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Recently, I decided to start a local 30-plus men’s entrepreneur meetup, and I came up with an idea to break through the typical pattern of most networking groups. Usually, you show up, and within the first few minutes, you’re faced with the repetitive, seemingly mandatory question, “So, what do you do?” In so many ways, this is a transactional question designed to “size up” someone else. Does this person have what I need to help me to grow?
I wanted to change the default dynamic. So I put a big sign on the door the men would seen as soon as they arrived. It said, “ATTENTION: Do Not Talk About Business, Do Not Ask ‘What Do You Do.'” At the first event, men walked in dressed very smartly — ready to impress as they began to awkwardly roam, playing a selection of games that I had set out (cornhole and golf being the most popular).
But after a few minutes, the atmosphere began to relax, smiles multiplying as we delved into talk about the real stuff, the topics that, as men, we struggle to open up about. Often, that reluctance to dive in results in untold internal conflict.
Within a couple of weeks, the men had made new friends and said that even if they never got to talk about business, the meetups were worth it because they were growing so much. Over time, they’d swapped out their professional attire for t-shirts and jeans, and an exciting new culture had taken root, made possible through fun, gamification and authentic connection.
Over the course of many months of listening to the men speak and coaching them through their personal challenges, some surprising and significant patterns began to emerge. Below are seven important subjects the men were most interested in talking about, though many hadn’t allowed themselves to explore them fully prior to our meetups.
1. Overcoming addiction
I have personal experinece with an addiction pattern of alcohol, smoking, drugs and gambling; addiction is something that grips many of us as a result of unhealed events from the past and the pressure that we frequently face. Sometimes, unhealthy soothing is the only way people think they can alleviate their problems. The opposite of addiction is connection, and oftentimes, people use their addictions as a way to connect with themselves because that’s the only way they know how.
2. Relationship challenges
Relationship breakdown happens for many reasons, but not expressing our needs can be a major contributor. Many men turn to their business as a way to avoid the reality of challenges in personal relationships and struggle to switch off the business mind. Over time, this builds up, and the eggshells begin to crack at home. When men have a space to open up and have male friends, it takes pressure away from a partner.
3. Childhood trauma
Whether it’s bullying, loss of a family member or abuse, an unhealthy interruption to our life as a child massively impacts how we show up as adults in business. Compassion, connection and self-love are such important topics in the professional world and leadership space. So many unresolved issues can linger in this area, and many of my clients must do significant work on it on their journey to be better men.
4. Mental health
This can be one of the hardest ones for men to talk about because of its association with weakness. Depression, anxiety, worry, fear, shame. One of the biggest reasons that we don’t like to discuss it is fear of loss. By opening up, we feel that we may lose business, love or any other number of things. I’ve worked with many male entrepreneurs who have been suicidal because they don’t understand what is happening in their minds. Recovery starts when people open up and realize that so many others are going through the same hardships.
5. Crying and difficult emotions
Watching another man open up about his feelings and sometimes cry is very healing for other men because it gives them permission to be themselves. Conditioning from fathers is one of the big reasons why men struggle to feel their emotions and express themselves. Many of the men who showed up with tension in their bodies ended up leaving with deeper understanding just from hearing other men talk about their challenges, which has been one of the most fulfilling things to witness.
6. Family issues
Whether it’s resentment towards parents and siblings or years of communication breakdown, some of the biggest transformations I’ve witnessed have been when men are invited to finally confront healing with their families. It normally comes with a lot of resistance, especially when we are trapped in the need to be right, but when you see a family reconnected sometimes after 10-20 years, it changes the dynamic of a group of people for generations to come.
Sometimes anger can be the toughest because we aren’t always aware of the root cause. For many men, it goes back to the relationship with their father, and for others, bottled up emotions end up manifesting as rage and violent behavior or communication. Learning to be compassionate takes true strength of character because it forces us to first admit who we are and then go and do the real work to unpack the emotional events that are tied to the anger.
If you’re a man who finds yourself caught in the trap of spending most of your time talking about business and little else, it’s worth asking yourself how good you could feel and the level of success that is available to you if you were to connect with other men about what’s really going on behind the scenes.
In my experience coaching male CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, amazing things come from owning your true self and leading from a place of authenticity. It’s this true confidence that will fuel our next wave of leaders who are respected not just for what they do, but who they truly are.