Saturday, August 31, 2013

Documentary - The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men

This is an educational documentary meant, I assume, for university campuses. Sounds pretty similar to Jackson Katz's Tough Guise. Here some of the main points of the film, according to the supplemental materials.
Key Points
• The filmmaker admits that he grew up in “bro culture,” pointing to his background in sports and music.
• He then suggests that boys today are being raised in the same sexist ways he was raised.
• But he underlines a key difference between then and now: he claims that the sexism inherent in today’s “bro” culture is far more dangerous than in the past.
• The primary aim of the film, he says, is to understand the variety of ways that this increasingly dangerous strain of sexism continues to be lauded and defined as cool by mainstream media and mainstream male culture.

You can also read a transcript of the film (here)and a study guide for the film (here). Below is a low-resolution full-length preview of the film.

The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men

Filmmaker Thomas Keith, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Long Beach, provides an engrossing look at the forces in male culture that condition boys and men to dehumanize and disrespect women. Breaking down a range of contemporary media forms targeted explicitly at young men, Keith teases out the main maxims of "bro culture" and "the bro code," and examines how this seemingly ironic mentality reinforces misogyny and gender violence in the real world. Whether he's looking at movies and music videos that glamorize womanizing, pornography that trades in the brutalization of women, comedians who make fun of sexual assault, or the recent groundswell in men's magazines and cable TV shows that revel in reactionary myths of American manhood, the message Keith uncovers in virtually every corner of our "entertainment" culture is clear: that it's not only normal -- but cool -- for boys and men to control and humiliate women. Along the way, The Bro Code makes a powerful case that there's nothing normal, natural, or inevitable about this toxic ideal of American manhood, and challenges young people to fight back against the resurgent idea that being a "bro" -- and a man -- means glorifying sexism, bullying, and abuse.

Featuring interviews with Michael Kimmel, Robert Jensen, Shira Tarrant, J.W. Wiley, Douglas Rushkoff, Eric Anderson, and Neal King.

Intro (2:15)
Step 1: Train Men to Womanize (18:03)
Step 2: Immerse Men in Porn (13:25)
Step 3: Make Rape Jokes (11:33)
Step 4: Obey the Masculinity Cops (12:22)

Viewer discretion advised : Contains violent & sexual imagery and profanity.

Filmmaker Info

Written and produced by Thomas Keith
Director of Photography: Michael Enriquez
Additional Photography: Mitch Lemos
Editing: Thomas Keith

Filmmaker's Bio

DR. THOMAS KEITH | Director, Writer, Producer
Dr. Thomas Keith teaches philosophy at California State University, Long Beach and California Polytechnic University. He specializes in American philosophy and pragmatism with an emphasis on issues of race, class, and gender. In 2008, Dr. Keith directed and produced the bestselling film, Generation M: Misogyny in Media and Culture, which is used in classrooms around the world.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Suicide Rate Among College Age Men Is Four Times Greater Than Among Females


Suicide is a decidedly "male" problem in a lot of ways. On the whole, more women than men attempt suicide, but more men than women complete suicide. The problem is most obvious in young men and older men.

In this post at his Psychology Today blog Boys to Men (The science of masculinity and manhood), professor Miles Groth, Ph.D., of Warner College (one of the architects of the Male Studies movement, and editor of New Male Studies), examines the situation surrounding suicide among college-aged men.

If this were reversed, and women were 4x more likely to suicide than men, there would be national campaigns to raise awareness, Oprah would do a special, and President Obama would appoint a committee of morons to look into the issue. But it's only our young men - no worries, if weren't this it would be combat or some other cause.

I suspect there are a lot of areas where Dr. Groth and I diverge in our values and perspectives - but this one topic where we are on the same page. Something must be done about this crisis in our young men.

Young Men Who Commit Suicide

The Suicide Rate Among College Age Men Is Four Times Greater Than Among Females

Published on August 29, 2013 by Miles Groth, Ph.D. in Boys to Men

This week, a popular, successful young man beginning his senior year at a small liberal arts college in the Northeast left campus during one of the first days of the new semester after talking cheerfully with friends and participating in activities for new students. The next morning he was found dead, far away from home and campus. Next to him, the police told reporters, they found a suicide note. It was a "first" for the college, but it is a well-known phenomenon around the country.

Suicides among young males are four times more common than among young female, and they are occurring among ever younger males, some in their early teens. Little is understood about what motivates boys and young men to take their lives in such numbers. Of as great concern is another fact: little effort has been made to understand the trend.

The topic is at the top of the agenda of items for consideration at university and college centers for men. It now becomes another reason for stressing the need for such places on campuses. Among other topics at such centers, which are growing in number, are the relationship between fathers and sons, in particular the impact on young males of not having had a father during boyhood. Other common topics are body image and relationships with women -- and, perhaps most to the point here, their perception of how they are seen as males in contemporary culture.

The psychology of male suicide is not at all well understood, but since late adolescence is a time of identity consolidation, it is thought that being unable to answer the question "Who am I, really?" is a critical feature among college age men who consider suicide. It is also known that young males are more impulsive than females and often act without giving the consequences of their acts much thought. This might include taking a drastic decision to leave this world.

