Four Ingredients for Harnessing Hardships into Heroism

by | Divorce, Emotional Pain, Marriage, Masculinity, Mentoring, Mindsets

Recently, I’ve been working through Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” (which I highly recommend).  This morning, I came across Book 5 and Meditation 8 and found them consoling, insightful, and helpful in readjusting my perspective, which has been languishing a bit over the last few days. 

It is common when speaking of a doctor’s orders to say: “Aesclepius prescribed for this fellow horseback riding, cold baths, or walking barefoot.” In the same way, we should be able to say, “Nature has prescribed a disease, a disfiguration, a dismemberment, or some other disability.” In the former case, treatments are prescribed to make a man physically whole, whereas in the latter case, circumstances are prescribed to complete or round out his destiny.
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book 5

I’ve been experiencing a season of challenge, adversity, and downright unpleasantness, and to be honest, even though those things are not new, I’ve been experiencing this most recent round of these things with more grumbling, complaining, and a poor attitude than I care to experience, let alone, admit.

Like every man, it’s easy for me to lose sight of the truth that circumstances I experience, regardless of how I judge them as “good” or “bad,” despite any meaning I ascribe to them, they just are. Irrespective of my chosen perspective on them, they’re all happening, and I can either resist them with anger, frustration, and despair or embrace them as vital and necessary.  More on that in a minute.

Accept the prescriptions of nature as if they were intended for your own health, even if at times they may seem cruel or disagreeable to you.
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book 5

Comfort and Ease Are Not a Noble Pursuit

I can also easily forget who and what I want to become in my journey here on this planet. It will not happen by accident, nor, more importantly, through a life of comfort and ease.  Yet, a part of me is relentless in pining away for the false idea that serenity, comfort, certainty, and ease are the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In that way of thinking, I “get to” experience good things and “have to” experience bad things – all derived from circumstances outside of me.  It compels me to see myself as captive to the whimsical, fickle nature of things going on outside of me in others.  I’m left without choices and, therefore, without power.  Whether I get to experience peace and prosperity or lack and scarcity is beyond my control.  I can’t be happy and okay unless and until my circumstances allow for such. 

Get to.  Have to.  Left without.  I can’t.  Unless and until.  This is the language of powerlessness.

These are the words we use when we’re stuck living with an External Locus of Control.  I’ve never found living with an External Locus of Control to produce many good things. Instead, it has consistently led me to a horrible and disappointing mental, emotional, and relational landscape.

What has never disappointed me is experiencing my circumstances with an Internal Locus of Control, one where I shift from seeking to change external circumstances to changing my internal experience of them.  In that place, I am, and I will always be okay.  I can always create true joy, happiness, strength, and often, even exhilaration and excitement! 

I can.  I will.  Always. Create.  This is the language of powerfulness.

Yeah, but, how?

One of the challenges men face when stuck in powerlessness is overcoming the inertia of their powerlessness enough to become the hero in their story and self-rescue.  Yet, that’s precisely what a man must experience to escape the suffering death spiral that this way of living creates.

This process is challenging enough that we created a six-month intensive mentoring experience for men called The Renewed Masculine Man to help men through this process.  Yet, unfortunately, stuck men struggle to make decisive decisions to unstick themselves, such as signing up for that course.  Why?  Because they live with an External Locus of Control – a life of powerlessness and choicelessness, where they “can’t.”

The good news is that if they continue to add momentum, most men who can summon the power and choice to begin will experience this change and transformation.  Yet, the hardest part is the beginning, that spot where a man must make his first choice.

So, how can a man stuck in powerlessness begin living like a Roman Emperor?  Here are four ingredients I’ve observed men use to harness hardships into heroism and transform suffering into flourishing.

Ingredient #1: Awareness & Acceptance

Each of the men in the Mentoring Men community, even those of us who created it, did so when painful circumstances drove us to the point of hardship, conflict, suffering, struggle, or challenge.  These are very human experiences, and one that no man can escape.

The first ingredient in harnessing hardships is to notice them.  That might sound wild, but most men we meet report having had a low-key level of suffering for many years—even decades—that suddenly becomes acute and painful via a crisis.  It may be that a man’s wife says, “I need space,” or “I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” “I think we should separate,” “I want a divorce,” or “I’m in love with someone else.”

