When I arrived at Lewis Howes’ home, I was late. It had taken nearly two hours to drive less than thirty miles and I was embarrassed by my tardiness. Howes didn’t seem fazed at all. He greeted me warmly, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, appearing as comfortable in his skin as he was in his living room. He gave me a quick tour of his place while we made the obligatory jokes about L.A. traffic, his with the relaxed air of an understanding host, mine tightly wrinkled and full of coffee.
Of course, Howes, a highly successful lifestyle entrepreneur, has every reason to feel good these days. His podcast, The School of Greatness, is one of the top 100 ranked podcasts in the world on iTunes and his book by the same name is a New York Times bestseller. His newest book, The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships, and Live Their Fullest Lives will be out on October 31. Not bad for a former professional football player and current USA Men’s National Handball Team member.
We took a seat in his studio, the one from the podcast, and we started the interview. What follows is a condensed version edited for space and clarity.
Whit Honea: Your new book, The Mask of Masculinity, I thought it might be a real departure from how I, people, know you, but reading it, it’s not. It’s all part of your journey. What made you take that route?
Lewis Howes: I was thinking a couple of things after The School of Greatness book, which is more like general principles—how to achieve greatness from all the lessons I’ve learned from the people I’ve interviewed—and realized, okay, what’s the next step? Here are the principles, but for me, what’s the next step to get to the next level?
A few years ago, I was still kind of resentful and angry, frustrated, and went through a couple of bad breakups. I realized I was allowing these things to affect me so much, and I was allowing them to make me so negative in every other area of my life, that it was holding me back from bettering relationships that weren’t intimate, with my family, friends, and business relationships, holding me back from my vision of giving back to the world. It just felt like I needed to learn and be aware of why this was happening for me, why I get frustrated, resentful, angry, quick to be defensive, quick to want to fight, on a basketball court or whatever, and so I decided to take that journey.
So that was one, my own self-discovery. Two was, from I guess a content standpoint, I’m interviewing a lot of people, I have a lot of content out there, what do I think is going to serve the most people? What will help the most people? You know, with Trump in office and all the controversy around his leadership, and all the controversy from the roles of masculinity and femininity, which has been talked about a lot more in the last few years, I thought there’s got be some more practical resource available for people. Especially for men who grew up the way I did, the sports teams, trained to act in a certain way, talk a certain way, conditioned not to feel a certain way, because it wouldn’t look masculine enough, and how that affected my life, that mindset. We’ve got to break this barrier that is holding a lot of men back. It was an early approach of, okay, it is going to help me, by revealing all the crap I’ve done, I’m not proud of, or been through, whatever, and hopefully other guys can relate.
Because you put it all out there.
I put it all out there. That’s why I’m actually terrified that this book is coming out.
Mask or not, that’s not easy.
It’s not easy. My girlfriend was reading it, and she was kind of upset at a few points, me revealing things. We had to have a heart-to-heart, where I was like, “Listen, I’m not trying to upset you or make you feel a certain way.” I didn’t mention her name or anything, but she said, “I didn’t know you did all these things.” I was like, “Well, I apologize, but this is who I am and this is what I’ve been through.” And now I’m revealing it for really the first time. Hopefully I can connect and relate to people.
I would achieve every goal I wanted, and then I was so unsatisfied and unfulfilled that I would be angry for weeks afterwards.
Then I realized, wow, first I thought I was writing for men, which I am, but then I realized this is actually going to be a game-changer for women. If women can understand why men act a certain way, if we can characterize men in different ways, they can see which character the men in their life are resembling, whether it be their brother, their husband, their son, whatever it may be. If we can understand, “Okay, I see them wearing this mask, what are the things that are going to support them in dropping it without making them wrong, or making them bad?” So after doing a lot of research on that, I was like, wow, this is actually going to help a lot of women, too.
I admit, I was pleasantly surprised to see the inclusion of women as an acknowledged audience, because that isn’t always the case.
I think women are going to read the book more than men, actually. Because if they can understand inside the mind of men . . .
