out of an airplane is scary. But what really motivates men beyond physical fear are the things we didn’t do.
We didn’t come here to play small. We came to remember who we are — and be it. Each of us must ask, “Is this all I came here for?” Facing that question is the biggest wave you can surf.
Becoming unco-optable. No need to feel external validation to be satisfied. As men, we think our “individuality” means we are free. But the opposite is true. When we learn to let go of our well-defended need for control and profit, we open up the valve of a flow of meaning that connects us to all beings, all peoples, and all religions. It’s the only real wealth, and money has no currency here.
The Bottom Line
When men choose safety over soul, when they prioritize money over meaning, they experience hardship with an unknown cost to the soul. Furthermore, the world is deprived of the beauty and courage of their willingness to speak and express their authentic voice into the world.
We live in a world that is for men’s soulful engagement what a desert is for water—parched and desperate for a leadership it cannot generate on its own. The implications of men’s evolution — from power-over to power-with — is nothing less than the healing of all unsustainable, dysfunctional systems.
When men, one-by-one, courageously turn towards the truth of their own destiny, the strain on the earth is lessened. The natural systems that support us all feel relief as we remember we are connected, we are vulnerable, we are meaningful. The voices of fear cry out in their last, feeble attempts to control us, while the world itself blooms into a beauty we cannot dare to imagine.
We are – we have always been – the very ones we have been waiting for.