The paragon of manliness in today’s culture, otherwise void of such mythical creatures, is Nick Offerman. Or more accurately, it is his character, Ron Swanson. If you couldn’t decipher, though, much of that televised manliness is tongue-in-cheek. Offerman, though it is hard to believe, eats vegetables sometimes. He admits to being sensitive and to taking ballet lessons. He does so with utmost confidence. He’s also modest and open-minded, at least according to his book, Paddle Your Own Canoe. Therefore, I think we can learn more about manliness from the real man behind the farcical myth than from the symbol of manliness that his character has become. Here are eight lessons, pretty literally transcribed from his book:
1. Engage in a Real Discipline
Most people are aware that Offerman, in addition to acting as the tremendous Ron Swanson, is a successful woodworker. I was super impressed and intrigued when I heard that fact. But why? In the past, that’s what we humans did: crafted things with our hands. We worked in the real world, not on trivial games online. We didn’t waste our time on Buzzfeed. As Offerman puts it: “The arithmetic is quite simple. Instead of playing Draw Something, fucking draw something! Take the cleverness you apply with Words with Friends and utilize it to make some kick-ass corn bread.” He also advocates the use of maps over GPS and just generally getting in touch with the earth and our own humanity.
2. Keep an Open Mind
One of the most interesting parts of reading Offerman’s book is learning about the differences between him and his seminal character, Ron Swanson. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, that the two are different in many ways. No, Offerman is not a staunch Libertarian. Sometimes, he says, he even shaves off his mustache when he’s not shooting. As he says, “when people ask me questions relation to my ‘manliness,’ I like to remind them that I am primarily an artist as an actor, writer, and a woodworker.” He goes on to describe two women who are better woodworkers than he is, and says that he, on the other hand, is “pretty sensitive.” Manliness, especially in this day and age, is an ambiguous term, and is often confused with unrelated virtues. Study up, and realize that this is a term that is fairly open to interpretation. In addition, keep learning, in any field. Offerman: “always maintain the attitude of a student. When a person thinks they have finished learning, that is when bitterness and disappointment can set in, as that person will wake up every day wondering when someone is going to throw a parade in their honor for being so smart.”
3. Question Your Faith
Mr. Offerman grew up in the Midwest, therefore, he attended quite a bit of church at a young age. I can relate. However, Offerman makes you aware very fast that he broke with his family’s religious traditions from a young age. That’s okay. Being a lifelong George Carlin fan, I’m used to comedic treatments of religion. Offerman is actually pretty damn good at it, too, devoting a few chapters to satirizing the more ‘fire and brimstone’ chapters of the bible. Offermans puts it, um, eloquently: “Father, by all means, teach me philosophical methods based upon them. I love philosophy; I love to learn creative ways of viewing the world and mankind’s various dilemmas and triumphs. Just don’t fucking rtell me that we should kill all the woodchucks because the Bible says so.”
4. Submit to Your Faith
That being said, once you believe in something, submit to the process. I’m not necessarily talking about religious faith. I just read Robert Greene’s Mastery, and in short, the path to master is rigorous, starting with discovering your true passion or interest and racing through 10,000, usually 20,000, hours of practice. The journey must be endured, no matter how little progress it seems you are making. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the culture of success that allows certain Asian countries to prosper so consistently. Their culture is marked by the proverb that “no one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” If you can wake up every day believe that, eventually, your work will pay off, then you can achieve mastery. In fact, Offerman didn’t land the role of Ron Swanson until about page 298 of a 334 page book.
5. Work Hard, Play Hard
The supposedly stoic Ron Swanson once got hammered in an episode of Parks & Recreation and it was fucking hilarious. It was a contradiction. Swanson, so stern and serious, looked absurd dancing around and laughing. Unsurprisingly, the actor, Offerman, isn’t so serious. Instead, he devotes a whole chapter to inebriation called “Be Smart While Getting Stupid.” Of course, he recommends moderation, claiming “you can use them responsibly, and do good, or you can use the, like an asshole and ruin it for the rest of us, who just want to get a little high and look at a maple leaf.” To sum it up, he says, “when the work is done, then we deserve to play.”
6. Let Your Freak Flag Fly
Offerman reflecting on 4th grade: “We were learning the rudiments of plot, theme, and vocabulary, and one of our vocabulary words was nonconformist. I just dug that word. I heard the explanation, the definition, and I felt like I had just learned about a new hero in a kick-ass Marvel comic book. I raised my hand and I said, ‘Nonconformist. That is what I would like to be.’”
Apparently Offerman didn’t succeed until he accepted and was comfortable with his true self. How nice. Seriously, though, think it through. You can only fake it for so long until your true nature is revealed. Might as well use it as a screening mechanism for the jobs you wouldn’t want to take anyway or the people you wouldn’t want to spend time with. The goal is to be an outstanding person for your own benefit and to have enough confidence to not give a fuck if other people accept it. Which leads to…
7. Live a Good and Well-Balance Life
…and everything else will fall into place. Or so Offerman’s logic goes. He explains: “The secret to getting cast? Don’t give a shit about the audition. The secret to that? Being happy at home, being happy in love. Being happy in the rest of your life.”
8. Go Outside.
That’s the title of his last chapter, and I think that’s he’s been trying to get at the entire book. The theme is that our world today, a culture of distractions and a culture of mediocrity and short attention spans, is more detrimental to manhood than any trivial (read: bullshit) doctrine is. According to Offerman, Leviticus is not the answer; paddling downstream in a canoe without your cell phone is. He suggests that you to build your own canoe, but I don’t think that’s the point. I think Offerman would be fine with you hiking a mountain, as well, and taking in the majestic scenery that embodies this earth. To do something real, in the real world, with real consequences, seems to be the embodiment of manhood for Mr. Offerman.