12 things every guy should master to become a real man

Twice today I came across some funny internet content that was about ‘being manly’. Since I don’t believe in coincidence I take this as an omen and assume the Universe is inviting me to write about masculinity. And of course I feel the need to balance the funny stuff and approach the topic dead seriously. But before I start doing that, let me give you the links that triggered this post. First one is “What manly dudes talk about” from www.tothechest.com, second is “How to be a man?” from Tales of Mere Existence, an excellent channel on YouTube, in my opinion.

I do feel that it’s an interesting and challenging topic. The bottom line is very simple. To be a man we have to be a mature version of a person with a Y chromosome. And everything we don’t develop doesn’t mature. Our physical development takes care of itself more or less. We just need to keep eating, sleeping, drinking and breathing (although it helps tremendous if we do that properly). But if we don’t take care of our psychological, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development these aspects remain underdeveloped and therefore immature. You can do the quick scan right now: if you are a man and haven’t been taking care of one or more of these terrains you can be sure that the corresponding side of you is immature.

Anyway, let’s get started. I typed this list in my phone while waiting for my order of Thai food. I did it off the cuff, There is no particular order nor am I having pretenses about it being complete. On second thought and more honest: I think it’s pretty complete but I was just acting humble. This is a list of features I honestly feel a mature man must own, be or do:

1. Be fearless

Being fearless does not mean being without fear, being fearless means admitting your fears and going beyond them. A real man is not in denial of his fears, holding up a mask of invulnerability but is willing to face his fears and work on them. He has the courage to do things that frighten him when the situation calls for it. A real man knows that the path towards fearlessness is endless.

2. Be resilient

A man should be flexible and reliable at the same time. If necessary he can start all over again at any given moment. Whatever happens; his house was burnt down, his crop failed, he lost his job, his wife had a miscarriage: even if he has mourning to do he starts all over again. A real man accepts his fate but doesn’t become a victim of it.

3. Live, speak and listen from the heart

A real man doesn’t hide his feelings and intentions. He is not afraid to be gentle nor afraid to be sad. He is in touch with his emotions and is able to express them. He has the courage to live his dream and the space to listen compassionately.

4. Own your anger

A real man owns his anger. His anger has transformed into masculine compassion. He can be angry, strong, decisive and courageous. His anger serves his presence and the presence of others. It is not a humiliating or destructive type of anger. The latter happens when a man is a slave of his anger, that’s the anger of the coward trying to overcompensate his feelings of inferiority. This is just as sad as a man completely disconnected from his anger. He becomes emasculated and has no power at all. Other men don’t take him seriously. Women can smell immature anger and emasculatedness from a mile away and don’t find it sexy. Mature anger, on the other hand, is a big turn on.

5. Make meaning

Try not to become a man of success, try to become a man of value. Einstein said that. I think that’s true and important. If you fill your days with doing something that pays the bills but is essentially meaningless you are wasting your precious life. Yes, even if it pays the bills so handsomely that you can spend 2 months per year on adventurous holidays and eat in fancy restaurants, you are still wasting your life.  A real man has the balls to travel outside his comfort zone to make a sincere attempt to contribute to mankind. He works for the greater good instead of for the sake of protection of his self image and clinging to the illusion of safety.

6. Own your edge

This life is a journey and we all are somewhere on our path. A real man is honest about where he is at in his development. He doesn’t pretend to be wiser or more evolved than he actually is nor does he shrink so that others won’t feel insecure around him. He knows his strengths and his weaknesses and not ashamed of either. That there is always work to do is a given to him. He knows where he has his work to do and is willing to listen and learn from those who have done that work.

7. Be vulnerable

A coward is always trying to hide his weak spots, a real man works on them. He is willing and able to reveal himself even in the midst of pain. He is vulnerable because he wants to be vulnerable. By opening up in every moment he is continuously practicing his courage. It’s his way of defeating his own cowardice.

8. Make love passionately

A real man does not hold back. When he makes love he opens up to all his rawness and all his tenderness and he gives his woman everything he has got. He does not shy away from intimacy. He can penetrate his woman so hard and deeply that she can feel that he is entering her soul. He aims for her heart. He makes her feel like a princess and a porn star simultaneously.

