Man on a Mission - How He Thinks - I Wish He Had Come with Instructions - Mike Bechtle

I Wish He Had Come with Instructions: The Woman's Guide to a Man's Brain - Mike Bechtle (2016)

Part II. How He Thinks

Chapter 5. Man on a Mission


On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 hit a flock of birds and ended up landing in the Hudson River. In the mind of the average citizen, it was a remarkable—even miraculous—achievement. Commercial flights are supposed to land on a runway, not a river. But this time, it was different. Every passenger survived, thanks to the skill of one man.

Before that event, Chesley Sullenberger was known as the captain. After the event, he was known by a new title: hero. It wasn’t a description he sought, and he downplayed it to the media. He often said, “I was just doing my job. It’s what I was trained to do.” That self-effacing perspective added an adjective to his new title: humble hero.

It was true and well deserved. His calm response to the emergency saved the lives of 155 people. The world was watching, and admiring, and grateful. The media found a new focal point for millions of people who were starved for a genuine hero.

But there was another phenomenon taking place in the hearts of men everywhere. They were justifiably grateful and proud of “Captain Sully” and his performance. They shared the amazement at the captain’s cool response and precise actions under pressure. They were moved by the successful outcome. But deep inside, they were thinking, I wish it could have been me bringing that plane in.

It might not have even reached the level of conscious thought, but it was there. It’s a drive that’s tucked away inside every man—the drive to make a difference. It’s not a learned response; it’s a universal characteristic. Men want to be the ones who excel under pressure, make the right choices, and bring resolution to a tough situation. They want to save the day.

That’s another reason men are drawn to action movies. Our favorite scenario is when people are oppressed and there seems to be no hope for them to escape their situation. Then a hero begins to rise through the ranks. It’s usually an ordinary guy who has passion and conviction and possesses a deep sense of the injustice surrounding him. He tries to suggest options, but people discourage him from every angle.

Finally, he realizes that if anything is going to happen, he’s going to have to step out of his comfort zone and take a stand. He takes risks and capitalizes on his strength and wisdom and leads the people to victory.

He conquers. He wins. He makes a difference. In the end, he has the admiration of everyone around him. He’s a hero. When men watch those types of movies, they’re living vicariously through those characters. They’re saying, “I want to be that guy.”

Men are wired for conquering. When there’s a challenge, they want to solve it. When there’s an insurmountable issue, they want to find a way through. When someone says, “It’s impossible!” they think, Yeah? Just watch me.

But My Guy Isn’t Like That!

You might be thinking, I don’t know if I buy that. The guys I know aren’t trying to change the world. They’re playing video games for hours at a time, or watching sports, or working on their car. I don’t see much of a conquering spirit in them.

Actually, it’s there. Look at the video games he’s playing; they usually involve a tough character at war against great odds. Watching sports? Whether it’s football or Frisbee, he wants to be the one to throw the winning pass. Car repair often involves solving a problem that’s eluding him, and he’ll be frustrated until he can figure it out. When he does, he feels more satisfaction than you can imagine.

Here’s a simple observation: guys want to make a difference. They watch the Captain Sullys of the world. They see the men who pull someone from a burning building, who rush to an accident scene to rescue a trapped passenger, or who disarm a gunman during a bank robbery. They want to be that kind of hero.

But there’s a problem. In all those cases, no one planned on being a hero; it just happened. Captain Sully didn’t wake up that day and say, “I wonder if this will be the day I lose my engines and land on a river and save a bunch of lives.” No one knew the building would burn; it just happened, and the hero was nearby and reacted. The accident occurred and someone needed help, and the hero was conveniently in the next car. No one goes looking for a bank robbery, but people make choices when they end up in one.

Often, they’re heroes of convenience.

Most men believe that if they found themselves in those situations, they would make the heroic choice. At least, they hope they would. But they also realize that situations like that are pretty rare. As much as they want to be the hero, they don’t have the opportunity.

So what do they do? They look for smaller, more predictable situations where they can be the conqueror. It might be a video game, a broken faucet, or a resistant customer they want to do business with. It could be a golf game, a tough traffic situation, or a steak that needs to be grilled to perfection. It could be any problem in their life that needs solving. When they find the solution, they get to be a mini-hero and they’re satisfied for the moment.

How Heroes Grow

Kevin Leman’s The Birth Order Book describes the unique characteristics of a firstborn child versus a lastborn child. He charts a clear path for parents to understand why the firstborn has to have everything in exact order and why the lastborn wants to have a party.1

This is impacted by differences in gender. We talked earlier about how little girls play together and how their communication centers on relationships. They’re focused on what’s happening with the group, and their make-believe is about how people relate to each other. You’ll hear stories about princesses and personalities and persuasion. If there’s conflict, they talk about feelings and attitudes and what’s happening in relationships.