In more than 40 years of college-level teaching, I have observed thousands of young men change remarkably, especially during the last two college years. Generally on a somewhat later timetable that female peers, many undergo significant transformations only during the junior and senior years. They change in appearance, revise their persona, and perhaps for the first time make even a preliminary decision about what they want to study -- and this with only a year remaining. Their female peers have done this much earlier. Some find that they need a fifth year to finally put their intellectual, emotional, and even pre-vocational or pre-professional house in order.

Many other young men have still not decided what they want to do by the time they graduate. They return home to live with their parents -- more than ever before. By contrast, most college women know what they want to do by commencement and head into further study, if they have decided to continue with their education, into a career, or into a serious relationship that might lead to parenting children.

Just what prompts a young man to end his young life at a time when his prospects might be expected to be brightest is baffling -- unless we consider that they are facing a world that may seem not to have a place for them. And they are keenly aware of this. And they are hurt by it. Perhaps just having gotten over the fact that they are not especially welcome on college campuses -- something I have discussed in an earlier contribution -- they now face another world, the real world, that also has little good to say about men. They have all read in popular weeklies or on the internet about "the end of men" or heard the question "Are men necessary?"

As I have reported here before, the numbers of males attending college is at an all time low (about 37% nationally) in proportion to their female peers. This trend has been of concern to admissions officers for twenty years. The reasons are not clear, but they include a sense of not being welcome. But what about a young man who is among that group who matriculated, has found a place for himself on a university campus in a major he enjoys, has been engaged in campus life, and has done well academically? We must suppose that another factor is at work when he leaves in all behind on a warm summer day.

Perhaps the most vexing issue is that colleges and universities have not responded seriously to the fact -- not a guess, not a hunch -- the fact that the rate of young male suicides is so much greater than that of females during the college years. Why this has not become a topic for study and simple human concern is troubling.

I am convinced that men's centers on college campuses by their very presence raise awareness of the challenges young men face -- not only at institutions of higher learning but in contemporary culture as a whole. As a footnote to the incident mentioned at the beginning of this contribution, on hearing about that young man's suicide, an anonymous donor made a gift of $800 to the center to support its work in trying to understand, among other matters, why so many young men are ending their lives.

Here I bring issues of importance to discussion and leave it to others to advocate for policy change. In this case, I raise a question I believe is worth investigating:

Why are so many more young men taking their lives -- even young men with the special advantage of being able to afford to attend university -- and at just that moment when they have finally negotiated some of life's most demanding puzzles: Who am I? What do I want to do? Surely, this question deserves eveyone's thoughtful consideration.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Noah Brand - The Choices We Make Are Not Our Own

This article by Noah Brand appeared over at the Good Men Project a couple of weeks ago. Brand is arguing that a lot of the decisions we make our made outside of our complete control - we are often not even aware of what has influenced a particular choice or decision.

He suggests an answer for how we make some of our decisions:
The usual answer is microaggressions. All the ways that one’s identity, and one’s status, is reflected back over the course of a day. All the ways we’re made to feel less, all the ways we’re reminded of who we’re supposed to be, all the ways we’re put in our place, whatever that place may be. For men, it tends to be little hints that you’re only valued for your money and success, little digs at your masculinity, little reminders that you’re supposed to be in competition with all the other men, and you have to always win.  
. . . . Microaggressions tend to give rise to microinequities, all the million little unfairnesses, the ways one gets the short end of the stick.
There is more than a bit of truth in this. We are constantly exposed to messages that shape and misshape our self-esteem and self-concept. Brand wants us to learn to forgive ourselves (and others) for being at the mercy of influences we cannot identify.

I want to also suggest that we are not fated to live this way. We have a choice. That choice is based in mindfulness. If we can learn to become mindful of our thoughts and feelings, we are much better able to exert conscious control over our decisions. [Download a free copy of Mindfulness in Plain English.]

The Choices We Make Are Not Our Own

AUGUST 14, 2013 

What influences your decisions? Are you sure you know? 
Have you ever watched a cat trying to make a decision? He’ll crouch there, trying to decide whether to jump up on the sofa, his tiny little brain balanced on a knife-edge of choice for a surprisingly long moment. And anything that happens during that moment will visibly tip his decision one way or the other. If the human on the sofa shifts their weight, if another cat enters the room, even if there’s just a soft sound in the distance, that is what makes the cat’s decision for him, whether to leap up on the couch or run off and hide. Cat owners, naturally, learn to manipulate this effect for their own entertainment.

This process is so visible in cats because the operating system their brains are running is so simple. Humans have a much more complex operating system, but we’re subject to the same effects. Indeed, because we’re so complex, ours are much weirder and more subtle.

Take, for example, a recent study at Ohio State University resolved an old conundrum in surveys of campus sexual behavior. For a long time, such surveys have turned up a mathematical problem: women consistently reported a significantly lower number of past sexual partners than men, to the point where the math tended to look rather fishy. The recent study added one factor that had been previously omitted: some participants were hooked up to what they believed was a lie detector. In that test group, the discrepancy between male and female reporting vanished, mostly due to women’s number of partners rising.

