The creator of a wildly successful podcast and New York Times best-seller tackles the mask of masculinity.
Before Lewis Howes became a New York Times best-selling author with “The School of Greatness,” before he launched the podcast of the same name that launched his career, he was a two-sport, all-American athlete and professional football player. Howes grew up hearing what it meant to be a “man”—from coaches, teammates, society and the media—and was motivated to prove his measure of masculinity through athletics.
After more than a year searching for the answer to profound loneliness, Howes has released his second book, “The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships and Live Their Fullest Lives.” In his latest book, Howes uncovers what it means to take off the masks of masculinity and live an honest, vulnerable and fulfilling life.
24Life asked Howes to share what inspired his latest book, and what keeps men from living their best and most fulfilling lives.
24Life: What motivated you to write “The Mask of Masculinity”?
Lewis Howes (LH): I was in a lot of emotional pain during my last book tour, as I realized how lonely I was. I decided it was time to finally get to the bottom of my emotional struggles that had been with me my whole life. I knew I was holding onto ideas of masculinity and power that weren’t serving me. This book was the research I did to help myself become emotionally free and heal.
24Life: How does this book differ from your first book, “The School of Greatness”—is it a continuum?
LH: This is a total departure from what I normally write or speak about. In this book, I get really vulnerable and honest about the biggest struggles I’ve faced in my life, grappling with toxic ideas about masculinity. I’ve done lots of research on the subject as well, so my opinions are backed by much more than my own experiences of growing up in America as an athletic straight kid.
24Life: What is the key message you hoped to share in the book?
LH: I want men to understand that they have a choice in how they respond to their emotions. They don’t just have to put on masks and pretend like they aren’t feeling anything. It’s really important that they learn how to express their emotions in a healthy way.
24Life: What do you mean by a mask and why do men wear masks?
LH: In our society, men have gotten the repeated message that, to be considered strong, valuable and powerful, they need to hide their pain and emotions—or, in other words, put on a mask. Different men wear different masks depending on what they are trying to hide, but [masks] are all hurtful, stifling and cause harm to relationships.
24Life: In the book, you break down the different masks that men sometimes wear in order to convey the idea that they really are what society expects them to be—including The Stoic Mask, The Athletic Mask, The Alpha Mask and The Know It All Mask. Which one do you identify with the most?
LH: The Athlete Mask is one I know really well because I put it on so early in life. I felt dumb and worthless in school growing up because I was dyslexic and really struggled to read and study. Instead, I channeled all my energy and self-worth into my performance in sports, and that became the identity I presented to the world. I was still hurting and insecure inside, but on the sports field, I appeared invincible and strong.
24Life: How do the masks hurt men?
LH: When we wear masks, we are alienating the people we care about from our true selves. They only get to see part of us, and it’s usually not the best part of us. Masks can destroy our relationships over time. They especially destroy our relationship with ourselves. When we aren’t willing to take off the masks even when we alone, we forget who we really are.
24Life: What can men—and women—do to disrupt and make changes?
LH: I’m the first to admit this is a scary process, and it won’t happen overnight. However, in the book, we’ve outlined specific steps any man can take to begin the process of taking off his masks. These are simple things like beginning to write about his feelings, trying new hobbies and practicing listening. We also have given women suggestions about how they can support the men in their lives to take off the masks without making them feel wrong.
24Life: What advice would you give to the younger you?
LH: I wish I could tell my kid self that he is worthy of love and belonging just as he is—emotional, sensitive, energetic, dyslexic. I’d tell him he doesn’t have to be something or someone else to be loved.
24Life: What inspired you the most as you wrote the book?
LH: I got to have incredible conversations with many men and women on my podcast (as well as off-air) about this topic while writing it, and I learned so much about how common these issues are among all of us. We are all working on taking off our masks and the more we open up about it without shame, the easier it becomes.
24Life: What did you learn that surprised you most, from the men and their stories?
LH: I asked many different men what their definition of masculinity is and the overwhelmingly common answer was focused on service, love, humility, protection and providing for others. None of the answers focused on strength, power, money, success or the typical stereotypes you think of.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lewis Howes; Rodale Press, Inc.