This guest post by author Deborah Burns was first published for the CoveyClub. Deborah’s two award-winning books are ”Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life” and “Saturday’s Child.”
The two little girls who arrived before you felt like my second-chance gift. On the heels of a career nurturing success for women, suddenly a new generation of females to empower literally fell right into my lap.
Truth be told, I started writing this essay for them, before you were born. Those girls kicked my mentoring muscle memory into high gear, despite a future that seems beyond my wildest imaginings. To properly prepare them for our speeding tech-driven world, my only chance seemed to be a switch to writing sci-fi fantasies. For they — and you — are all official card-carrying members of “Generation Alpha,” a science fiction-y description if I ever heard one. Alpha: the beginning of a new, evolved era full of enlightenment and possibilities.
Boys Now Need Empowering Messages
But all my crystal ball gazing unexpectedly led me to a jarring realization. You, my dearest boy, might need the empowering message contained herein more than my girls. Why would Gen Alpha’s alpha male need any help at all? Won’t you automatically grow into a smart, successful, responsible, great leader? A force to be reckoned with, confident in who you are and what you can offer to the world?
Once perhaps, but powerful cultural tides are eroding a future that will need both strong women and strong men. As demeaning anti-male waves wash ashore, the aspiration — and capacity — to be such a formidable man is slowly being washed away.
Coerced into not being true to who you really are inside feels eerily like my own early experience. Women were once bombarded with degrading messages underscoring that we weren’t good enough as we were, our natural inclinations were wrong, and our estrogen-fueled emotions were a sign of weakness. Boomers — my generation — were told that career success required us to suppress our authentic selves and walk, talk, dress, and act like testosterone-driven men instead. Our disingenuous faux personas hid our complementary differences — and, we now know, were the opposite of what we actually needed to bring to the party.
So many megaphones are now shouting the exact same message — albeit in reverse — to young men. Your natural inclinations are wrong and need to be buried, you are somehow bad inside, and you no longer belong. Internal chaos is setting confused and weakened boys adrift, causing them to be lost, unsure of how to act, who to be, or what to do.
A new focus is birthing interviews, panels, and books like Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling by Richard Reeves and The Future of Men by Jack Myers. We can debate the cause — from life in a post-industrial age, to dropping college enrollments and labor force participation, to a cultural undertow filled with marketing hashtags and superficial sound-bites. But what cannot be debated is that it is happening.
We know that all of our American girl cheerleading thankfully paid off. Young women are now even besting young men when it comes to critical stats like college degrees and entry into the world of work. But empowerment for one was never intended to mean disempowerment for another. So, in true abundance mindset mode, the pro-female and pro-male future we need demands that your story must also positively move forward.
This is why, dearest boy, I switched my focus to you. All I can offer is a writer’s mindset and my own story’s hard-won perspective. If these life lessons stand the test of time, you will become all you must be.
NEVER Let Anyone Else Define Who You Are
We’re all on a character-building journey to become our best, whole selves, but your era presents a new complicating factor: Gen Alpha’s technology will only amplify groupthink and hivemind as fewer people control what we all see, hear, and are directed to believe.
Allowing someone else on the outside to tell you who you are on the inside is a mind game that just gives your unique power away. To overcome, do this one thing — own your personal narrative every step of the way. But how? By first recognizing that you are its hero and author — the star protagonist, director, and producer.
As such, introspection is key — self-reflection helps you to figure out who you are, what you want, and what you don’t. Examine the stories that shaped you, and seek to understand what drives you and why. Gain clarity about the story you are telling about yourself through your words and actions — and on the story you want to be telling.