Other men I meet experience this crisis when they discover their wife or partner exchanging I love you text messages with another man or having an emotional and/or physical affair.  For many others I meet, it’s a man saying, “I can’t take it anymore” or “I’m at my limit” after living without connection, love, and intimacy in a sexless marriage.

Regardless of the reason a man contacts us, the pattern is always the same: They’re experiencing conflict.  What a man does with his conflict will determine what happens with the conflict and the trajectory of his life.

Therefore, the first and most critical step a hero must take is becoming aware of his conflict and, more importantly, accepting it.  Unfortunately, that pesky part of all of us constantly seeking comfort and ease also compels us to resist these conflicts and get back to normal as soon and fast as possible.

Fellas, this does not work!  Shooing away pain as fast as possible is not the path to heroism or anything you sincerely want in life.  It’s the path to an even deeper and more substantial pain of a variety that spreads. 

If we do not transform our pain, we will always transmit it.
― Richard Rohr

Many men I speak with struggle with this step.  They get stuck on the concept of acceptance, and because they’re unwilling to accept what is, they resist it, wringing their hands, cursing their circumstances, and agonizing in their pain.

They nearly always make the mistake of conflating acceptance with approval and won’t accept their experience because they don’t want it, it doesn’t feel good, and it’s not how things were supposed to be. 

Yet, there is a path forward for men who can make the distinction, learning to accept what is happening while also accepting how they feel about it.

Ingredient #2: Shifted Locus

A man who can grasp the first ingredient of acceptance can then implement the second ingredient: shifting the locus of control.

Marcus Aurelius was at one time the most powerful human on the planet.  Perhaps then it’s worth understanding the mindsets that served him in this capacity?  Let’s take a look at this quote:

There are two reasons, then, for being content with whatever happens to you. The first is that it was meant just for you, prescribed for you, and preserved for you like a thread woven into your destiny from the very beginning. The second is that whatever happens to the individual contributes to the health, wholeness, and survival of the entire universe. 
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book 5

Do you see any patterns in the above text?  How about the term “for you”?  Marcus Aurelius understood what the sages of history have all known; that we each possess the capacity to choose the meaning of what we experience.  Marcus chose to see the hardships of what happens “to you” as happening “for you,” and you and I can do the same.

This process of reframing is what I mean when I speak of shifting the locus of control.  It means abandoning the focus on things that are happening outside of our control, choices, and power and redirecting our focus on what we can control and choose.  Doing so gives us power—the power to create our meanings.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

We’ve observed a reliable pattern: Hard emotions exist whenever and wherever we are focused outside of ourselves on anything in which we have no choice.  To begin to feel better emotions, we must begin making choices.  Choosing our meaning is an epic place to start.

Once we possess the power derived from choosing our meanings and focusing on things within our control, we immediately begin to stop feeling stuck.  There is no more limbo, no more waiting, and no more agony.  Becoming unstuck requires power, and power is found in making decisions.  What can we always make decisions about?  Ourselves.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Ingredient #3: Deliberate, Consistent Repetition

All of us have brains conditioned to the ways of thinking we’ve learned over a lifetime, which become deeply ingrained into our subconscious actions, behaviors, and habits. The good news is that our brains are also neuroplastic and possess the capacity to learn entirely new ways of being. 

As we consciously and deliberately exercise our capacity to choose our meanings, shifting our locus of control, and focusing on choosing meanings where hardships and challenges are not happening “to us” but “for us,” our brains begin to experience life differently. 

Our members routinely report that their mental and emotional well-being dramatically improves as they experience this process. It’s no wonder—we’re all living in the emotions of our thinking. 

To feel new things, we have to think new things.  To feel new things sustainably, we have to think new things sustainably.  For the vast majority of the men I meet, this poses a significant challenge for two reasons.

Firstly, because many men are emotionally immature and unsafe, I don’t say this to condemn or shame a man but with understanding, compassion, and empathy.  Most men I encounter have never received much helpful guidance in understanding their emotions, and the vast majority grew up being told to stuff, ignore, suppress, and, in many cases, despise them.  I was one of those men, too!