The timing is perfect, as you mentioned Trump, in the book you talk about society in general is growing more progressive in many ways, but he may be the poster child of toxic masculinity . . .
Some would say. I’m not trying to call anyone out here, but yes, it’s almost perfect timing with just so many conversation points around that style of leadership. You know, some people love it, but I’m like, “Is it effective for everyone?”
You narrow the book down to a number of specific masks, was there some sort of dwindling process?
We started with more, you know, what are all the masks that men wear? What are the common themes that you think about? There’s the athlete, so you have that, and there’s the guy that’s driven by sex constantly, the sex-addict who has to conquer women. There’s the guy who is driven by money. The guy driven by his awards, accolades, his degrees, his intellect, who always leads with being the smartest. The alpha. There’s the joker, the guy who is always joking who can’t be serious for a moment and just be open . . .
That was my mask growing up.
The masks serve us in a lot of ways, to get to the next level of our life, to protect us, to support us in our growth, so I don’t think they’re bad necessarily, but being aware. Is this mask supporting your relationship, whatever relationship you’re in right now, in progressing and moving forward, coming from a place of love and understanding and growth? And if it’s holding you back in some way, when can you take that mask off? If you want to be driven to be accomplished, if you want to be driven to be the smartest person, driven to make more money, cool, do it. But if it is at the cost of not being able to have solid relationships, then you’re paying a big price.
Along those lines, and to play devil’s advocate here, a lot of people could say that you’ve reached high levels of what most would consider success by wearing the masks and playing the game.
So it seems that it’s easy to get there and then say, “You don’t need that.”
I get it. Here’s the thing, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have drive and ambition. I think there’s a difference between having drive and wearing a mask You can have drive and still be vulnerable and real and open. And for me, I wore many of these masks for years without even being aware of it, I was just like “I want to get a result in my life, I want to make more money, get the girl, whatever, achieve and have recognition, build my audience,” so I was driven by these things, but I remember feeling completely unfulfilled and unsatisfied, angry. I would achieve every goal I wanted, and then I was so unsatisfied and unfulfilled that I would be angry for weeks afterwards.
That must have been difficult to work around.
Yeah, I was like, “Why am I so upset and unfulfilled?” I just didn’t get it, so I would create a new, bigger goal and go after it. I didn’t want that feeling so I was just like, “I guess I’m not good enough. I need to go create more and achieve more.” A few years ago, when I started doing work on myself about this, I realized that these masks were driven to prove people wrong and for me to look better than other people, for me to be right and for me to win, as opposed to “Yes, I like to win as an athlete and a competitor, but how can I win and make sure everyone else wins around me? I was always “winning” and “achieving” but it was at the expense of other people having to lose. That, or I didn’t feel I was worthy enough, good enough to achieve, so it didn’t matter about the external world, if I was achieving everything I wanted, if my internal world was suffering. So how can men and women and gender-neutral individuals relieve this suffering inside? Of their worth, of their purpose, their meaning, how can they let go of that and live a more rich life? How can you be driven to be the best human being you can be and live your fullest life? It’s not having zero drive while being an open, loving person. It’s not being lazy, it’s how can you be driven and chase your dreams but also do it with love, kindness and compassion in your heart.
You and I are lucky, because we live in an area that celebrates this kind of stuff, openness, but not everyone lives in Los Angeles. When I go home to Arizona I’m the only vegetarian at the BBQ. There are stigmas that people apply to that, and often it’s based in their own concept of masculinity. How do you think people that don’t necessarily have visible support, perhaps due to the local perceptions of their immediate area, can address their masks?
I think it’s challenging, because society, teachers, coaches, parents, friends sometimes, are going to put you in a box and tell you what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong. At least in America growing up. there’s a lot of bullying, a lot of judgement. There’s a lot of cool kids and not cool, because of what you do and things like that. I mean, I struggled with that my entire childhood, because I just didn’t feel that I had anyone to communicate with. I didn’t have my parents or my siblings to talk to about it, so it was always this internal struggle and suffering. I’m not saying this is going to be easy, you know, to break free of this, but I think you really need to find a way to be able to communicate.