Once you have a better sense of your quest, be intentional with your actions and reactions to fulfill it. Keeping these three hero mindset principles front and center will help to move your story forward:
- Focus less on identity and more on integrity. Forget labels — your goal is to be the best human you can be. Don’t tell someone who you are. Show them instead by demonstrating your character, dedication, trustworthiness, and value at every turn. Build your communication muscle to best express yourself, your ideas, and all that you hope to accomplish. Nothing is fixed and everything is a work-in-progress, so have a continuous improvement, growth mindset — always reassess, stay flexible, be open to change, and get comfortable with uncertainty. Integrity is tested and strengthened when you step into unknown territory. That is where the new is waiting for you, so never fear it. Move forward even when you don’t know where you’re going to discover the answers you seek.
- Get excited by the struggle. Conflict is part of every plot — in fact, without something in the way of the hero’s quest, there would be no story. As you face antagonists and obstacles daily, know that the process of figuring out your way around challenges makes you tougher and more resilient. How you respond to the action and struggles in your story will be one of the biggest determinants of your success. And try to reframe those mean antagonists as a positive — they will always reveal something about yourself that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.
- Know your characters. Understand what moves people to action — and inaction — while you stay attuned to their wants and needs hidden beneath the surface. Although you’re the star of your own life, remember that so is every character in your story. When dealing with others at work or at home — and with their agendas — your role switches to supporting character. So combine those hard skills that demonstrate your achievements with the emotionally intelligent, interpersonal soft skills that build relationships. Always give to others, help them solve their problems, and keep the greater good in mind.
ALWAYS Be a Critical Thinking, Questioning, Nonconformist
My personal and career experiences have shown me that toxicity is neither male nor female — and neither is virtue. We are all just humans and because we are, human nature — complete with its shadows, wants, and needs — is always in the driver’s seat.
What to do? Well, for starters, resist control, embrace freedom of thought, and hone your perspective. Be both an optimist and a skeptic. Strive to understand different viewpoints and the macro-forces at work. Stay open to possibility and unconventional approaches to solve the ever-evolving problems before you. You’ll soon see how both give birth to new plot twists that build your momentum.
And so will being an independent, critical thinker on the hunt for the real story. Always ask yourself “What am I missing?” Ask others open-ended questions to gather knowledge. Listen very carefully to the answers — what remains unsaid is often more important than what is said.
True heroes have positive quests that are always for something rather than merely against something. So let these three writing-world concepts continue to guide your story:
- Understand the paradox of coexisting truths. As you grapple with a new set of expectations and realities, remember that if one thing is true, so is its opposite. This paradox — and its layers, nuance, and contradictions — are what make all stories interesting. So recognize that nothing is simple and very little is an either-or choice. In a complex, fickle world, hold onto your convictions, but not too tightly. Leave room for surprises and maintain curiosity. Take the other side in ongoing internal debates and turn everything upside down to see all the angles — and to find opportunities. See the innate push-pull pattern of every story — each powerful step forward also creates powerful steps backward. So anticipate by building your foresight to minimize unintended consequences (usually spawned by one of those opposite truths).
- Be a nonjudgmental, uber-observer. You definitely cannot judge a book by its cover — writers deeply understand this. They must cast off the superficial and get at the elusive truth to make their stories resonate. But the whole story is never obvious. Perceptions and imperceptions abound, and distorting omissions are everywhere. For you to thrive and discern fact from fiction, let go of preconceived notions and take a 40,000-foot view. Detach emotionally from the outcome — just watch and listen. Figure out what makes sense to you and what is worthy of your attention. And remember, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle between two extremes, so balancing the scales should always be your goal.
- Have ambition and ideals. Striving, aspiring, and competing are critical to building your confidence, getting your juices flowing, and giving you purpose and a sense of accomplishment. Seek excellence at every turn, and you will rise based on merit and your contributions to the whole. Remember to do “real” things too. Participate in sports, work with your hands, and figure out how to fix things. And if you choose to learn from the teachers who will appear throughout your life, you’ll grow to have the knowledge to influence and mentor others.
Grandson, I believe in you. Stand up, stand out, and stand firm, and you will become a strong, wise man worth emulating.
All my love, Your Deedee
P.S. If your big sister and cousin follow these recommendations, they’ll benefit just as much.