As men, we tend to evaluate ourselves based on the capabilities we possess. This is often centered around a “particular set of skills” as Liam Neeson’s character from Taken so eloquently states.
When it comes to ensuring our survival in a serious situation, most of us prioritize certain “hard” skills like shooting, fighting, and bushcraft (just to name a few).
And while these are absolutely vital in such events, it’s easy to overlook the other important aspects of surviving an ordeal. I myself am guilty of this, as I came to realize this past week…Recently, a substantial snow storm came through and knocked out the power to our rural Virginia home. This is pretty common where we live, so it didn’t catch us wholly unprepared.
However, it certainly was inconvenient and presented some interesting challenges. Chief among them being how to prepare food without electricity. Having lent the bulk of my camping gear to a friend(propane stoves included), I had to rely on more primitive means.
Fortuitously, I built a little shelter back in the woods earlier this winter, affording me a place to make food for everyone. Using the skills I have been practicing over the past decade, I managed to get a nice little fire going in the blizzard-like conditions, even with everything being wet and covered in snow.
As I relished the chance to put my archaic methods to good use, the kids and dogs frolicked in the winter wonderland while my wife brought out the bacon, eggs, and pork chops to cook up for the day.
After procuring our food and water, my next task was to clear the driveway from the fallen trees. Using nothing but my great grand-father’s axe and cross-cut saw, I spent the next two and a half hours chopping, cutting, and moving half a dozen pines out of the way by hand.
During this time, the kids “helped”, the dogs played, and my very lovely and very patient wife snapped some photos of me working in my Savage Gentleman Wool Fisherman’s Sweater. While directing Sarah how to use my camera, I found myself extremely flustered and short with her for no good reason.
After getting enough images (and enough of my bad attitude) she took the kiddos inside to warm up by the gas fireplace, leaving me to my task and sour mood.
As I labored in the still falling snow, a few thoughts kept running through my mind:
- Why the hell had I not purchased a chainsaw already?
- The men of old who did this for a living were a different breed. I’m no slouch physically, but a couple hours of this was about all I could stand.
- Sarah and kids are handling this situation incredibly well. If that is any indication of how we might survive in the apocalypse, I think we’re gonna do just fine.
Bushcraft and survival are two things I deeply enjoy learning and practicing. In fact, I go out of my way to work on various primitive techniques every chance I get. Also, hard manual labor is something I regularly seek out. It’s what I grew up doing and it still provides a great and productive outlet. By all accounts, I was living my best life that day.
In addition to all this, being cool under pressure is one of the characteristics I pride myself on. Experiencing my fair share of sketchy situations, I’ve always been able to keep a level head while others seem to be losing theirs.
As a point of reference, while on the 21-day Discovery Channel survival show “Ultimate Ninja Challenge” I found myself as the calming voice of reason, even when things were at their worst.
So what excuse did I have for being so surly and impatient? This is a question that I have still yet to answer, but it does bring up an interesting point:
Which is to say, we may acquire all the knowledge and ability to accomplish a task, but if we’re complete bastards to the ones we love, how much does it really matter? How sustainable is a situation if I cannot maintain my own composure? How long could I expect others to keep their cool when I so easily lose it myself?
The hard skills mean nothing, if you don’t have the soft skills to continually implement them.
Despite the embarrassment of my behavior, I am thankful for the opportunity to test myself. To find that with all that I’ve learned in the way of “cool guy man skills” I still have a lot of work regarding patience and composure. Too much savage, not enough gentleman, it seems.
Laying in bed with a tired body and bruised ego, these were some difficult questions that hit me pretty hard later that night
It is easy to become so focused on the physical and technical components, we completely overlook the mental and emotional aspects. This is something I am currently working on for myself.
Hopefully, the next time I face a similar situation, I will compliment my hard skills with the grace and compassion my family deserves.
Have to say -Yes good account of how things can happen or NOT based on both materials, moods and manpower. I have two sons—my oldest son will assist me as best as his big brawny self can do if he is around and a task of any serious energy is required. My younger son somehow has managed to avoid having to do any “HEAVY LIFTING!” when things are hard. As you “look ahead” you may need to have more guys on your team that are ready to work and enjoy being outdoors. How you would go about that I will leave that all in your court.
Love your post Confessions of a Serial “Survivalist”. I live with someone exactly like you so I completely understand the the daily dance especially when the “tools” come out to tackle the project at hand. I have been on the receiving end of whatever personal stuff goes on inside a man’s head at the time, many times over. I applaud you for recognizing you need to work on your soft skills BUT, I have to let you know how lucky you were to be able to lay down in your bed that night rather than “camping out” in your shelter next to the burning embers of your fire. Your wife is a keeper. And, nice sweater. Thanks for sharing.