That’s interesting, not just because of the data in the new study, but because of what it tells us about the old studies. All those women, knowing perfectly well that the survey was anonymous, knowing that the data was being collected for useful scientific purposes–but still, in that moment of decision where they wrote down a simple number, something consistently swayed them, made them round it down by a partner or two. In that moment, over and over across a statistically significant sample, they’d remember a nasty joke from sixth grade or something their grandma said once, some little thing that made them change their minds.


This effect shows up across a lot of things. It’s even got its own name: stereotype threat. Short version: people will behave like they think they’re expected to behave, in subtle but consistent ways. Remind black students that black people are assumed to be dumb, and they’ll do worse on tests. Remind Asian students that Asians are supposed to be good at math, and they’ll do better at math. Hell, you can make white or black people better or worse at golf  just by picking which stereotype they’re afraid of. None of those examples are made up.

We have the data on this: people’s decisions can be tweaked by small assumptions and stimuli. (If you don’t believe that, watch this video.) So where do these assumptions and ideas come from?

The usual answer is microaggressions. All the ways that one’s identity, and one’s status, is reflected back over the course of a day. All the ways we’re made to feel less, all the ways we’re reminded of who we’re supposed to be, all the ways we’re put in our place, whatever that place may be. For men, it tends to be little hints that you’re only valued for your money and success, little digs at your masculinity, little reminders that you’re supposed to be in competition with all the other men, and you have to always win. For women, it’s little insinuations that you’re not attractive enough, little assumptions about how your looks are your primary form of value, little jokes structured around the idea that you’re not quite a whole person, you’re just a woman. Any one of these isn’t so bad by itself, but they add up, and up, and up.

Microaggressions tend to give rise to microinequities, all the million little unfairnesses, the ways one gets the short end of the stick. As Jackie Summers wrote, you never know when prejudice is making someone else’s decision for them. You don’t get told at the interview “I would never hire you because of my deep-seated prejudices,” you just wait for the phone to ring and it doesn’t.

Microinequities arise from tiny decisions people make based on prejudices they don’t even know they have. The problem isn’t the people who say outright “I sure do distrust black folks,” it’s the ones who vaguely recall stuff they’ve seen on TV and things their peer group sort of takes for granted. Those people would say, and believe, that they have no problem with black people, but somehow when it comes time to make a decision about what to say or who to say it to, that decision gets tipped the wrong way.


We can’t control the factors that stack up in our minds. We can’t control the stereotypes we got taught from the cradle on. We can’t control the pressure of what we think other people expect us to be. We can mitigate it, we can correct for it, we can try to unlearn our bad habits and wrong impressions. But we’re all fallible, and our brains are all running Human OS, and we know that that OS is buggy as hell.

So we need to learn to forgive ourselves. Our choices are not made in a vacuum, and that means they are not and can never be wholly our own choices. We tell the lies we’re trained to tell. We make the mistakes people expect us to make. We fall into the patterns that have been built for us. Recognizing those patterns will help us fall into them less, but nothing can totally free us from a lifetime’s training.

Harder still, we need to forgive others. Their choices may be obnoxious, may be stupid, may be downright ridiculous, but they’re not wholly their own either. We must encourage people to work against their worst impulses, and hold people accountable when they don’t even make an effort to break their toxic patterns, but ultimately, we must be as merciful to others as to ourselves.

That idiot who just did something completely asinine is trapped in what people expect of him, what he thinks he’s supposed to be. Cut the poor guy at least a little slack. After all, you’re only judging him so harshly because you were raised that way.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

British Neo-Pro Soccer Players Much More Accepting of Gay Teammates

In Britain, researchers spoke to 22 young men (age 16-18) on the verge of becoming professional soccer players (footballers). What they found was that all the participants would openly accept one of their colleagues coming out. All of the participants in the study identified as heterosexual and come from the lower to upper working class families.

In the last study to look at this issue (2002), Professor Eric Anderson, of the University of Winchester (who is one of the three co-authors of the new research) found that gay male athletes were tolerated by teammates, "as long as they played the sport well." However, there were no findings of active "support."

This is good to see - British football has traditionally been pretty homophobic, although not quite as much so as U.S. football (not soccer).

This shift seems to speak to the more open and accepting perspectives of the millennial generation, young people who have grown up with gay men and lesbian women in their daily lives. Exposure to people who are "other" reduces the sense of otherness and they become "like me," which is the key to acceptance.