Our ability as men to do the hard work of deliberate repetitions of new thinking first requires that we experience learning more powerful and effective ways of relating to and expressing our emotions. 

Secondly, once feeling good or at least pain-free, many men begin to drift back toward comfort and ease.  As soon as they do, they fall back into a life of drifting, abdicating power and choices, and slowly descend back into low-key suffering.  For these men, it will often require continued acute conflict before they begin to break this cycle.

If you’re like most men, you might say, “That sounds like me!” and wonder, “Is there any hope?”

Take heart, brother – there is!

Ingredient #4: Powerful Community

The first three ingredients I’ve shared above are incredibly potent for transforming hardship into heroism in a man’s life. Yet, in my experience, they’re still not enough. I spent twenty years seeking to master the above process with non-stellar, unreliable, and inconsistent results. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t seem to get it to stick.

This is also why most men I encounter and those who sign up for our Renewed Masculine Man experience have a deep fear that “it won’t work.” These men like me have been working hard at this for a long time and are beginning to believe it’s just the way things are and that there isn’t any other way.

Without exception, these men are missing the most potent ingredient in this process: Powerful Community.

Many of the men I encounter in my work feel pretty isolated. even if they’re not often loners or short on friends. Even the men with many friends often say they don’t feel their friends relate to them at the depth they long for, and/or that no matter how much company they keep, they feel a staggering pervasive sense of loneliness despite this.

They’ve grown weary of small talk, platitudes, weather, sports, and insignificant speech.  They yearn for depth in their relationships, yet it eludes them.  They find themselves wondering, “Where are all the good men?” and often feel like they more easily relate to women.

These men often have company, but they lack a powerful community

A powerful community offers a man things he doesn’t get in the same measure anywhere else.  It offers him guidance, encouragement, support, accountability, challenge, compassion, understanding, and empathy.

A powerful community reflects a man back to himself.  It strengthens his high regard for himself and others and encourages him to cultivate ownership and self-reliance.  A powerful community refines his perspectives without insisting he adopts any specific dogma. 

A powerful community fosters good health, well-being, and connectedness, without creating dependency, enmeshment, and immaturity.

A man with such a community is able to overcome inertia, strengthen his acceptance of his circumstances, be challenged to broaden his perspectives in ways that give him choices and be supported and encouraged while he does the hard work of retraining his mind to walk in new ways.


In conclusion, the journey through adversity is not one to be traversed alone or with resignation. Marcus Aurelius’s teachings in “Meditations,” especially Book 5, Meditation 8, provide a philosophical framework that empowers us to view life’s challenges not as burdens but as essential elements prescribed by nature for our growth and fulfillment. This perspective invites us to shift from a posture of resistance to one of acceptance and proactive engagement with our circumstances.

I’ve shared with you how embracing an Internal Locus of Control transforms our experience from one of powerlessness to one of potent self-agency.  By acknowledging and accepting challenges, shifting our focus to what we can control, consistently reframing our responses, and engaging with a supportive community, we cultivate a resilience that not only navigates hardships but also converts them into avenues for personal heroism and collective well-being.

This transformation is not instantaneous nor easy; it requires awareness, acceptance, a shift in perspective, consistent effort, and the support of a community that challenges and nurtures us.  By integrating these elements, we do not just survive; we thrive, turning every obstacle into an opportunity to enhance our well-being and contribute positively to the universe. 

In this light, each hardship is not a deterrent but a deliberate step towards becoming the architects of our destiny and the heroes of our own stories.

Ready to Harness Your Hardships?

The Mentoring Men community is powerful because it is based on relationships, not products and services.  That relationship begins by requesting a complimentary, no-BS sales pitch-free session with Sven or one of the other mentors.

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Sven Masterson

Sven Masterson

I wake up daily ready to guide men. Specifically, those exhausted from their pursuit of trying to achieve and perform their way to having more value, worth, and significance. I'm passionate to help a man who... - can't bear to look at himself in the mirror for the contempt he feels for himself despite his efforts and achievements. - who everyone else thinks is great, except himself.  - who feels his providing is never enough, his dedication is never enough, and no matter how much better he gets at life, he still feels miserable.
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