Little boys have a competitive wiring that plays out differently. Watch them at play, and they’re not talking a lot or sharing their deepest concerns. They’re grunting and making truck sounds or imitating the fierce dinosaur. Their “conversation” is about whose truck is bigger, or which dinosaur is stronger. They’re not taking turns; they’re forcing each other’s race cars off the track.

When my oldest granddaughter, Averie, was about eight years old, she was on a softball team. We tried to attend as many of her games as we could and loved watching her play. They had a great coach who was the team’s biggest fan, which made the whole thing a positive experience.

When their team was in the field, they were focused on the game. But as soon as they were up to bat, the chain-link dugout was vibrating with conversation. Little clusters of little girls were oblivious to the game because they were busy talking about whatever little girls talk about. Their conversations were animated, and they were focused on each other. When the coach called one of them to bat, a couple of others would scramble to help her find her helmet or bat.

One day, Averie’s game was on a field adjoining a boy’s game. During a lull in the action, I wandered over to see what was happening there. It was a whole different experience.

In the dugout, the boys weren’t standing and talking in groups. They were sitting on the bench, sort of watching the game, waiting until it was their turn to be part of the action. They weren’t talking much. Mostly, they were spitting. When they weren’t competing on the field, they were competing to see who could spit the farthest.

Maybe it happens, but I’ve never seen a group of girls having a spitting contest.

If I ask my granddaughters to show me their muscles, they’ll flex for me. If I ask five-year-old Marco to show me his muscles, he immediately wants me to do the same so he can compare. And somehow, from his perspective, he can explain how his muscles are bigger than mine.

Since that drive to be the best is hardwired in the brains of boys, they have to figure out what to do with it. So they look to whatever role models they can find to figure it out. If they don’t have a dad in the picture (or if that relationship is toxic), they find their role models in television or movies or sports—or each other. When they reach their teen years, they’re still trying to figure it out based on what they’ve observed.

That’s why teenage boys often come across as arrogant or brash. Because of that vertical way of relating to others, they try to position themselves as conquerors in most relationships. They find their identity in where they fit in the hierarchy with others. It’s not because they’re arrogant; it’s because they’re inexperienced at applying that competitive drive in appropriate ways.

Someday, Marco will be an adult. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s having spitting contests with his friends when he’s in his thirties. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he does the same with his own five-year-old son.

Ok, I admit it: if he challenges me to that contest when I’m in my nineties, I’ll do the best I can to beat him.

His Greatest Fears

It’s easy to assume that tough guys have no fear. In fact, it’s usually part of the description. If someone is the tough hero, it implies that he’s not afraid of anything. But there’s always an underlying fear that actually drives him to succeed. It’s the fear of failure—the fear of not making a difference.

That fear is genuine. In the movies, part of the mystique of the hero is his vulnerability. That’s what makes him human and draws us to him. He’s still the little boy who wants to count for something.

In real life, men don’t usually have the opportunity to be an action hero who shows up on the evening news. But the drive is still there to make a difference. So they might take one of two approaches:

1. They become reactive, assuming there’s nothing they can do. So they either escape into routine, trying to squash that drive, or lash out in anger.

2. They become proactive, determining to make a difference in the circumstances of their daily life.

The first group might live with a low-grade discouragement, because they feel there’s nothing they can do. If a building isn’t burning, they can’t rescue anyone. So they give up and fill their lives with meaningless entertainment and activities to deaden the pain and ignore the drive that smolders under the surface. It’s still there, but they cover it up.

The second group recognizes the reality of their life situation. They want to make a difference, but they’re not waiting for opportunity to come to them. They use that drive to find opportunities to impact the lives of others.

It’s the difference between glory and giving. The first group operates from a mindset that says, “Look at me! Look at what I can do!” It’s the perspective of a little boy who hasn’t learned how to capitalize on that drive to be a hero. It’s all about how people perceive them. The second group wants to conquer so they can help those in need. It’s about making a difference in the lives of others.

True heroes do for others what they can’t do for themselves. Most men would rather make an impact in the lives of others than be famous. They might not be leading massive strategies or campaigns in the public eye, but they still want to impact those in their sphere of everyday influence.

What does that mean?

A man wants to make an impact at work, at home, with his family, and with his friends. He wants to be a hero to the real people in his life, the ones who really matter to him.

That includes you—above everyone else.

