17 Lessons in Manhood from 13 Men Worth Listening to

Advice is not hard to find. Everyone has an opinion, and this is not a new thing. What is new is the unprecedented number of channels via which we’re now able to broadcast these opinions instantly (and often with regrettable consequences) to the entire planet. It’s noisy out there.


Rick Mercer, Broadcaster

5. Apathy Is A Dangerous Thing

Canadians are going to realize that we’re on a very dangerous road. And I don’t want to make it seem like I’m singling out Stephen Harper, because until Harper came along, Jean Chrétien centralized power in the Prime Minister’s office unlike any other Prime Minister before. Now, under Stephen Harper, he has it even more, something
 people thought was impossible. our system is moving in that direction; we will essentially have an emperor. Eventually people will figure this out. The powers that be, their biggest ally is the belief that Canadians don’t care…about anything, quite frankly.

University is a very good microcosm. Take your average university student: they’ve got a lot going on. They’re going to school, they’re trying to get laid, they’re trying to balance everything. And they know they should be thinking about tuition, and they know they should be paying attention to all sorts of things, but they just can’t figure out the time. Most Canadians are the same way: people are one or two paycheques away from going under. When everyone’s heads are barely above water, it is certainly understandable that they’re not sitting down and going, ‘Maybe we should take a look at this omnibus budget that Stephen Harper is jamming through.’

George Saunders, Author & Genius

11. Appreciate the Beauty in TV Commercials

It’s human activity and it’s beautiful. It’s compromised by the agenda. But, isn’t it also kind of fun? The first exit is that commercials are bad. And that’s true, that’s an obvious truth. They are jerking us around, no question. But you can stay on the highway a little longer and say, And yet! The holy words: on the other hand. They’re kind of beautiful, I cried at that Coke commercial. What the fuck, you know? On the other hand, that’s an even higher form of manipulation. True. On the other hand…

I kind of love that we have all this stuff in the world, from good to bad, and the highest novelistic instinct you should be like, Yes! Bring it. Jersey Shore, the Vatican, whatever you got, bring it because that’s human activity manifested.

Conrad Black, Historian

17. Don’t Put Too Much Stock In What Other People Think Of You

I wouldn’t say I don’t care about [legacy]. I would hope people who recall me would recall me favourably for some reason or other, but I’m not one of these guys who is toiling away to create a monument for myself. I’m just getting through as best I can. Let the chips fall where they may. I’ve long since given up trying to figure out people, how they evaluate me. It’s been a mystery to me for a long time.

Kevin Hart, Comedian

3. If You Don’t Believe in it, Nobody Else Will

I believed in the career that I chose, and I didn’t have a lot of options. It wasn’t as though, if this doesn’t work, I’m going to get my masters. I worked at a sneaker store. Once I said this is what I want to do, it’s what I was going to do.

And I think having that desire is what separates me from a lot of people in the entertainment industry. It was literally all or nothing. Also, I think I had something special. I felt like it was different for me. My stage presence was different. If I did the right thing, it could really turn out to be something special.

Here’s the difference: yes, everybody does say they have desire. But everybody doesn’t know how to deal with you’re not good enough. When people hear that, they break. And naturally, in the entertainment industry, people’s breaking point is so much lower, because everybody is going off a dream. I was told that I wasn’t that good a comedian. I’ve been told harsh things face-to-face. I used that as motivation to do better. And that’s the difference—not everyone has the same drive to go on when they hear something they don’t want to hear.

Marc Maron, Comedian

4. Self-Awareness Is Useful, Self-Loathing Is Not

I think that self-loathing and being self-aware are different. I think that there is also a difference between being hard on yourself and self-loathing. Self-loathing is this horrible, shame-based ailment of the soul that I’m not sure most people who are truly self-loathing put to good use. It doesn’t end up well. So, you know, never thinking you’re good enough or never thinking you’ve done something as well as you could or thinking other people are doing more or doing things better than you, I’m not sure if it’s self-loathing as much as it is some weird insecurity. And that could be motivating. But actual self-loathing, which I guess I do have around certain things, is sort of devastating, and any creativity that comes out of that is just really to feel like you’re not hating yourself.