9. Practice a martial art

When push comes to shove every man should be able to defend his wife, children and honor. Just like we teach our children to swim to prevent them from drowning a man should know at least enough basic fighting skills so he can throw a punch in case of an emergency. A real man has spent enough time in a ring or dojo to ensure a deescalating presence. He does not panic, is not easily provoked and has some strength and skills.

10. Have a sense of humor (don’t take yourself so fucking seriously)

A real man can hold both the utter importance and the utter unimportance of life at the same time. He can see his own failures and flaws and joke about that. Since he knows his self image is just an image he feels no need to defend that image. He can uplift a tense situation with a joke but he isn’t the immature joker that abuses humor as a tool for escaping intimacy or sabotaging intensity. A real man has the capacity to light up the room. A real man embraces life.

11. Develop body, mind and spirit

A real man is devoted to the development of body, mind and spirit. Not to stay ahead of other men, not out of fear of being defeated, but because he has more to offer when he is healthy and present. Taking care of his body makes him fit and strong, taking care of his mind makes him clever and sharp, taking care of his spirit makes him wise, warm and compassionate. A real man knows that his body and mind are mortal but that the love he spreads during his life remains.

12. Be real

In the end a real man knows that he is just a guy. He does all these things because that’s what he is: a man. He likes hanging out with other men, he might drink beer during football, he loves his woman and he works wholeheartedly. Basically, he is just trying to do his best to make the most of life and is having some fun while doing that. His sweat is honest, his heart is open and his back is straight.

Update January 30th 2012:

I wrote this list in March 2011. I am amazed and flattered by the popularity. For me, to stay true what I wrote above is my daily practice. I gave up my home in Amsterdam in January 2012 to step into the unknown, to go on a spiritual quest. I will travel the world for a full year, searching for men and women who fit the profile. I call them warriors. Follow this blog if you are interested. Here you can witness the rawness of the day to day reality when a man lives according to the values he once put into a clean and eloquent list. Learn how to contribute to my quest. I need your support, connections and hospitality too to make my “Quest for the 2st Century Warrior” into a heartwarming adventure.

Recent posts (written in Israel in January 2012)

Look into my eyes, about finding the connection between rejection and childhood pain

– Coming to terms with past and present, about dealing with family karma.

– Miles Kessler sensei, warrior, about the first real warrior I trained with.

Update January 9th 2013:

I have been traveling for almost exactly  a year today. I faced my fears, practiced martial arts (and yoga), lived, spoken and listened from the heart, met many amazing people, did not work out as much as I liked but meditated quite a bit, did not have a lot of sex but did participate in a very interesting tantra course, never hid my weaknesses, got beaten up by life but bounced back, worked all over the planet trying to inspire as many people as possible and think I am still keeping it real. I also have decided to not go back to The Netherlands and do another tour around the world. The Quest for the 21st Century Warrior is not over yet.

Below I give you the links of the best read posts of 2012:

Ilana Meallem: Warrior: portrait of the super inspiring peace activist Ilana who brings Isreali’s and Palestians together. I stayed with her in February 2012.

Crushed: the morning I woke up in Baghdad to find out I was dumped by my girlfriend.

Sex 2.0: about my realization that sex should be a part of my spiritual path.

Knocked Out: about passing out and waking up all bloody after having a powerful mystical (Kundalini) experience in India.

The Power Of Love: about my insights on love, sexuality and energy.

The Little HealerMeeting the Teacher and Y’all Stole My Heart about the life and death of baby Sam van Eeghen and my time with his mourning parents in Carmel, California.


    • says

      Two days ago I realized it could be wise to write a book. I scribbled down an idea for a possible angle during a meeting with an author. So far everybody likes the idea so who knows..

      When I wrote the post I didn’t realize it would apply for women too. Looking at it briefly I feel that the ‘problem’ with women is not that they have lost touch with the feminine but that they are embarrassed about it. Men can be clueless about what a man should be. Women know what it means to be a woman but they should lose the guilt and the shame around fully embracing the feminine. Does that make sense?