Almost 30 years ago I lived a short jaunt north of you in western Mass. I have multiple skill sets that have brought me from war torn Afghanistan and Iraq to the frosty shores of Antarctica. I tend to agree with your observations on attitude and the rational state of mind that we may or may not have in situations where pressure is applied. Having lost a leg in a MC wreck many years ago It left me learning a new skill set, patience. Mastering patience is not as easy as one might think. Of course much will depend on you basic disposition. I can say, I have only lost my temper a handful of times in my life. Having to contend with life on one leg has been a blessing and a curse. For the last 30 years I have lived in what I believe to be one of the last best places in America….Montana. I bought 40 acres of undeveloped land and with the help of only my wife built a 3000 sq/ft timberframe home from the trees off of that very parcel. This was a true test of endurance as well as patience. What I have found is external forces are applied to men in a a variety of ways at times we may not expect. We can feel these pressures being applied and often can do nothing to stop the spiraling dismal feelings that accompany them. It is the mirror that we must look into as gentlemen that will set things straight. Self evaluation is where I go periodically for this nourishment. Like most things in life as you practice this skill the better you will become at it. I am not a zen kinda guy, but for lack of a better work when I feel that dour mood setting in I find 2 things help almost immediately. The first being apologize to whoever is around me, the second is stop what I am doing and prioritize getting my attitude right. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath and realize that I live in the best place on earth with the best wife and kids, other times it’s a hard soul search of what really may be causing my angst.
Didn’t mean to ramble here but I was right there with you in the driveway cutting the pines. Sometimes it can really knock the crap out of you emotionally, you feel it , you know it, and you can’t stop it. Mastering the mind is without a doubt the most difficult thing as men we face in our lifetime. These days A nice scotch a cigar and a good friend to talk with are a great asset. I do miss the friend part as of late. Best of luck and here’s to finding your zen moment when you need it most.
I’ll go with that.
The nature of the men of old was necessity to which we have made the life of comfort eliminating the necessity and knowledge of basic survival shelter gathering food warmth
This post is an ideal portrayal of 1. the importance of preparing, and, 2. life is a journey-learning and applying what we learn is the very best way to travel the road we are on. Thank you for writing this.
I think the lesson is even bigger. I find myself in this mindset with my son and wife even with day-to-day.
I will catch myself getting frustrated or impatient with him when we were just having a blast.
I think for me the fix is understanding two important things in the moment:
A ) my internal expectations are not perfectly understood by my son or wife. Patience is important.
B ) It doesn’t matter if I understand the root cause or not, I still get to choose to change it and not dwell on the past mindset once I move on. We may not choose our mood in a moment, but we do get to choose what mood we sustain.
Well said, sir. Well said indeed.
Good realization and self-assessment. Fundamentally, you were more than likely locked in your “Protector” brain PRODUCING A M_F RESULT! While the family was playing and enjoying themselves. It’s on thing to “rough it” for fun and self-improvement and another to PRODUCDE A MOTHER_FATher RESULT under pressure and everything relying on you!
Your mind, body, soul was focused on the task at hand, so you unconsciously deleted the emotion. Waste of energy when cutting, sawing, lifting, moving stuff. You were in a meditative state then interrupted.
Just being aware that you’re deleting your emotions, you can then choose to interrupt your pattern with a word, a breath, a laugh… even your wife getting you to laugh for a sec could have “decompressed” you a sec – next time, just ask yourself how you can enjoy the process as your doing yo thang, yo!
I think the key, as with anything, is striving to improve. Leaning to control your emotions is difficult. I don’t know if anyone ever reaches a perfect “state”, of being in absolute control. But putting the effort in and improving gets a gold star every time in my book. I know very few people that fall into that category. Probably explains why I prefer dogs over people, 9 times out of 10. Genuine reflection and self criticism, being able to admit you’re all fucked up in one way or another, are rare. Few will ever admit it. Most can’t even admit when they’ve made a simple mistake. Everyone has limits, I find mine in some way almost everyday. But I do try, and often I’m able to reach that stoic state where things and circumstances don’t phase me as much. I used to worry about what others see when they look at me. Now, at 56, I’m more concerned with what I see when I look at myself.
Plus Josh, you’re getting older. Things will naturally piss you off more :)
This post hit very hard for me. It was hard to hear the words that describe your situation. Most of the reading was done with an uneasy feeling in my gut, as the similarities were overwhelming. The mental and emotional struggles of an adverse condition have been my nemesis. I can put in the work, do the hard things, and sometimes even look for the “hard way” to do things. The struggle to stay calm, cool, and collected is very real. The regret I feel after losing it can be unbearable, in turn causing more of the sour mood. Thanks for sharing and reminding me that we all struggle at times.