The police academy, fire academy and military boot camps are filled with 18 to 20-somethings pushing harder mentally and physically than they have ever pushed themselves before. These platforms are mostly for young adults and are even more highlighted than previously with the invention of social media. While Navy Seal movies and Police SWAT shows are all the rage for young adults and wannabe operators, only about 1% of the population actually seek this level of discomfort in the United States.
I, myself, went through this level of physical and mental exhaustion and often reminisce with my buddies about the “good old days.” Recently, while I was perusing Facebook and YouTube, I realized there is a market flooded with companies that offer the “boot camp experience” for men looking to “enhance their lives.” These companies charge thousands of dollars for men to spend three days being harassed by “instructors” while they lift heavy logs, run miles and miles, and go for three days with almost no sleep.
The ads ask men if they are tired of being mediocre, or are they tired of not gaining everything in life they want. This made me think, “Why would anyone put themselves through that torture if not needed, let alone pay thousands of dollars for the experience?” I was young, dumb and being paid to complete these insane tasks, yet these men are stopping their lives to yell, sweat and pay for physical and verbal abuse. While researching for this article, I found some companies that offer warrior programs for up to $10,000, which they market towards middle aged men tired of their job, feeling frustrated in their family life and unhappy with the physical and mental motivation they are achieving in their day-to-day routine.
One thing in common among all these ads and videos showing the experiences, was men, most of whom are complete strangers working together, encouraging each other, hugging each other, all in a very emotional, very brotherly way.
Connection and Purpose
I saw two common characteristics in my study of these experiences: connection and purpose. This supports a Harvard study that followed 724 men for many years. The researchers found a very strong connection between men who had strong, drama-free relationships and longer lifespans. The opposite can be said for the men who did not have strong relationships with other men. Having friends is good for your health.
Men, typically starting in their late 30s to early 50s, often find themselves in a transition period in their lives. With an intense focus on raising families and grinding at work to succeed in their chosen field, they often find themselves friendless, or with little time to strengthen genuine friend relationships. Success at work is good in some ways because it provides financial comfort, family security and physical comforts. It is also the easiest environment to feel alone and like they are no longer needed.
“So, Drew, should I pay five thousand dollars to sweat, yell and be physically exhausted, just so I can make some friends and avoid a midlife crisis?”
My answer to that is this: If you can afford it, some of them look very fun, but it is unlikely they will relieve all your loneliness and give a fulfilled sense of purpose that will last past the experience. I do not think an emotionally charged weekend experience is enough to fulfill the male need for friendship and purpose. What is needed is a sustainable environment that provides men with a comfortable, safe, but purposeful mission in which they can feel accomplished, but also be with other men who are seeking the same thing.
At this point in a man’s life it is also important to reexamine one’s purpose and see if where you are established is where you want to continue. It is scary to change, especially when your family’s stability depends on your paycheck, but it is important to reevaluate if you’re okay being stuck in something you do not like, just for a paycheck. If there is room for a minor adjustment that might be uncomfortable for a while, but will bring you and your family a deeper sense of purpose, it is often easier to start there. If you are lost in where to begin to find your purpose, it can sometimes be found by revisiting the things that are most important to you and then making changes to your life based on those values.
Where do I find this group of men that all have the same desire for friendship and purpose?
Here are three ways to get connected in the community with an intention of making an impact and connecting with other men.
1. Join a running club. Science tells us that physical exercise positively affects our emotions. The boot camp weekends are doing something right when they have the men in their program complete strenuous tasks together. It pushes the body and mind and creates a sense of teamwork. A running club, or some other exercise group does the same thing but over a sustained period. It enables you to push your body and mind, have something to look forward to every week, and build relationships with other men.
2. Good Dads Strong Schools. Good Dads Strong Schools is a program designed to get men connected to their children’s schools and have them interact with other men. Men typically thrive when they have a task, and the school is usually a place dominated by mothers. With this program, men are given the task of joining in, becoming engaged with the school, which ultimately helps them feel they have a role in their children’s educations. At the same time, the Strong Schools program is giving the school a much-needed boost of male interaction.
3. Get creative. You know your schedule and your interests better than anyone else. Spend time thinking about an activity that you could do with other men. Maybe you have a group of guys you used to hang out with, or you are looking for a new group to interact with. With Facebook and other social media, it is very easy to find others who carry the same interests as you. The keys to creating this interaction involve some sort of physical or mental exertion, time spent together and consistency.
Turning 40, quitting your job and buying a Porsche may sound great when you feel lost, but the research shows it is just a shallow expression of a much deeper need for connection and purpose. If you feel lost or directionless, the most important step is to seek help. Talk to a friend or your spouse and make it known you need something in your life where you feel you can contribute. It may be lifting heavy logs over your head while sand gets in your eyes, or it could be a monthly poker game. The goal is all the same: connection.
Drew Dilisio is the Director of Counseling Services at Good Dads. He is a graduate of Evangel University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, a husband and father. He can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].