      When that is taken care of too it’s ok for a woman to work on the masculine. 😉

      • Madelain Burgoyne says

        I found this blog via Elephant Journal this morning… Funny how you say that these are good points that apply to woman too, because that is exactly what I was doin gwhilst reading your post. Checking each point against myself.

        I do love being a women, nothing to be ashamed of indeed!

        Thank you for a wonderful blog. looking forward to that book you’re thinking about writing.


      • says

        I was reading your list and it came natural to try to relate it to my own self – as a woman – and found it interesting how “feminine” the content was. Speaking of vulnerability, edge, love…however, I must say the thing that women are missing is #12. So many women just don’t know how to be feminine. I feel a man almost can’t help but be a guy, like sports, hang out with his buddy’s, scratch his “pants.” Yet, I find that so many women out are out of touch with what it means to be feminine. Or they don’t allow themselves to enjoy the perks of being a girl – makeup, skirts, heels, they see these things are crutches rather than gifts. It was a good read, why not go for the full book, keep it light, I’d read it!

    • keith says

      God (or anyone) save me from anything that uses the phrase “real man”. Ugh. So women shouldn’t be real, make love passionately, make meaning… and must be protected by a “real man”. Consider patriachy much? I get the “don’t take yourself too seriously”, but seriously, how much does reiterating tired old stereotypes help anything?

    • Andrea says

      I didn’t agree with the martial art point until I read it. I think it needs to be retitled “know how and when you need to throw a punch”. That being said, I believe hockey is every bit as much a martial art, so include The Rink with the dojo.

  1. Josefien says

    Same here, this applies for women as well, though I wouldn’t wanna steal it away from any man if he’s practicing to master these goals!

  2. ayn says

    @Atalwin: i think you should…you’re a messenger and have writing skills. 🙂

    Yes that makes sense, i think. Not to bring on the topic of nowadays role confusion.;-) But I think i was trying to say that one could apply those principles to any man, or woman as they are the principles of a Warrior(leaving the penetration bit aside haha). Dont you agree?

  3. michelange says

    Hey Atalwin… Why don’t you start a Web TV show? I’m not shitting you. I think you’d be an AMAZING show host on camera. Wisdom, humor, and charisma mixed – I know this is what Genpo wanted to do. Learn from him and do the Dutch or international version. And do’nt wait for some studio to fund you. Start with whatever you got. it’ll take like wild fire. own your edge, but own your narissim too – play with it – our generation and the ones coming really need to explore that. Oops, i’m getting carried away! great post again, see you soon. your bro, michelange

  4. Ryan T says

    All of these sound and even feel innate.
    What is upsetting is that there are objects in American society that attempt to take them away, succumbing to temptation, vanity.

  5. Ammie says

    This is enforcing old style gender roles, and makes me so angry. Perhaps you should have including a real man does abuse and sexually assault women.

    • Olivia says

      Wow you did not receive this message. Perhaps you are not interested in realizing what healthy, safe masculinity is (by which I do not mean inherently heterosexual or anything like that). This list is beautiful and should not have offended you, and like the other posters said, no matter what gender you identify with or struggle with these are good points.

  6. Eric says

    I will add one that will not take away from any of the others. Real men will put themselves at risk to protect the small, weak and innocent. We do not look the other way. We never force themselves on others because of our strength. We will always step in and protect the underdog and stop an unfair fight.

  7. Ross G says

    Love it! One minor suggestion. Though I agree with the concept, the phrase Being fearless does not mean being without fear is, well, twisted English. I would substitute “fearless” with “courageous”, and then to me it works perfectly…

  8. Johnny says

    I missed the part about loving people regardless of how they treat you. There’s no mention of taking responsibility for the world, community or family. If a man is living alone in the woods, what does it matter if he’s a man or not? And by the way, #8 makes me want to projectile vomit.

  9. says

    I loved the “be fearless” and “don’t take yourself so fucking seriously” points.