Full Citation:
R. Magrath, E. Anderson, S. Roberts. (2013, Jul 30). On the door-step of equality: Attitudes toward gay athletes among academy-level footballers. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 48(4), 1-18. DOI: 10.1177/1012690213495747

You can read the whole paper at or at the Sage Publications site. For now, here is the abstract followed by a summary of the press release from Science Daily.
In this semi-structured interview research, we investigate the attitudes of 22 academy level association football (soccer) players who are potentially on the verge of becoming professional athletes. We find that, as a result of these men belonging to a generation holding inclusive attitudes towards homosexuality, independent of whether they maintain contact with gay men, they are unanimously supportive of gay men coming out on their team. Thus, this research supports a growing body of literature suggesting that team sport culture is no longer a bastion of homophobia in the UK. Their support includes athletes being unconcerned with sharing rooms with gay players, changing with them in the locker rooms, or relating to them on a social and emotional level. The only apprehension they maintain is that having a gay teammate might somewhat alter homosocial banter, as they would not want to offend that individual.
* * * * *

Generational Shift in Attitudes Among Young Soccer Players Towards Gay Teammates

Aug. 27, 2013 — Young soccer players (footballers) on the verge of becoming professionals are now much more likely to be supportive of gay teammates than a decade ago, according to new research from sociologists at the universities of Kent and Winchester.

Conducted via interviews with 22 Premier League academy footballers aged 16-18, the research found that all the participants would openly accept one of their colleagues coming out.

The research, led by Dr Steven Roberts, of the University of Kent's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, and Professor Eric Anderson, of the University of Winchester's Faculty of Business, Law and Sport, made use of intermittent interviews over a four-month period between November 2012 and February 2013.

All the participants identified themselves as heterosexual in their interview and all said they were from a lower to upper working class background. The study results showed a marked difference in acceptance of gay teammates compared to the findings of the last such study, carried out a decade ago.

Dr Roberts said: 'The interview results were broadly consistent with other recent research on young British men of their age in that these men showed no overt animosity towards gay men.

'In fact, they were more than tolerant and showed an inclusive attitude toward the hypothetical situation of having a gay teammate, best friend or roommate reveal their sexuality. The results are clear: among the 22 future footballers we interviewed, all were unbothered by the issue of gays in sport.

'This indicated a marked shift in perception from the last study. Although there was some evidence then that attitudes were changing, there has been a generational shift over the last decade. Lads now are saying "we would openly support and accept one of our colleagues coming out." '

The last similar research into the attitudes of young sportsmen was carried out in 2002 by Professor Eric Anderson, of the University of Winchester, one of the three co-authors of the new research. His study found that gay male athletes were tolerated by teammates, 'as long as they played the sport well'. However, there were no findings of active 'support'.

Professor Anderson said: 'Recent comments by Robbie Rogers, the former Leeds United footballer who came out but then left the English game to return to play in the US, suggested he didn't know how easy it would have been to make the transition.

'However, our research does suggest that attitudes in the locker room among young British players would lay the foundation for a player to be able to come out.'

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thomas Pluck - How Do We Define Modern Masculinity?

Over at the Good Men Project, Thomas Pluck recently offered a definition of modern masculinity that fits with his beliefs and values. While I like his definition (see below), it is not my definition. And that is where we are right now, I believe, as men. Each of us is trying to find the understanding of being masculine that fits with who we are as human beings. This is a good thing.

How Do We Define Modern Masculinity?

AUGUST 21, 2013 

Thomas Pluck has finally come up with a definition he can live with.

A while back I took the mantra “be the change you want to be in the world” and applied it to manhood. Be the man you want to see next to “man” in the cultural dictionary. But I never thought of actually defining it until I read Alison Nastasi’s article in Flavorwire about 12 Men Who Define Themselves as Masculine (warning, some photos are NSFW).

Not many of the subjects give masculinity a lot of thought; one fellow seems to be trolling, both physically and verbally. For some time, me and my friend Zak Mucha, a LCSW in Chicago, have wrestled with a new definition of manhood to appeal to young men seeking elusive role models. “Protecting the weak” implies value judgments that aren’t always easy to make. Can a strongman be oppressed? Does that make him weak? And so on. It needed to be simpler. I needed to distill my thoughts on masculinity to a single short sentence.

I came up with “applying strength toward justice.”

Because what differentiates man from woman, besides a chromosome? If we strip all cultural conventions and socializations, if we try to imagine Skinner-box grown lab creatures, one is larger and has more upper body strength. The other has lower body strength and a different kind of endurance. I read that farm families who couldn’t afford oxen once had the woman pull the plow and the man steer, using the upper and lower body strength advantages as one. I’m not looking to plow any fields without a roto-tiller, but I like the image that conjures, two parts working as a finely tuned machine, using both sets of advantages equally.

When we distill it down to that, we see men are born with physical power. And with great power comes great responsibility. I’ve always seen that as a duty to protect, but that is an equally feminine trait. Get between a tiger and her cub and see what happens. The difficulty comes with strength leading to a sense of entitlement. As a hulking man-brute, I find myself pondering the shackles of civilization, where intellectual and monetary might have been given a more solid footing than the physical. When someone cuts in line and flips me off because he knows socking him in the face will put me in the hoosegow, for a split second, I think maybe civilization had it wrong. That my strength entitles me to a higher respect. And that is of course, a bunch of grade-A bullshit.


Respect may be earned, but it is not by physical strength. Courtesy should be universal, but in a society that worships personal freedom, we have to accept that some will abuse that freedom to be discourteous, knowing that the law will protect them when in an earlier time, their behavior would earn a black eye. Might makes right sounds great until you realize there is always someone bigger and badder than you. If you abuse your physical strength to get your way, you are on borrowed time until that bigger person comes along. Flaunting that power eventually gets you the lead role in a cautionary tale.