Jon Favreau, Filmmaker

8. Find A Balance

I’m off the map that I started with, not that you could ever plan what life is going to turn out to be. I’m 47 now, I’ve got three kids, I’m married and I have a career that is incredibly engaging, and I have a family that I find very engaging as well. It’s an exercise in balance and I find that anything outside of the immediate normal scale of life that everybody exists with—meaning your friends, the people that you work with, and your family—if you can concentrate on that inner ring, life can be fairly normal and exciting. I think when you first get exposed to the bigger world, if you’re part of a career like mine, it’s very distracting and it can pull you away from the things that are the most important. The more you can find a balance, the happier you are, the better your work becomes. People get too caught up in their work and it hurts their emotional infrastructure. That’s one of the great cautionary tales of our time: work can be all-consuming and the next thing you know, your kids are grown up.

9. Embrace Struggle

Carol Burnett once said that your ignorance is your greatest gift. When you’re starting out, you don’t know how hard it’s going to be or how many things you’re going to have to face. You get to the top of one mountain and then there’s another mountain. But the whole thing is going to be a struggle, and I wouldn’t just say it to someone starting out in. You need to be doing something that you don’t mind struggling at. That’s what life is about. You have to fully engage and really try. If you’re finding yourself too bored to try, you’re doing the wrong thing. I worked on Wall Street for a year, and I was not the best me. I was not engaged. I liked that I was working on Wall Street and I liked that I was wearing a yellow tie to work, but beyond that I wasn’t excited by it. As long as you’re engaged, you’re going to get the best version of yourself and the best version of yourself outperforms the worst version of yourself by orders of magnitude.

10. Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

I’ve always been brave at the right moments. Looking back, I don’t know how I made certain decisions. There are a lot of things that scare me, but taking chances with my career never has been one. There’s a gambling aspect that you’ve got to have the stomach for. You just have to stick to the fundamentals, stick to the lessons that you learned trying to make people laugh in the back-rooms of bars and you’re going to succeed more often than not. It’s a real journeyman’s attitude. When it comes to doing the big stuff, just make sure the chair doesn’t wobble. When you’re building a chair, make sure it’s straight, use good wood. It’s the same. It comes down to a million little decisions that are all very doable if you don’t get caught up in the feeling that everything is life or death.

Martin Short, Actor & Legend

6. Just Because You’re Famous Doesn’t Mean You’ve Got Anything Worthwhile To Say

Certainly one thing that has changed from when I was 24 years old, as a Toronto actor, is everyone who was working and got work was hugely talented. Big talents. Some people who were certainly more talented than I didn’t have the luck of a show that showed them off. We’re now in an era where you can be hugely successful simply based on being a housewife or a party girl or a party boy. That didn’t exist.

Jon Hamm, Actor

13. Sports Help With Everything

You’re so awkward as a young man There’s that horrible time period where the girls are way more advanced physically and emotionally and mentally and you’re lost. There’s that lost period. It was tragi-comic in its own way. Everyone should have the experience of being a 15-year-old boy because it’s fucking horrible.

Well, thank god for sports because at least then you’re around other 15-year-old boys. Then you can feel horrible in a group. It’s an excellent way to take 
out aggression and expend energy, and also learn important things about how to work with each other, trust other people and depend on other people. I’m still a big believer in sports.

14. Trying And Failing Is Better Than Not Trying At All

I think going into it without any judgment is just a huge, huge thing. Having someone say, “Look you might be good at this, you might be bad at this, but we’re not going to shit on you. We’ll let you try, we’ll let you fail.” That was my thing when I was a teacher there as well. “Guys, look, you’re not going to get an F in acting, I’m not going to ruin your college transcript because you’re terrible at playing King Lear. It’s not for everyone, and if it’s not for you, pack up and move on, but everyone needs to try.” That was my thing. Everyone needs to try.

David Chilton, Author & Dragon

12. Spend Less Time on Facebook

We’re exposed to so many media outlets and even through social media—through Facebook and everything else—that we have this perception that everybody else has more than we do. We only remember the highlights of what we see in those situations, so we create this illusion that we’re falling behind and unfortunately that creates two negative things: it means people tend to be less happy, because they define themselves by what others have, and they’re always looking up. That it leads to more spending.

Josh Ritter, Musician

16. In Times Of Emotional Stress, Don’t Be Afraid To Lean On Others

There were some really weird, loopy, stretchy parts of time where you’re concentrating just to make 
it through casual interactions all day until suddenly it’s three in the morning and you’re watching a British costume drama. You wonder where the day went, and you wonder where you were.