    I am 23 years old, and some of the points you wrote really got me thinking..I am feeling – I have a long way to go 🙂

  10. Karen says

    I am joining the voices that loved the post while simultaneously finding it guilty of promoting gender stereotypes. This should not make anyone angry as (a) that would be an inappropriate use of anger and (b) this is a first draft.

    Mr. Pilon, I encourage you to think of this list in broader terms. Something like X elements toward becoming fully adult. (I say X because there may well be more than twelve. 😉 Stewardship over the planet comes to mind. Being aware that the choices one makes affect everything and everyone around us. People who think they are powerless and therefore make poor choices need to know that they are having just as much impact as everyone else, and make a shift toward responsible, conscious action.

    This list is very ecumenical, which is what the world needs. Please tweak the language to allow all people to see themselves in the wisdom, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I have a gay friend who would love this, but your language excludes him. Would you consider using “partner” instead of wife, for example? Then we could all be in there.

  11. says

    I really enjoyed this topic and surely applied the list to my own masculinity. That has been trying to grow up in all of us on this planet, male or female. Astrologically, Mars is transforming right now as the warrior energy in all of us transforms to become the peaceful warrior. As we begin a new age which is matriarchical(ask the indigenous elders about when this started-like 1996 or so) the male becomes the warrior to protect the woman’s heart. So that demands he hear her heart so he knows what she wants. I feel this list reflects some good listening and is why we like it. May the listening continue! That is what I teach my sons. How to hear their own heart and the hearts of others and to protect that! It’s a moment to moment adventure!! And to listen to the heart takes true love and all sorts of great qualities. Be committed to protect the heart of yourself and others at all times and there will be a calm oneness and joy that permeates all your life. Namaste!

  12. Barbara says

    Mostly lovely. As noted, need to address the heterosexist language. And, women enjoy feeling like “a princess and a porn star”? Not so much… Real men wouldn’t project that kind of superficial, dissembling fantasy onto someone they love.

    Keep working on it, and look at your assumptions. I think your heart is in the right place.

  13. says

    Thank you for sharing this. This is an excellent post and it reminds me of the work I have to do. Many men have a false idea of what it means to be a man because they’ve either been emasculated by one or both of their parents and pop culture which portrays us as bumbling, idiots that can’t do anything right and have to apologize for our existence, or they’ve been taught that being a man means victimizing others through violence, not showing emotion or not showing vulnerability.


  14. Jason says

    I thought this was compelling, thoughtful, and was about to share until I hit #8. I’m a gay man…does that make me less of a “real man”? I don’t begrudge you your heterosexuality but I wish that you’d separate masculinity from being with a woman. A real man is a man in and of himself – he should treat whoever he loves with respect. Same goes for the assumption of a wife in #9 and “loves his woman” in #12

    • Sumil says

      Agree completely. That threw me off so much! Gendered thinking is one of the most deep-rooted dualist constraints on the mind, allowing us to make the wildest of errors.

  15. says

    Hi Mr. Pilon, I really liked reading your article and feel like we are in agreement about the many elements that are essential to real manliness. I live, work, and train at a martial arts school in Fujian Province China. It is the first school of its kind in the sense that we train under experienced Chinese masters, but the school is mostly for Westerners to come and experience Chinese martial arts at a school that also does a good job of maintaining itself and student living conditions. It’s a far cry from a luxury resort, that’s for sure, but I know a lot of Westerners don’t last long in the Chinese run schools, just because they cant adapt to the living conditions, or feel too outcasted, or whatever. I just wanted to put us out there a bit to you if you find yourself wandering China on your journey. There are a few people here that I feel could qualify as real men under your criteria, and a couple others that come close but still need a reminder here and there to keep them focused, humble, and moving down the path of positivity and goodness. I have been living here for about two years, and figure that I will be around for a while, as Asia obviously has enormous potential in the present, and from the little experience I have here I do also feel like it also really needs some healing as well. Humanity has to work together to realize and acheive the enlightened potential we have as a species existing in the time we’re allowed on Earth or who knows right, eventually us as aliens going out beyond our planet. Again I really liked your breakdown about being a decent dude, and if you do think that you might like to check us out, please don’t hesitate to email or whatever.