Justice is of course, a debatable topic, but the Golden Rule remains a fine guide. We may not always feel like the stronger one. In fact, with the rules we accept as citizens, we can often feel weaker and disadvantaged when we certainly are not. It is difficult to sacrifice personal gain for the greater good. That’s why we call it sacrifice. It also sometimes chafes to be lumped with men who behave badly, when we would never do the same. Serving as the good example doesn’t always have immediate benefits, but in the long run it benefits us all.


photo: bohman / flickr

Also by Thomas Pluck:

Monday, August 26, 2013

The New Young Studs of Men's Road Cycling

[Tejay van Garderen following his win at the 2013 Tour of California]

Professional men's road cycling has been a sport stuck in its own rear-view mirror for the past several years as it deals with coordinated doping among its teams and its star riders, with disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong serving as its poster boy for cheating and narcissism.

As that generation recedes into memory (only a few of Lance's contemporaries are still riding), there are several bright young - and presumably clean - riders who are poised to become the sports new stars - Tejay van Garderen, Peter Sagan, Taylor Phinney, Nairo Quintana, Thibaut Pinot, Andrew Talansky, and many others.

Two of these young studs were in Colorado last week for the USA Pro Challenge.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), who had placed third and second over the last two years, cemented his win with a tough individual time trial that ran uphill between Vail and the top of Vail Pass. Tejay rode the 16.1 km (10 mile) course in a new course record of 25 minutes and one second, edging fellow American Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) by just four seconds.

Tejay also won the Amgen Tour of California this year, in addition to these top ten finishes in some of Europe's big races:

2nd, Overall, Tour de San Luis
3rd, Overall, Critérium International
1st, Jersey white.svg Young rider classification
4th, Overall, Paris–Nice
7th, Overall, Tour de Suisse

van Garderen is the brightest young star in American cycling right now, but Talansky and Phinney have been showing the talent and the drive to also excel at the international level.

The other young stud, and one of the more popular riders among the fans, was Peter Sagan, who won all four of the sprint stages at this year's USA Pro Challenge, adding to what has been a very impressive year so far. Sagan didn't just win the sprints, he dominated.

The wheelie is becoming his trademark celebration - he did this during a stage of the Tour de France as he passed a section of the road lined by his fellow Slovaks.

Among his other wins this year:

1st MaillotSlovakia.gif National Road Race Championships (Slovakia)
1st Gent–Wevelgem
1st Brabantse Pijl
1st Gran Premio Città di Camaiore
USA Pro Cycling Challenge
1st Jersey green.svg Sprints classification
1st Stages 1, 3, 6 & 7
Tour of California
1st Jersey green.svg Sprints classification
1st Stages 3 & 8
Tour of Oman
1st Stages 2 & 3
1st Stages 3 & 6
Tour de Suisse
1st Jersey polkadot.svg Points classification
1st Stages 3 & 8
Tour de France
1st Jersey green.svg Points classification
1st Stage 7
1st Stage 1 Three Days of De Panne
2nd Strade Bianche
2nd Milan – San Remo
2nd E3 Harelbeke
2nd Tour of Flanders

Sagan is young (23) and his body is not finished developing. Also, he is not a pure sprinter. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the next three to five years

Unless one of these young guys gets nailed for doping (and I would not ever suggest that cycling is "clean" all of a sudden), there are a lot of young talented riders to be excited about, and three of those young studs are American riders.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Discussing Purpose in Life with Very Old Men (80+ Years Old)

As part of the Umeå 85+ study in the north of Sweden, which focused on the health and outlook of the very old, researches combed the data to try to understand how older men look at purpose in life. From the original sample, twenty-three men who were administered the purpose in life (PIL) scale narrated about their meaning or purpose in life. Eight of the participants were 85 years old, ten were 90 years old, and five were 95 years of age or older.
The participants talked about purpose in life from various perspectives, which were categorized into three main discourses: 1) Talking of purpose of life in general, including the categories work, struggle, forming a family, and confidence, 2) Talking of own purpose in life, including the categories happiness, adaptation, and looking forward, and 3) Reflecting on purpose in life including the categories limited meaning, health, an honorable life, and the ability to face death.
This is an interesting study.

I'm not sure I want to live to be 90 or older*, but it feels like a good thought exercise to imagine myself at that age and looking back on what I felt to be the meaning or purpose in my life.

I do not have a family and never wanted children. Generally I have sought work I can enjoy rather than work that makes me a lot of money. And unlike these men, the idea of an honorable life has never occurred to me. From this alone, my reflections will be different than many of these men, and rightfully so since I half their age.

[* Unless I am still healthy in body and mind.]