Why You Matter So Much to Him

The action-film hero will give everything up for the woman he loves. Your man can be wildly successful in his job and in the community. But if he doesn’t feel like your hero, the rest doesn’t matter.

For a number of years, my wife and I worked with a group of young married couples at our church. We were in a mentoring role, spending time with them one-on-one during the week as well as when they came together each Sunday morning.

Often, I would teach the class during those Sunday sessions, which was always a treat. Sometimes, it felt like I had communicated well, my thoughts flowed, and the points were well taken. Other times I felt like I was running through quicksand because I was unsure of what I was saying.

Like most men, I would critique myself mercilessly after each session. I questioned myself the rest of the day about whether I had connected with the needs of the group or not. If I had been comfortable and group members told me my words had been valuable, I felt good. If I had been scattered in my presentation and no one gave me feedback, I felt bad.

I never asked the participants what they thought of the session. I figured that if it was good, they would have said something. If no one approached me, I assumed it wasn’t that great.

No matter what other people said, the person I wanted affirmation from the most was my wife. Her perspective mattered more than anyone else’s. If she said I did a good job, it gave me everything I needed. Even if she said my thoughts were scattered, that was ok too. I just needed to know that she believed in me and was on my side.

In the car on the way home, I would wait for Diane to give me her thoughts about what I had done. Once in a while she would say, “That was really good today.” When that happened, I was on top of the world.

Most of the time she wouldn’t say anything. I didn’t want to ask, because it felt like I was fishing for compliments. I assumed that if her thoughts were positive she would tell me. So I interpreted her silence as negative. Usually, I would just assume that my talk wasn’t that great, and I’d try to mentally set it aside and vow to do better next time.

I finally mentioned to her how I felt when she didn’t say anything, and she was shocked. “I figured that you knew it was good, so I didn’t need to say anything. When I tell you it’s good, it’s usually because there’s something that spoke directly to me.”

We’ve learned to be more open and honest about our communication since then. But I came to realize that her opinion means more than anyone else’s on earth. It was great hearing positive comments from others, but it meant everything to hear them from her. It was her way of saying that I made a difference. It was her way of saying I was her hero.

Men are little boys who want to succeed and are driven to make a difference. But more than that, they want to know that they make a difference to you.

Will He Ever Be a Hero?

Let’s look at the facts:

· Men have an inner drive to be a hero.

· Most men won’t have the opportunity to be a celebrity hero who saves their part of the world.

· They know that, but the drive doesn’t go away. So they try to find something they can conquer so they can be a hero at something.

But the quest to become a hero isn’t hopeless.

We talked earlier about the action movies that men love so much. Watch them carefully, and you’ll probably notice that most of them aren’t just about action. The plot usually involves a woman who’s important to the hero. The reason he goes to such great lengths to conquer an enemy is to win the heart of that woman.

A man can play video games all day long and strive to reach higher levels of accomplishment. To some degree, it feeds his desire to conquer. In that virtual world, he’s making a difference. But he knows it’s not making a difference in the real world. If he were making a difference in the real world, he probably wouldn’t feel the need to play games as much.

Men who start making a real difference feel the rush of accomplishment, and it can become a driving force. But there’s one focal point that energizes him more than any other: making a difference for the woman he cares most about.

In other words, he doesn’t just want to be a hero; he wants to be your hero.

What does that look like?

As the old saying goes, “a man’s home is his castle.” Typically, we picture the king going out and conquering the enemy, then coming home and doing the same with his family. He’s the hero, so everybody needs to treat him like one. What he really wants is to conquer in the field, then come home to have relationships with the people he cares most about.

The real hero wants to go out and conquer the enemy and make a difference to others. But then he wants to come home and show you what he did. It’s not an appeal for fake flattery; it’s his need to have his woman recognize that he succeeded in battle—whether financial, physical, corporate, relational, or any other area.

He wants to conquer the world but still be home in time for dinner. It might feel somewhat selfish, but it’s real. You won’t be able to change it. But if you recognize it, you can capitalize on it. It’s actually pretty simple.

Most men don’t make the bed because they want the room to look nice. They make the bed because it’s a way of being a hero, meeting the needs of their woman. Express simple gratefulness and he’ll feel respected—and inclined to do it more often. Criticize his performance because the pillows are crooked and he’ll feel discouraged.

Your man sees himself through your eyes. You can’t force him to behave in a certain way. But if you see him through eyes of respect, he’ll see himself as your hero. If he believes that, you’ll be meeting the basic need he has for your respect. Over time, he’ll be inclined to get off the couch and do anything for you.

Men are wired to make a difference.

They want to make a difference with you.