  16. says

    I have made lot of progress in my personal journey of becoming a man and after seeing your article- it’s encouraging to know how far I have gone and how much left to master which makes my journey even more exciting. Thank you for coming up with this article on a whim while waiting for Thai if that’s true 🙂

    Take care and best of luck with your travels.

  17. says

    I’d like to learn more about #4 and what “mature anger” is. When could you consider a man to be a slave to his anger? When is he considered disconnected from his anger?
    I assume that a good way to use your anger would be to simply recognize it and use that energy to find a solution to the problem, instead of lashing out [example: someone rapes someone else…you can be angry and beat the rapist up (which is immature) or you could try to find a way to prevent such attacks + help victims (mature)].
    Would you consider it immature to use your fists to express your anger? Are all physical confrontations results of immature anger?

  18. says

    Some stereotypes are what they are because there is some truth to them.

    Dee, a person, male or female, is a slave to anger when they let anger consume them or act out irrationally. For example, the other day while walking back from the mail room on my apartment complex a young man was flying off the handle at a young woman, probably his partner. He was yelling incoherently. Stomping around…basically throwing a temper tantrum. I watched from a distance in case things got out of hand (the protective side of #9). He eventually stormed off and she left in the opposite direction. I think a mature person would have better control over ones anger. Perhaps a better understanding of how to channel anger. Maybe even use anger in a positive way (it is energy after all and energy can be redirected).

  19. Joseph says

    I would also encourage men to take up an art form (other than the martial type) whether it is music or the visual arts. It broadens one’s mind in a different way and helps makes the man (or any person for that matter) whole. Also what follows is to master a sport, which also contributes to the whole-ness of a person. It teaches one to work, to cooporate, as a team towards a common goal.

  20. james says

    He started well but from point number 8 he started showing his intellectual capability. “Penetrate her deeply so he can penetrate her soul” my friend such a person is not man but a professional driller, this height of stupid imagination.

  21. says

    Great list. I would add Taking Care of his Own to the list. It’s a man’s job to be the provider for his family. The other attributes on this list will definitely prepare him for doing so, but it must be a high priority.

  22. Adrian says

    Your article creates a romantic ideal that imparts an absolute standard that cannot be met, reinforcing a dis-empowering comparison so common in Western culture. How many countless young men have heard this before? “You are not enough and only when you perform you will be enough.” Bull shit. Instead of challenging men to chase identity outside of themselves, how about starting with the recognition of the power that is in men to begin with and help them find the path of integrity and responsibility to realize its fullest potential? With great power comes great responsibility. Honor men to take this on and they will. Challenge them with a juvenile expectation “be a real man” and you will get juvenile men playing a game.

  23. Rudran Brannock says

    Thanks mate. I concur fully with this article. I am also on this quest of self-knowledge and conclude much the same.

  24. Robin says

    I greatly enjoyed this article and say thank you for reminding me that my dream of living the world is possible. I would love to chat more about your journey

  25. allen says

    This is a very good list, even if it’s not applicable to every person on the planet. Do not be discouraged by those who want every article to be written for their particular preferences, gender, race or religion. There’s an entire internet out there for every single niche and minority out there. Rest assured there are plenty of regular(well adjusted. I don’t just mean straight white) men that need guidance. A real man is not offended by not being included by name in advice that still benefits their situation.

  26. Luba says

    Hi I read your 12 steps of what is man. I loved the way you put it together. And it is refreshing to know that some people still have some quality’s felt of knowing what man should have.
    Thank you for reminding.
    I would love to meet you in person and hope to be friend.

  27. Katherine Moss says

    I don’t know what it was about the way you wrote from the beginning of this article, but I was wanting to fuck your brains out by the end of #7. Yeah, what that other comment said, how can one get in touch with you?
    I never get this horny anymore. Keep up whatever worked to write this.
    Though it did peak at the end of Number 7, and slowly work down. I think it’s just because the content in those 7 things are internal, and from 8 to 12, are mostly external. And, I think you probably wanted 12 things, so I’m guessing you reached a little at the end. There are a couple weak ones in the 2nd half. I still want to have sex with you, so badly. I want to fuck and be fucked by you. I refuse to try to understand it.