Full Citation:
Hedberg, P. , Gustafson, Y. , Brulin, C. and Aléx, L. (2013). Purpose in life among very old men. Advances in Aging Research, 2(3), 100-105. doi: 10.4236/aar.2013.23014

Purpose in life among very old men

Pia Hedberg, Yngve Gustafson, Christine Brulin, and Lena Aléx

Copyright © 2013 Pia Hedberg et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This paper provides very old men’s experiences of and reflections on purpose in life. The answers from an interview question about purpose in life from 23 men were analyzed by using qualitative content analysis. The results revealed three content areas: talking of purpose of life in general, talking of own purpose in life and reflections on purpose in life. Our findings showed that very old men experienced purpose in life most strongly when remembering the past and describing their earlier work. The old men reflected on purpose in life not just from their own individual perspectives, but also from a more reflective and analytic perspective.


This study is part of the Umeå 85+ study in the north of Sweden, which focuses on health and outlook on life in the very old. The research in the Umeå 85+ study has resulted in several theses e.g. [1-5] describing the very old from various perspectives—both the good aging and the threats against the good aging. The intent of this study was to describe how very old men experience and reflect on purpose in life. In the first part of the 20th century, men and women lived mainly in separate spheres; being a man in Sweden was characterized by being the breadwinner of the family, while being a woman was characterized by taking care of the children and the household [6]. Hirdman [7] pointed out that in Swedish society men have usually been seen as the norm and have been more highly valued than women. Her theory, however, was grounded on men and women who still active in society. Research into various life experiences among older men is lacking. Courtney [8] has found that old men do not fully use the physical and mental health services available for their physical and mental health needs, nor do they seek medical help as often as women. Courtenay [9] also suggests that men commonly suffer in silence, deal with their problems alone, and may refuse to seek medical help because their ideas about normative masculinity demand an appropriately stoic behavior from a man. However, gender researchers have pointed out that there is more than one masculinity, and these various masculinities can be constructed in different ways depending on historical and societal circumstances [10,11].

Knodel and Ofstedal [12] argue that old men are made invisible in research about old people and that it is necessary to focus on this group. Calasanti and King [13] suggest that old men struggle not only against society’s attitudes toward very old people, but also against society no longer seeing them as men, as age quickly overshadows gender in how they are viewed. Because old men tend both to keep silent about their needs and to be overlooked by society, it is important that their lives and perceptions be further researched.

The very old age group in Sweden is increasing, and the average life expectancy for men at birth in Sweden is now 78.4 years [14]. Research on purpose in life in the elderly has been carried out in various ways. For example Pinquart [15] found that having a high quantity and quality of social contacts are associated with higher purpose in life among older people.

Earlier research has shown that men aged over 75 years who live alone were more isolated than women and had less developed social networks compared to women in the same age [16,17]. Davidson et al. [17] showed that old men in day centers are not involved in social organizations to the same extent as older women. Because social contacts have been shown to be associated with purpose in life and old men live more isolated lives, we were interested in studying old men’s experiences of purpose in life.

Purpose or meaning in life is a psychological construct that refers to people’s ability to find meaning in their life experiences and their everyday situations [18]. Frankl [18] posited the will to find meaning as the primary driving force for all human beings. Failure to find meaning in life, he wrote, produces negative psychological effects, especially feelings of boredom and emptiness, described as an existential vacuum [19].

Several cross-sectional studies of purpose in life in middle-aged men focus on the association between purpose in life and various health problems that men may live with, for example HIV [20,21], recovery from knee surgery [22], and spinal cord injury [23]. An earlier study within the Umeå 85+ study focused on purpose in life among very old women [24], but as far as we know no study has yet described experiences of purpose in life among very old men.

Research in purpose in life in very old men is very sparse and should be further investigated. The aim of this study, therefore, is to illuminate very old men’s experiences of and reflections on purpose in life.


This study was performed in the years 2000 and 2002 and included people living in a medium-sized town and surrounding rural areas in a county in northern Sweden. As part of the Umeå 85+ project [1,2], invitation to participate was extended to all individuals aged 95 or over, all individuals aged 90, and every second individual aged 85. The inclusion criteria were age, being able to answer Likert-type questionnaires, and having the strength to participate in interviews. The participants were assured confidentiality and anonymity in the presentation of the results, and they were assured they could withdraw from the study without having to give a reason. The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Medical Faculty, Umeå University (Um dnr 99-326, 00-171).

2.1. Participants

Of the 69 men who had answered the purpose in life (PIL) scale [24], 51 were interviewed about various aspects of their experiences of becoming and being very old. These interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. In the first step of the selection of the text, all the text containing various aspects of their lives, such as experiences of aging, difficult and positive life events, and PIL from 30 interviews (10 interviews from those measuring highest and 10 from those measuring lowest and 10 from those who had estimated themselves as average of the PIL scale) was analyzed. After this first analysis of all the text only the text from the specific questions about PIL was chosen for analysis. Twenty-three men out of 30 had narrated about their meaning of purpose in life and these narratives were included in this study. Eight of the participants were 85 years old, ten were 90 years old, and five were 95 years of age or older. A majority of the men lived alone (n = 18), five lived in an institution, ten were independent in activities in daily life (ADL), two had impaired reading vision, and ten of the men had impaired hearing. None of the men included in the study was diagnosed as depressed.