Well, the thing that everybody always said to me, which I found particularly useless, was, “be good to yourself.” Everybody was saying that. But what does that mean? I did a lot of other things to myself, but I don’t think they were good. Instead, I’d say don’t put pressure on yourself to be magnanimous or forgiving in the early days. It’s impossible to forgive or feel better during that time. It’s also important to have people to talk to who aren’t your friends. Find someone who doesn’t know you. You should talk to people who know what they’re doing. Don’t try to be too much of a strong man.

Dave Foley, Comedian

7. Excitement Is Overrated

I have the advantage of being somebody who has almost never been excited about anything. I can hardly remember being excited. I remember it being a lot of fun. But once you’re doing something, it’s not exciting because you’re doing it. Thinking about doing something is exciting. But nothing is actually exciting. By the time you get to do the thing that you thought would be exciting, you worked so hard to get there that it’s just the next day in your life.

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut & All-Canadian Hero

15. Be Prepared

I was flying an airplane at this air show and Elton John was flying in because he was in Windsor, Ontario doing a concert that night. The guys organizing the air show were like “Hey, you should meet Elton John, you’re a famous astronaut and he’s married to a Canadian guy so maybe you guys will…”

I thought it was ridiculous but they said ‘no, he’s flying into the airport and we’re going to try and meet him’ and I thought ‘this is never going to happen but it is possible.’ Who knows? Maybe Elton John really likes space. I don’t know. So let’s think about it: Let’s say that we might meet Elton John. I’m a guitar player. If I meet Elton John and we start talking, what’s the worst thing that could happen? If he finds out that I’m a well-known Canadian astronaut and a guitar player and he’s playing in Canada, he might ask me to get up on stage with him. It’s happened. And, if I do meet him and he finds out I’m a musician and he asks me up on stage, then obviously what song is he going to want to play? It’s going to be Rocket Man. Has to be.

And, shoot I don’t know Rocket Man. So a couple days prior, I learned Rocket Man. This isn’t going to happen but this is just visualizing what can go wrong. And the last thing that I want to happen is to get up on stage with Elton John and him hit the first couple cords of Rocket Man and me not know what to do. That would be, for me, a disaster. So, visualize it. What’s the thing that’s going to kill me on this? What’s the thing that’s going to do damage? It would be getting on stage and not being prepared for this song that we would obviously be singing. It’s fairly easy to predict that. So I sat down and learned Rocket Man. And it turns out, he flew into that airport and we ended up meeting him and I had a really nice time, I sat down and talked to him for 10 or 15 minutes and he was really congenial. It worked out really well. And he never learned that I was a musician and that’s fine and I never got up on stage to play Rocket Man with him, but it didn’t matter. It’s just win-win. All those things happen and there’s no downside to any of it. I spent my whole life getting ready to play Rocket Man, basically. And I think it’s a good way to go through life.

Ryan Gosling, Actor & Director

1. Success Doesn’t Happen All At Once

I don’t know what to say about fame. I’ve been doing this since I was eight, so I can’t really say that it came out of nowhere. but, I can’t say that I saw it coming either.

My friend’s grandmother would soak a lobster in vodka, get it good and drunk before she put it in the pot to cook it. Then she’d turn the heat up real slow. That lobster never knew what hit him. That’s how it’s kind of gone down for me. Except in my story, I guess I’m the old lady and the lobster.

2. Don’t Forget To Take Joy In The Little Things

Well, let me just put it this way: when I’m down in the dumps, nothing gets my toes-a-tappin’ like putting on my old MC Hammer pants. And they still fit, even though my aunt made them for me when I was eight. But that’s the genius of MC Hammer. They still fit even though I’ve grown significantly. I’ll never understand how MC Hammer got into money problems. Genius.

Our A Man Worth Listening To series exists as an antidote to the shouting and confusion, a beam of light through the clutter: here are men we respect greatly, who have achieved big things, tried, failed, overcome and lived to tell the tale. They are performers, journalists, writers and businessmen, and we spoke to them all about what they’ve learned along the way. Of course their opinions are just that—subjective—but we’re confident it’s more useful than anything you’ll see in Twitter today.