How To Get Your Fire Back with Bryan Ward
Bryan Ward is the author of the LIT Black Paper and founder of Third Way Man, a transformational community that helps unlock creators.
You built a business working fewer hours and in less time than most people have spent even to be profitable. What were some of the things you did to make that happen? What do you suggest to people who want to stand out?
A lot of the success with the business comes from knowing what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. As far as how you take those things you’re good at and maximizing that for the most impact, it comes down to embracing your uniqueness. I call it the ugly dark center of your ability, because we have this notion we’ve got to do things the “right way” and follow the “best practices” for any given skill or industry, and that we’ve got to get in line with everyone else.
I think we’re in a place in history where, through social media, things have opened up so much, and our sense of options on how things can be done has expanded to the nth degree. As a producer, or someone who wants to start their own business, you do have to embrace what you bring to the table that is differentiated, funky, weird, and strange, because everything else has been done. You need to look at what is unique about your experience and skill-set, and ask yourself “how can I combine that and present that to the market in a totally new way?”
Talk to me about Third Way Man. What was the drive for it and did you ever think it would turn into what it has become today?
I’m married with four kids, and there’s this idea out there that once you’re married, that’s the happy ending. And yes, of course it’s rewarding, but there are a whole new set of challenges and demands on you that don’t get discussed. There is often this sense that a man does what he needs to do and you figure it out as you go. While there is an element of truth to that, I found there is silence about how to flourish as a married man. There are a lot of people out there giving advice to single guys, but it’s like, once you’re married, “you’re good,” and you don’t need anything else. With most men, that’s just not the case.
There is this old quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I’m sure that’s been true at every point in history, but I think we have our own brand of that, that’s happening right now, especially for dads that don’t have that support from other men when they need it the most. It was out of that observation as a young dad that I thought there needs to be a larger conversation about this, one that is more authentic, rawer. I thought that if I was experiencing this, there must be more dads out there who are experiencing the same thing, so out of that, Third Way Man was born.
I actually expect Third Way Man to keep growing because I know there is a deep need and there is a taboo with men around getting together and being honest and challenging each other, talking about the things that they live with and deal with that aren’t that pretty. You see a lot of men out there who want to be open and vulnerable in sharing their experiences.
What are some of the hardships you faced building Third Way Man and how did you overcome them?
I come from a marketing background, and at first, my marketing friends were trying to dissuade me from starting Third Way Man. They told me there’s no proven business model of companies who are serving this niche. Quite often in marketing, the common sense approach is to find someone that’s already doing it and proven the concept, then put together some new product for that market.
For me, that wasn’t satisfying. The artist and creator in me likes a challenge. Second, the common sense part of me says that just because a market isn’t being served doesn’t mean the market isn’t there. I expected it to grow, but on the flip side, it’s been challenging to figure out the messaging that will resonate with this audience.
You mention that micro-commitments are powerful in your black paper, LIT: How To Get Your Soul Back. Tell me about how you discovered them and what makes them so valuable.
I think for a lot of ambitious people, their ability to dream big is limitless. I hear about goal setting and being urged to set bigger goals, create a bigger vision. This is not the problem. The problem is that this vision is so big and the gap between where they are and where they want to be is so tremendous that it bogs them down. It can get to the point where you have this objective that is so big and so far out there, that you feel like you’ll never be able to cross the gulf to get there.
The way to break that is to say “hey look, I may not be able to write the next Great American Novel, but I can take the next 5 minutes to write something down.” In that respect, the micro-commitment is a way of breaking through the analysis-paralysis and getting something moving. It’s getting us into a pattern of working toward a goal one step at a time. Quite often, people will assume they can’t make progress in just 5 minutes a day. Well, the thing is, this is not a linear equation.
We’re talking about something that is not just going to make practical progress, but the internal progress that awakens from doing micro-commitments. You go from being someone who just talks about things and thinks about things to someone who is doing it. It doesn’t matter that it’s just five minutes a day. You have broken the seal on that locked-in boulder, and you can start rolling it down the hill. This totally revolutionizes the way you talk and feel about yourself. When we project out and think about going from point A to point B in the endeavor, we think it’s going to take some massive 21-point plan with all these micro-projects. In reality, in my experience, it’s often these stupid little changes that we make, these pivots that totally change the game.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge for men today and what can men do about it to change it?
I think the biggest challenge is there is no clearly viable way to be a man. When you’re born a man in this era, it comes with a lot of baggage. You’re made to feel guilty by chromosome, and you have a lot of inherited baggage, sins of the father, that get lumped on you. At the same time, men can feel like they deserve some of that guilt, so it makes men have this kind of fundamental discomfort with their masculinity. One of the options men see is to minimize gender and accentuate the “human,” like gender isn’t a big deal. I think this is why there is so much emphasis on living a unisex life. But it doesn’t satisfy. When men take this approach, they end up cutting a lot of the aspects that are meant to power their life. There are a lot of things about being a man that you just can’t separate from your success path. It doesn’t work.
In a general sense, we’re often made to feel in any given situation, there is Option A and Option B. The Third Way is about looking at situations as though there is always an Option C. It may not be as obvious, may not be handed to you on a plate. It may be something you have to create. But that’s the beauty. You’re finding and creating that third way. With masculinity, the First Way shows a return to the barbaric, patriarchal approach to masculinity. You see a lot of that happening, and there are a lot of men who see that it’s not a man’s world anymore, so they say “screw it,” I’m going to go back to this caveman approach where they prioritize strength and power over love, which is not satisfying.
The Second Way is where men take responsibility for the things other men have done, things that are atrocious, and they end up living a life of apology and meekness and approval-seeking from women, which ends up being unsatisfying. This way has a high emphasis on love, but lacks strength.
The Third Way is about finding a balance of the two, in living a life that is characterized in equal measure in love and strength.
What’s a piece of advice you would give to someone who’s looking for purpose and drive in their life and how they could find it?
Go back to what’s worked in the past. I think a lot of times, there is this desire to jump ship and to say “what I’m doing isn’t working.” There is so much visibility into what others are doing that the whole grass is greener on the other side has never been more of a temptation. When we burn-out on projects, it’s not that the fundamental mission is flawed, it’s the execution of it, the strategy that isn’t working. So what happens is men end up throwing out the entire project and reinventing themselves and starting their umpteenth new business or their third marriage instead of taking a shorter step back to find new ways to tackle the project.
Also, invest in your ground. Your ground is a term to reflect all the different capacities you have to do great work. When you’re playing the long game, you’ve got to find better fuel, and investing in your ground is a great way to get that, whether that’s a spiritual practice, physical practice, or something else.