2.2. Data Collection

The participants were informed about the study and invited to take part by letter and by telephone. Initially, the participants answered a number of questionnaires, including the Purpose in Life test [25]. On a second occasion specific to this study, about one week later, narrative interviews were performed at the participants’ homes. The interviews lasted between 30 and 90 minutes each and were conducted by two men and five women, all nurse researchers belonging to the same research team. In this study, we focus on answers from the specific questions asked about purpose in life.

2.3. Analysis

The interviews were analyzed using qualitative content analysis a method useful in analysis of person’s experiences, reflections, and attitudes as described by [26- 28]. In the first step all the text about PIL was read through by two of the authors to obtain an overall picture of how purpose in life was narrated. The interviews were divided into “meaning units” (sentences and fragments with latent meanings), codes, and categories, and sorted into three content areas. Thereafter we looked for discourses about the way PIL was being addressed and “talked” about. The analysis was performed separately by two of the authors and discussed in depth by two of the authors until consensus was reached. To confirm the results, the categories and the found discourses (as shown in Table 1) were discussed and reflected upon several times by all the authors. The results are presented in three content areas with underlying categories illustrated by quotations.


The participants talked about purpose in life from various perspectives, which were categorized into three main discourses: 1) Talking of purpose of life in general, including the categories work, struggle, forming a family, and confidence, 2) Talking of own purpose in life, including the categories happiness, adaptation, and looking forward, and 3) Reflecting on purpose in life including the categories limited meaning, health, an honorable life, and the ability to face death.

3.1. Talking of Purpose of Life in General

Table 1. Content areas and categories.
Work was stressed as an important source of purpose for men who had worked hard earlier in life, whose work had dominated their lives, and who described themselves as “workaholics.” Work building their own homes was very important to their experiences of purpose in life, as were feelings of self-respect and personal worth from their previous work: “Purpose in life is primarily work. I had a fantastic job and I was keen to manage my job well.” The men had experienced hard times and lack of resources, and their earlier lives were described as dominated by hard work.

Struggle was expressed in terms of the struggle for money, and this struggle gave the very old generation strength and purpose. “In my childhood there was never 25 cents left, and that was of course a hard time.” While they were proud of their earlier struggles, the old men felt that younger people did not respect or appreciate the older generation’s hard work to survive. Some thought that people today made too much money for too little effort compared with the old days when it was much harder to earn a living.

Forming a family was also a main purpose in life— both living with a loving wife and feeling that the marriage had been totally perfect without any disputes. One man’s purpose in life was expressed in terms of the joy of having married, settled down, and “created a family.”

One man said: “I met my lovely wife, and we have had it very nice together and got very nice children and grandchildren, so it has always been positive.” Having children and grandchildren was stressed as important for purpose in life. One man talked about how taking care of his grandchild for long periods contributed to his having a purpose in life.

To have confidence in relation to other people, society, and a higher power were stressed as important for experiencing purpose in life as a whole. The confidence in God was expressed as the ability during life to rely on God and place everything in God’s hands. To have confidence and rely on God made both daily news and the reality of death understandable, as one man said: “When I read the newspaper and see all the obituaries, I feel confident that there is a higher power, and this faith gives me strength.”

3.2. Talking of Own Purpose in Life

Experiencing purpose in life was also described as being happy in everyday life and thinking positively in every situation. Making the most of one’s day was expressed as a purposeful act: “I see the positive in every day, and tomorrow is a new day.” Finding joy in everyday situations and taking each day as it comes were important for purpose in life: “I take the day as it comes. I never dig myself into things. I always see things from the bright side. I go to the shop and talk to people.”

Being able to adapt to bodily changes, to continue to feel satisfied in life despite functional decline, and maintaining everyday activities were also mentioned as contributing to purpose in life: “For me, purpose in life is being able to get up in the morning and get dressed. That is worth a great deal. If you can’t do that and you just lay in bed, there would be no purpose in life at all.” Adaption was described by one man who expressed relief about knowing that he would soon move into an apartment in a block with services for the elderly and not have to worry about his daily shopping anymore.

Continuing with hobbies was also stressed as giving purpose in life: “I went fishing this spring in the river, and I got seven large graylings, and I have fish left in the freezer. I have always had this as a hobby.” Looking forward, continuing with life, and making plans for the future despite very old age were important. One man’s plans for the summer and for the future were especially ambitious: “I have very clear goals and purpose; I have announced that I will plant six acres of forest.” Maintaining interest in life and what is happening in the world and looking ahead contributed to meaningfulness. Despite the fact that some of the men were prevented by disability from continuing to work outside the home, it was still important to feel that they could do their duty to make life meaningful: “I have to fill in my income-tax return and do my duty.”

3.3. Reflection on Purpose in Life

Reflections on purpose in life included questioning whether there was a purpose in life at all, feelings of complete boredom, and the sense that every day was exactly the same as the day before. The view that purpose in life was limited was expressed assertions that all humans were totally bound by heredity and environment and was therefore powerless to do or say anything to change that fact. “Well, you see, I have in fact given up on everything.”

Reflecting on purpose in life in relation to their physical abilities, the men talked about their treatment by other people who see them as no longer physically capable. “Since I retired, it is like I have to break in to get my voice heard in a conversation.” Within this category they stressed the importance of being healthy, both for themselves and for their families.

