When I was offered the job of presenting Man Up (a series of 10 one hour docs where each week I take a thirtysomething bloke and do my very best to get him to 'man up') I asked myself the question - how the heck do I 'man them up'? Because surely to 'Man Up' is just a matter of growing a pair of heavy testosterone filled knackers, right? Nope, wrong. When I started filming it became apparent that an aggressive 'grow a pair' approach was too hard (oooh errr). Our blokes had deeper issues that were preventing them from being happy and moving forward with their lives.
Before I delve deeper into the male psyche I think I should introduce you to some of the fellas from the show. Some of our hopefully unlucky in love dudes who would be laying themselves bare ranged from; the angry farmer who spent way too much time alone with his beloved tractor, the uber shy geeky nerd whose only social interaction was done online and often spent 24hours straight playing computer games, and the genius double first Cambridge graduate who lied to his family and told them he was GAY just so they would stop repeatedly inquiring as to why he 'didn't have a girlfriend'?
A lot of them lived at home (mum still made the packed lunch and did their washing - bless), had no girlfriend (yup - some were virgins) and the big one - they had no confidence (I mean - zero). While we are bombard with Hollywood films that portray the man child as being something a little lovable our guys were nothing like the type that Hollywood has made so 'hip' (that's US talk for trendy). Thanks to Judd Apatow (among others) the endearing Seth Rogen / Steve Carell types who are lovably immature, perpetually single, unemployed and wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt while living at home with mum are glamorized. Which makes you wonder if this state of arrested development that Hollywood portrays as cool actually healthy? Or is the increase of the lovable man-child a symptom of something much deeper going on in society?
Apparently, according to the Office for National Statistics, a total of 3.3million 20 to 34 year-olds lived with their parents in 2013, the highest number since it started keeping records in 1996 (1996 was the year that the film Mission Impossible was released, which has no correlation to this whatsoever but thought was worth mentioning some trivia to keep you awake). In addition to this they found that men were more likely to live at home than women; one in three men live with their parents, compared with one in five women. Seems that more men than ever are settling down much later on in life, where growing up is put on hold to live at home with mum and dad while sucking the life out of the proverbial financial family teat. Don't shoot the messenger here... I'm just reporting the stats (yawn). Oh and by the way I'm not saying its just the blokes doing this, there's loads of women out there who are also refusing to grow up, I should know - I'm one of them. If you ask my mum I'm sure she will agree that getting me to move out of my parental home and grow up was literally - mission impossible. (see what I did there?)
What I thought was going to be a light hearted entertainment show turned into a much deeper exploration of the role of men within society. Due to the rise of feminism, women are more successful than ever and it does leave you wondering if this shift in the sexes has turned some men (not ALL - but certainly the ones on the show) into boys? Compared to my parents generation it's simply not enough these days for a man to just bring home the bacon - the modern man needs to cook it, wash up afters, read the kids a bed time story and then pillow talk by purging his day with emotional chit chat! Women have always been ahead in the emotional stakes and now for a bloke to keep up he needs to have a degree of 'emotional intelligence' - a phrase that makes a lot of men puke into their black and decker tool kits.
Come on fellas don't take it to heart (no pun intended), you don't have to be a genius to have emotional intelligence. You don't have to have read endless self help books or be able to quote from Men Are From Mars Women From Venus but it would help if you maybe followed 'Inspirational quotes' on Twitter, as a start. And if you are reading this wondering how opening up about your emotions will help you to 'man up' - here's what I learnt...
In order for them to 'Man Up' ie; get what they really wanted in life, they needed to 'open up' and be brutally honest with their feelings - something which I saw first hand while filming the show was near on impossible for some guys to do. Without them being truly open and honest with both myself and the shows psychologist Anjula Mutanda we couldn't help them make changes and move forward with their lives. Thus making me realize that for us to help them to 'Man Up' they would need to start TALKING ABOUT THEIR EMOTIONS - a much harder challenge than just growing a larger pair of testicles - it would seem.
For them it was much safer to stay emotionally shut down incase when they did open up about how they felt they were judged and... rejected. When we shut down the emotional part of who we are and stop listening to our instincts it becomes all too easy to over think everything. When this happens we end up living entirely in our heads. This is exactly what our 'man up' proteges were doing. They were stuck on the merry go round of addictive over thinking and had a serious case of analysis paralysis, which meant they were talking themselves out of the very things they really wanted in life. Fear was controlling every decision, they were afraid to ask the girl out incase she REJECTED THEM. Afraid to tell their mates how they felt incase THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE MAD. Afraid to go for their dream jobs incase they DIDN'T GET IT. Afraid to move out of home incase they FAILED. And more importantly afraid to tell me to 'do one' in case I PUNCHED THEM IN THE HEAD (don't worry - I don't go around punching men - anymore).
In the capitalist world we are told that if we collect more money, aggressively go for what we want and steamroll our emotions we are a success. But really, by what terms can we define success? Our blokes on the show felt like failures as they didn't have the confidence to aggressively go for what they wanted. The fear of failure and 'getting it wrong' was crippling them. We had a job on our hands teaching them that making mistakes is a good thing. You have to take risks and put yourself out there, even if that means you do fail, unfortunately rejection is part of the spectrum of life and to avoid it is near on impossible! (trust me - I should know)
When we think of the phrase to 'Man Up' we may picture a football coach with tits (me?) shouting directions at blokes who are running aimlessly around the pitch chasing an all elusive goal. I'm aware that this is the feeling the term emotes. However, I can confidently say that after the experience of filming the show that to truly Man Up is to own our issues (lets face it we all have loads of them). By accepting and being honest about who we are, we can forgive ourselves for not being perfect and making mistakes. I honestly believe that it's in this forgiveness that the ultimate strength lies - not in how much money or how many shiny objects we can collect, or dare I say it how big our balls are. (which coming from me is ironic seeing as I built a career on a show called Balls of Steel) The transformations I saw in our guys, after a lot of honest soul searching were the most dramatic, even if we did make grown men cry - after all - whats wrong with a few tears eh?
So there we have it, thats what I learnt while filming Man Up. If you have managed to stick with me thus far and haven't felt yourself retching into a bucket then - thank you, well done. Before I get too worthy may I just add the obvious caveat these are just my observations which I'm aware could be, like, completely wrong and a load of utter tripe. Oh, and one last thing - if you find yourself lost on Saturday night why not switch your telly box onto FOX at 7pm and watch me shout maniacally at a load of blokes to 'grow a pair'... then profusely apologising for my own personal failures and follow up with the most poignant question of all 'tell me how you are REALLY feeling'...