ALL IN THE FAMILY—Men, Mastery, and Meaning

By on May 31, 2016
Share Button

By DR. JOHN L. COX

 

I met a friend for dinner one night and asked him, “How was your day at work?” He replied, “It was terrible! That’s why they call it WORK. If it was fun, they would’ve called it PLAY”! Work is a fundamental part of a man’s life. (Many women’s too, of course, but that’s another show.)

In fact, we can divide a man’s life into two major themes. Today we are going to call them Mastery and Meaning.

Mastery has to do with the performance parts of a man’s life. Men love mastery. I mean, who wants to see their team finish in the middle of the pack come bowl season? “Woohoo!!! We are 8th in the conference!!” We want our teams to win. And WE want to win. And that’s a good thing.

For a lot of us, the best part of our work is becoming masters of our craft. We want to walk into the challenges of work and walk out with that feeling that we “killed it”! I believe that God designed us to devote ourselves to our work with this kind of passion. The first commandment in Scripture was for us to subdue the earth and name the animals. This means that God wants us to take the bull by the horns and be Masters in whatever field we engage.

Ok, so we’re all good, right? We pour ourselves into our work—God calls us to do so. So what’s the problem? The problem comes when this is ALL we do, because remember, there are TWO parts of a man’s life.

Yes, there is Mastery, but also there is Meaning. If Mastery refers to our excellence in performance, meaning refers to the love-based relationships where we are known and seen and loved—apart from our performance.

See, Mastery is by definition a performance-based relationship. You do well and you’re “Da Man”! You do poorly and it’s “Adios, muchachos”!

Meaning, however, is a love-based relationship, a relationship in which you are loved regardless. No fear. And just like we need both food and water, our hearts need both Mastery and Meaning.

Sometimes we see men who live invested only in the Mastery part of their life, and they forget that God created us to be grounded primarily in Love. These are guys driving their Mercedes CLS-class to the Country Club, but their kids don’t know them. (They also tend to be the guys who die four months after retiring because their entire life was about work. Let’s not be them!)

By the way, some men go to the other extreme, and don’t care about Mastery at all. All they want is the joy and comfort of love-based, touchy-feely relationships. These are the guys whose wives are yelling at them to pay the bills and to fix one of the two rusty Volvos sitting in the driveway! They feel all loved, but don’t do anything with their lives. So we don’t want to err on that extreme either, do we, guys? (Insert cheering-wife sound clip here.)

Generally, however, because we men can be so Mastery-driven, we often default to living only in the Mastery world. And though we might be very successful there, it often produces problems in other parts of our lives. We sometimes see men who are overly stressed and anxious about their work. It keeps them up nights. They dread going to the office.

Oftentimes this is because they are putting all of their “I’m Okay” eggs in the performance basket, the Mastery basket. “I’m only Okay if I am super successful.” Well, of course, with stakes that high, they are going to be anxious. Who wouldn’t?

The secret of the universe is that we will only have peace and relaxation (and true success) in our work if we begin by grounding our hearts in the loving, meaningful, relationship aspect of life FIRST! Relationships with our families—our friends—our God. Paul calls this being rooted and grounded in love; love-based relationships where “who you are” is wanted, even if you do finish “last in the conference”. Only then can those ultimately high stakes be lifted off of work.

When that happens, paradoxically, we will relax and usually be more successful. You readers who are managers and CEO’s….tune into this. Anxious workers are inefficient workers. Workers who can live with Mastery as a “Goal,” not a “Demand,” tend to be more successful longer.

So, to wrap up…God didn’t invite Adam into just one aspect of life, he invited him into two. Yes, he called him to develop Mastery over the creation, but he also invited him into a life that was called “naked and not ashamed,” and to “be fruitful and multiply” (which sounds pretty “love-based” to me!). As men we need to have a balanced “diet” of grounding our hearts in love…and then making a withdrawal of that fuel source, taking that downtown, and creating Mastery in our work lives.

 

Dr. John Cox is a clinical psychologist in practice at Live Oak Associates in Jackson. He is also a frequent speaker at marriage and parenting conferences. More resources from Dr. Cox can be found on his website, www.JohnCoxPsychology.com.