Do you think, using yourself as an example, when you were a kid, and didn’t have those opportunities, do you think you would have been responsive to them if you had? I mean, how many of those opportunities do we even have? We have blinders on, the opportunity can be right there and we don’t take it.
Yeah, maybe I was like “I’m fine, I don’t need this. I’m good, I’m all good.” I think now it is easier because of social media. We didn’t have that growing up, where you can find groups and people like you or people talking about the same topic on YouTube videos. You can be a part of a community with so many conversation happening online, that I feel you can find the place that works for you. Maybe you don’t have to talk in person, but you can text it. You can still be heard.
Community is a big part of what you do.
Between the books and the podcast, when I look at what you’re doing and the people you are interacting with, and the way it ripples out, there’s still that core focus on the community. That’s something I really respect about you, because you’re right, that isn’t something a lot of people have in real life, and social media, for all its negatives, that’s one of the wonderful things about it.
It’s finding community. I always felt isolated as a child. If I was still isolated I’d be struggling. I think when we’re not finding people we can relate to or connect to we feel alone, we feel depressed, we feel sad, like “what’s the point?” Finding people you can really relate to, to open up to, is huge. Most men, well, I shouldn’t say “most,” but there are some men who don’t feel like they want to share, and that is a stoic mask that’s just going to hold them back from living their fullest life.
I think “most men” is fair. Enough that people don’t argue against that stereotype.
Right. Because so many people experience that with the men they talk to. As we said, people here, places like L.A., are much more open, vulnerable, men in certain communities, but in general in the U.S. it feels they they’re usually not. It takes someone to start with being vulnerable for them to feel like, “Okay, maybe I can be a little vulnerable.” If you’re a woman, or a man dating a man, you want that man to open up, or your husband, brother, father, whatever it is. Lead with vulnerability in order to open up the mask a little.
How often do you find yourself being able to apply what you have learned while writing this book to your real life?
It’s funny, because my girlfriend, there was something and she was like, “You need to listen to your own advice.” I’m not perfect. I’m not the man I want to be, still, but I really want to be aware of why I’m a certain way in relationships with my girlfriend or my parents or whomever, so now I have a better understanding and awareness, which is the first step.
Finding people you can really relate to, to open up to, is huge. Most men, well, I shouldn’t say “most,” but there are some men who don’t feel like they want to share, and that is a stoic mask that’s just going to hold them back from living their fullest life.
It’s a big one. A doozy.
It’s a huge one, because I wasn’t even aware of it. Now I have tools I can lean on. I still get defensive sometimes. I still get frustrated, angry, resentful, but I’m aware of it within a few minutes and then opposed to days of me holding onto something it’s maybe a couple of hours. I shift out of it much quicker and have a conversation about it. I’m calmer and more relaxed, forgiving, and for me that’s huge to be able to see that progress in myself. I have a long way to go.
We all do. So your book has homework. You have the masks and there is info for each and then homework for the reader which will then help them take off the mask.
For men and women.
It’s a process, and one would hope that people won’t just read the book, say “Oh, that’s me, I’m better now . . .”
You gotta do the work. I think that’s when you learn, when you apply something and you see what was effective and what wasn’t effective. How do I feel? What was my experience? So the first part of every chapter is understanding what the mask is, then giving examples from people who fit that mask really well, and why they’re that way. Then what is available on the other side, once they take that mask off. What’s available for you? What’s available for your relationships? What’s available for your life? We have what’s available for the man and what’s available for the woman, or another man in the relationship, and how to support the man taking the mask off. I try to break things down as simple as possible.
I think people are going to have a lot of “aha” moments.
This interview with Lewis Howes appeared in STAND 07, focused on men and building community, and you can read an excerpt from The Mask of Masculinity where Lewis describes the masks discussed in the book. Enter code LEWIS to receive 20% off your copy of STAND 07 when you order here.