Unf**k Your Sh*t
“Hey man, it’s time you unf**k your sh*t. Everyone has a sh*t bucket. Different people; different sizes. When the bucket is full, it spills everywhere. It needs to be cleaned up. If you don’t get your sh*t together you’re no good for yourself and no good to others.” (Bob, Tim, Tony)
I have worked with many men transitioning from military to civilian life for over 15 years. They have been among my best teachers. For many of them the transition wasn’t easy. In fact, it was a significant challenge. In a sense it was like letting go of one trapeze to catch the next one, a process which cannot take place without a moment of breathless suspension in mid-air. It may be about letting go of a job, a career, a course of action or an identity, before the next trapeze is in your hand, even before you are certain about the next step
It was in my work with men in the military that I met Tony, Bob and Tim, men who taught me a lot about courage, compassion, conviction, and commitment. They each confronted their transition, determined to move on in life. It was those men who also taught me about ‘unf**king your sh*t’. (I spoke with each of them about it.) In the military, it means dropping the baggage; it’s whatever keeps a guy from getting the job done; letting go of a pre-military life, a life of being your own man in order to be one of the soldiers; moving from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ It’s not an easy transition, but it’s essential to the well-being of the whole troop. However, ‘unf**king your sh*t’ can also refer to other life transitions—trying to move on, to make change, or to deal with loss and struggling to do so.
Many of the military men I worked with felt that something in life was holding them back, preventing them from letting go, from catching the next trapeze. For them, features of their lives got in the way—the impact of trauma they had experienced; the grief and loss inherent when a brother died in their arms; fear of failure; a sense of confusion regarding what to do next; doubt that life would ever be good again; loneliness in their own stories and truth of their military experience; anger and a sense of betrayal for the price they paid; an awareness that something had changed inside them that meant they could never go back to being who they were before they joined the military. It was about change and about getting unstuck. Who was I as a soldier? Who am I as a civilian with military experience? Who am I as a man? It was no longer about conforming, but about finding their way.
Civilian life is similarly full of transitions—in relationships, education, training and work, and in being responsible citizens. Every day we are confronted with issues pertinent to being a man: issues pertaining to relationships (partners, kids, parents, siblings, friends, employers, colleagues), earning a living, providing for others, and making a positive contribution to family and community. It’s big. And it’s easy to get stuck. Taking action can be challenging. There are so many ‘yes, buts’. Yes, but I didn’t come from a strong family; yes, but I don’t know how to be the dad I want to be; yes, but I don’t have the training for the job I would like to do; yes, but I don’t even know what kind of a job I want; yes, but it’s easier to stay home than to go out there and look for work. Most transitions begin when something in life no longer works. Where do I start?
Mark Nepo1, author, poet and philosopher, refers to the writing of David Peat, a physicist, who wrote about the buffalo on the prairies: “The buffalo fed on the buffalo grass that was fertilized by their own droppings. This grass had deep roots bound to the earth and was resistant to drought.”2 Nepo states that the “ever-humbling cycle of growing strong roots comes from eating what grows from our own sh*t, from digesting and processing our own humanity. Like the buffalo, we are nourished by what sprouts from our own broken trail. What we trample and leave behind fertilizes what will feed us. No one is exempt.”1
‘Unf**king your sh*t’ begins with recognizing it for what it is—a strong emotion that has never been expressed; something in the past that is holding you hostage; a thought that is believed to be a fact; a fear of change that keeps you stuck in what is familiar regardless of how uncomfortable or painful that might be. Each of those can serve as an eclipse of what is possible. Yet there is no reason why past ‘sh*t’ can’t become fertile ground for a productive future: After the eclipse—the light.
When it’s necessary to unplug a toilet or a sink, boost the battery of a car, or build a deck, guys don’t have any trouble asking other guys for help. It’s what guys do. That’s also true with regards to going for a hike, getting a bunch of guys together for sports, or going for a beer after work. It’s not so true when guys are lost, feel stuck in their work, are unhappy in a relationship, or wonder about what to do next in their lives.
The transition from one trapeze to the next is made easier by the knowledge that you have a strong net—a support system—below you. Trust the insight of being stuck, hold on to the intention, desire and determination to change, take action, persist: Ask for help—from a friend, a family member, a professional—someone you can trust to give you an honest answer, that could serve as a guide. Transitions are about change; change is challenging, and possible. When alone we can be more easily broken; when we are together we are strong.
- Nepo, Mark, The Book of Awakening, Conari Press, 2011
- Peat, David, Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Worldview, Phanes Press, 2002, p. 25
Submitted by David Kuhl, Tony Spiess, Tim Garthside and Bob Sutherland
Graciously written on behalf of he Canadian Men’s Health Foundation for Canadian Men’s Health Week 2017