How to be a Man

One of my favourite poems is on the subject of how to be a man. It is by Rudyard Kipling and it is the popular poem, If. It is the advice of a father to his son. Of course you should read the whole thing, but I do love the concluding verse because I think it says a lot about what it takes to succeed.

It reminds me of Will Smith’s brief acceptance speech at Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award ceremony, speaking before a group of youngsters, he said that Running and Reading are the keys to success in life.

Why Running?

Will said that when you are running, there is a little voice in your head that will be telling you all kinds of things you don’t want to hear. Things like:

  • Why do you doing this?
  • Who do you think you are – Sebastian Coe?
  • What do you think you are going to accomplish?
  • When are we going to stop?
  • Will you be able to get home before your lungs explode?
  • Are you trying to kill yourself?

He went on to say that when you can learn to defeat that voice, you will have one of the vital keys to success.

Famous for his astonishing work ethic, Will has said that he doesn’t care who you are, whether you are a top athlete or what, “if you get on the treadmill with me, you are going to get off first … or I’m going to die.” He is course saying that, no matter what that inner voice is saying, he can always find a little bit extra, a little bit more, and he says that by doing just a little bit more than the other guy, you too can succeed.

Rudyard Kipling makes the same point in the poem:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it …

Why Reading?

Again, Will said that there is no problem that you will ever face that somebody else hasn’t faced and solved before. So whatever difficulty you have in life, there is a solution somewhere and that’s why, he says, reading is a second key to success. All the great people who have ever lived before us wrote books and they are all sitting there in the library just waiting for you to read them. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

The process of personal development is all about improving yourself and one of the main ways you can do that is by reading. If you want to know what to read, I would suggest that you start putting the good stuff into your head. Here are some Reading Lists that I have recommended to people who have attended my workshops, that you may also find useful.

How to be a Man

The Rudyard Kipling quote above is from the last verse of the poem and it is, of course incomplete. Here is the full poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream  – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat these two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

If you are a father and you ever get stuck about what to write on your son’s birthday card, this is an excellent piece of advice that you would do very well to pass on to your son.

You can read more inspirational poems here.

One thought on “How to be a Man

  1. Brendan Dale

    Whilst Will Smith’s thoughts might be inspirational, I think they are quite limited and limiting if applied to one’s own personal development.

    Although overcoming the voice in your head that tells you to give up is critical in personal development, the running analogy is flawed because it is based entirely upon competition. It is the exact opposite, collaboration, that has accomplished the most notable thing in human history. For example, the space race that put the first man on the moon was born of US and Soviet competition but the US were ultimately successful only through collaboration. The competition produced the drive to collaborate but it was working together that brought success.

    I would say to Will Smith, why do you need to beat me so badly and why do you not want to hear that little voice in your head? Why do you need to kill yourself to win a treadmill race that has no intrinsic value and is only important because you personally attach value to it? What is important is to internally reflect upon what drives the desire to triumph over another individual and the need to simply and naively suppress your inner dialogue. If you can arrive at some answers to this, or at least move on to ask some more insightful questions about it you will have progressed much further forward than outrunning your opponent and your own emotional limits on a treadmill.

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