Recently, I read a sentence that got under my skin: "Early in life a man is still building his own tower and surely not ready to help anybody else build theirs.”– Fr. Richard Rohr
These words rang some bells in my recesses. It isn’t just because they are a true assessment of Western male culture – they are. Sadly, it is true of men that are no longer “early in life.” The adolescence of men in America is often played out over a lifetime.
A few years back I was working a surgical case in which the patient was a man in his late 50s with prostate cancer. He had specific instructions for the surgeon: limit the trauma to the neurovascular bundles that allow him to get an erection. He was more concerned about getting it up than surviving cancer.
It gets worse.
Post-op the surgeon went out to meet his wife and tell her what to expect over the next few days. The Doc came back in for the next case with a dumbfounded look upon his face. This patient had told his wife he had to stop by the hospital for a minor procedure before they continued on to their vacation. He never mentioned it was for his cancer. He never mentioned to her he had cancer. She had no idea! At nearly 60 years old this man was so concerned about his machismo that he suffered through cancer alone and in fearful shame of the consequences he could never control. This man was the quintessence of the American perpetually adolescent male. After all his years of living he still was not ready to help others build dreams.
Rohr’s words initially stuck me, though, because when I considered my own life I was hardly caught up building my own towers. I spent my early years helping others build their “towers” or dreams, never giving much thought to my own. When I started to approach the “why” of this in my life, I only saw what seemed to be a failure dictated by my wounds. But I was stopped before crossing over the threshold into that room. Though this failure might have been one of the reasons for never really setting out to “build my own towers,” the outcome in the long run isn’t something destructive or diminishing to my life.
All those years of helping others start a company or take an idea from concept to reality weren’t wasted years. I gained extensive and diverse experience with getting other’s dreams off the ground. I learned tons about how different businesses work, or how not to go about things. I learned them with others. It wasn’t in the isolation of my own pursuits.
There’s something to be said for setting your hands to the wheel of those dreams inside you. There’s stuff that you learn along the way, and the world most likely needs what you are creating. At the same time, there are far too many of us that set our hands to the wrong wheel, forcing a dream that takes more than it creates.
And, yet, as I am learning, there are those of us that, for whatever reasons, never thought much of the dreams or towers they were to build, and experienced an extensive education in helping others build. Somewhere along the way, these people, myself included, may discover what dreams they were made for and the tools and confidence, (which is far different from arrogance) to create something they would never have set out to make otherwise.