  28. JS says

    Thank you for this list. Real, masculine, hard working and mature men are rare and nearly extinct!!! I’m of a generation that remembers real men, but sadly there aren’t many around any longer, as the younger generations are less and less mature and certainly not manly at all.

  29. Rita says

    Where is the ” great sense of responsibilities”? Too many guy out there take no responsibility as an adult, they put everything on women’s hand!

  30. Ashan Sandeepana says

    Thank you so much for these valuble words. I really felt these words. I look forward for a change in me, these key points struck my heart felt so real to become a different person. once again thank you so much.

  31. Kapil Sharma says

    You have given a beautiful article to all youth.Great keep going this way you gonna rock the world.

  32. says

    doubtful if any of what the author thinks has any value, other than supporting his own idealistic indoctrinated ego thinks this is man, it may well be more fruitful not to become what is supposed to be man but to remain a child in a mans body.

  33. Celeste Anthony says

    This was beautiful, your words were on point and it made me realize what was missing from the men I’ve encountered on my journey. It also gave me insight to why some men act the way they do. Thank you for this blog. Peace and Love.

  34. Willis Young says

    The list is intricately decisive, deduced and easy to receive. KUDOS to you for caring. As gentleman and a scholar I see where the decline of our men is headed and it’s with sad regards to say that’s part of the cycle. However, someone will put this to work and display what confidence to man is as sexy lingerie is to a woman. A polished and poised gentleman of valor is a jewel unto itself. All the real men know what I speak of. The forgotten dandy hasn’t disappeared, he’s simply blending himself into a crowd of nothing(ers) because the display of quality makes one seem arrogant or pompous. NEVERTHELESS, I’ll continue staying in this lane of grandeur and gallant. Nothing replaces the gentleman’s code of ethics, honor, poise and prestige. Being sharp in mind, body and spirit bring unspeakable winnings. Being noble in though, deed and word derives character. Please, step forth into the King’s lore and wear your invisible crown of “KNIGHT.” “Handsome is he who know his place among those who don’t.”

  35. Ladonna williams says

    how can i make a real guy to come to life to come talk to me he like me he not a killer not going to rape me nice soft man

  36. M says

    Honestly what it takes to be a man comes down to what it takes to be a wonderful and good human being. Strip down all the sex and the gender and you have what almost everyone wants. Everything you wrote (with maybe the martial arts exception) is something that everyone desires out of life. I find it silly that society pressures men into thinking this ideal is the male priority that one must go out and search for. Everyone wants to travel, to be courageous, to love themselves. It’s not about being “a man”, it’s about being a wonderful person whom people admire.

    Be a little open minded and don’t talk yourself into being a man but rather a person you love, a person who is successful both financially and internally. “Being a man” is a silly front which translates into a desire everyone seeks in life. Don’t make this desire exclusive by calling these qualities manly, that’s just ridiculous. These are qualities of a wonderful person of any gender.

  37. Derek Hale says

    Wow,I have never read such nice article before l.As I’m still sixteen ,I don’t know really how to be a good guy.Thank you for your article .Really helpful to me .After reading this,I understand how much I really need.Thank you???????


  1. […] Read on for 10, 11 and 12 over at Basic Goodness. Atalwin Pilon is an executive coach, life coach, mindfulness trainer, brain storm facilitator, a Zen Buddhist practitioner and the founder of Basic Goodness. He is also a former bad boy from Amsterdam who likes boxing, snowboarding, cross country running and lifting heavy weights. Somebody once called him “a zen monk with the brain of an advertising guy in the body of a nightclub doorman” and now he is putting that in every bio he gets his fingers on. Atalwin writes about his life, his own struggles, his occasional insights and anything else that he feels is worthwhile sharing, always coming from the heart as good as he can. Check out his website if you are interested to learn more about him and to subscribe to his blog. And please follow Basic Goodness on Twitter and Facebook, he likes that. […]

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