Super Bowl MVP Quarterback Models a New Masculinity
Listening to Nick Foles tell an audience of millions of on-looking men and boys that he has struggled and that it’s okay to fail gives me hope. Whether this was his intention or not, the MVP-winning quarterback of the 2018 Super Bowl declaring his reality of struggle and normalizing failure is an act of socio-cultural activism.
“Failure is a part of life,” he said. “It’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times. Made mistakes.”
His proclamation shatters the illusion that men are invulnerable, that success comes without slog.
Perfection is an illusion that holds us all back.
As a therapist for over a decade, I have been privy to the quiet insecurities and inner shame that men of all ages experience. They share with me things they keep from their wives and partners, fearing they would lose their love if they were truly open and authentic. I witness the secret pain they carry and the burden of wearing the many masks that cut them off from others, themselves, and their own needs for happiness. I also observe the relief, hope, and freedom they feel when they receive compassion in the face of their expressed vulnerability.
Foles’ voice joins men like Jackson Katz, Justin Baldoni, and Lewis Howes, who all strive to break down the walls that limit men through unrealistic and constraining definitions of masculinity. Jay-Z, another man at the top of his game, has opened up about his views on the benefits of therapy, which models destigmatization of men seeking help to heal emotional wounds, further debunking myths of what it means to “be a man”. These actions are ever more critical, as the shocking rates of men dying by suicide—almost three to four times more than women—speaks to the costs of this gendered mythical mask of male invulnerability.
Without demolishing these walls for men, there is less hope for us women—for us all—to connect and live together harmoniously. In the wake of a #MeToo and #TimesUp era, we need gender dismantling more than ever. To move forward in our evolution, we need a path with a foundation that can hold us all as we seek reconciliation.
We need to get real in order to heal.
As a man on an exclusive podium that signifies the epitome of “success” and “achievement”, Foles delivered a gift to onlooking boys in his confession of vulnerability: “We all are human, we all have weaknesses, and I think throughout this, to be able to share that and be transparent.”
Normalizing struggle as part of the human experience is what psychologist Kristen Neff coins “common humanity”, which, together with mindfulness and kindness, define what it means to have self-compassion. Extensive research unwaveringly shows that being self-compassionate in response to our suffering buffers self-criticism, a key factor in ailments like depression and anxiety, helping to build resilience along with positive experiences, like greater contentment and happiness in life.
Foles modeled self-compassion in a speech that not only normalized failure, but suggested it is of benefit—it is part of the growth process:
“If something’s going on in your life and you’re struggling? Embrace it. Because you’re growing.”
We know this instinctively in childhood. Learning to walk entails numerous falls and yet, we unwaveringly persist, devoid of shame or self-judgment. Each time we fall, our brain recalibrates and adapts to the learning process, so that eventually we “get it” and step smoothly, one foot in front of the other. And yet, as we are enculturated in our society, through various ways we internalize shame and an erroneous belief that success should come without any learning curve, without any uncertainty, or insecurity. Nick Foles names what we all know and yet often ignore: growth comes with growing pains.
When you are faced with an obstacle or you’re shut out from a desired opportunity, it is perfectly human to have an emotional reaction. Feelings of disappointment, frustration, doubt, and fear will naturally arise. If you also notice self-critical thoughts in your mind (e.g., “You should’ve known better!” “You’re such a [insert self-deprecating name-calling]”), see if you can bring in a kind, compassionate tone towards yourself.
You might try a “self-compassion break”, reminding yourself that all people encounter struggle, offering kindness to yourself and mindful awareness of the situation as a form of suffering. Asking yourself “How can this serve me? What am I to learn here? How might this difficulty bring me closer to the real me—to my more evolved and wisest self?” can help you move to the lessons learned and avoid the pitfalls of despair.
When we can open to our experience of suffering with mindfulness and compassion without identifying with the particular thoughts and emotions, eventually we come to recognize the underlying need, the deep longing for what really matters to us. In her book “Emotional Agility”, Dr. Susan David proclaims that the capacity to be open and flexible with our emotions helps us connect with our core values.
We then see more clearly the best next steps forward to ensure our needs will be met. Seeing challenges as opportunities for growth and self-expansion makes it more likely that we will sit with our experience long enough to access the inner wisdom that lies beneath.
Nick Foles’ speech unwittingly merged self-compassion and masculinity, proving that approaching our pain as normal, human, and as an opportunity, can relinquish the barriers that block our paths to our own greatness.
Thanks, Nick, for using your powerful platform to exemplify a new path for men to dismantle the constraints of dysfunctional notions of perfection that limit us all. As a loving mother of two boys, I feel hopeful that my sons, and all of our sons, will have an ever-expanding and healthier model of what is really means to “be a man”.
As published in The Good Men Project (https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/super-bowl-mvp-quarterback-new-masculinity-chwm/)