Living an honorable life, being good to others, knowing they had done their best and been decent were important to feeling purpose in life: “Just to live decently, you don’t need to live like a king.” Some men said it was important to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Living an exciting and challenging life was also seen to contribute to purpose in life. One man talked about his experiences of traveling around the world and seeing different things as an old man; however, he wondered whether traveling could be the purpose in life, or whether it was just something fun or pleasurable to do. “It was nice to travel, but I’m not really sure if this is really the meaning, because before we had those opportunities to travel, there was also meaning in life.” The narratives indicated that the men experienced more purpose in life when they were younger. “When I was younger I wanted so much. I wanted to go forward, so I think purpose in life was greater then.” The men reflected on why people are born, work all their life, and then die, and what might happen after death. Their reflections upon death were told without any fear and with acceptance that there was nothing they could do to avoid it. “You have to face death when it comes.”


The aim of the study was to illuminate very old men’s experiences of and reflections on purpose in life. The results revealed three content areas: purpose of life as a whole; purpose in everyday life; and reflections on purpose in life. The joy of work was prominent in almost all of the narratives and pride in previous work was stressed as important to purpose in life. From the historical perspective, in the first part of the 19th century “being a man” entailed being the provider and usually the sole financial support for the household [6]. These men’s emphasis on their own physical hard work as important for purpose in life can be seen in light of Connell’s [29] (1995) theory of hegemonic masculinity, which is the masculinity that is the most valued in a specific historical society and requires all men to position themselves in relation to it [10]. Men’s emphasis on the importance of work in this study was probably influenced by the importance of the traditional role requirement of a man to be a strong man. The men had also experienced poverty as children, and their lives were characterized by that hard work was a possibility to increase their economic status.

The men told with pride how they had built their own houses and created their homes. Russell [30] reported that older men and women discuss the meaning of home differently. Men attribute their feelings for home in terms of building and renovating their physical houses, which they see as identical to forming the home. The meaning of home for women, on the other hand, is deeply connected to their personal identities: women see the home as both an extension of themselves and the place where they should be [30].

The men described their ability to adapt as important to their ability to experience purpose in life. Men who belonged to the oldest old spoke of adapting in terms of the importance of being able to get up and get dressed. Baltes and Baltes [31] have constructed a model of successful aging called selective optimization with compensation (SOC). The SOC model builds on the assumption that throughout life people have both opportunities and limitations, including illnesses that can be managed or mastered by using a combination of the three components of the model: selection, optimization, and compensation [31]. Freud and Baltes [32] found that people who used SOC life-management behaviors such as compensation were more satisfied in life. Reflecting on past achievements to reconnect to associated self-respect and personal worth is one way older people may independently, or with use of the SOC model use as a strategic model for maintaining purpose in life.

Our study showed that the oldest old men experienced and reflected over purpose in life which can be seen as a contradiction to other descriptions of belonging to the oldest old as for instance in Ferrucci et al., [33] who describe that very old people just tend to be described as a homogenous group with functional decline and high consumption of health care resources. Calasanti and King [13] have reflected over how old men are described in media. They argued that a more refined form of agism is an attempt to portray old men in a more positive light by setting up middle-aged men as the standard of virility and health. Doing so the description of being a man seems not be congruent with being old in reality. Green [34] argued that views on very old men are focused on the predominant effort to understand men’s aging bodies and health problems, in particular their medical problems. He means that it t is vitally important that very old men are seen as a heterogeneous group with various levels of strength and abilities instead of a homogeneous group defined by frailty [34]. Our study shows that in spite of their very old age, the oldest old men do experienced purpose in life.

Our study shows the importance of having hobbies and making future plans in maintaining purpose in life. Being healthy was stressed as important for purpose in life. Healthy aging is a complex process of adapting to physical, psychological, and social changes across the life span [35]. According to Rowe and Khan’s [36] model of healthy aging, it is necessary for older people to play an active role in maintaining their physical and mental health and to optimize their capacity as much as possible until the end of life and Purpose in life has long been hypothesized to be an important determinant for physical health and well-being [37]. Thus, these concepts seem to be closely interrelated.

This study shows that very old men experience purpose in life mainly when remembering the past and when making future plans, which is in contrast to the Hedberg et al. [38] study of purpose in life in very old women. The women in that study seemed to enjoy life and were grateful even for small daily things, such as having the strength to wipe off the table. The women expressed purpose in life as taking the day as it comes, and having family and friends around for a chat was seen as purposeful, while the men’s narratives of purpose in life focused mainly on their previous work. Very old men and women seem to find purpose in life in different terms, with very old men finding purpose in life either in the past or in the future, and very old women finding purpose in the present and their everyday life. Men, however, seem to reflect more over the concept purpose in life than women do [5]. This finding may be interpreted as men are socialized to become reflecting subjects, while women are socialized to become immanent objects.

One man in our study expressed negative feelings about purpose in life and said that he had practically given up. From the perspective of Frankl [18], he can be seen as living in an existential vacuum and; from a biological medical perspective he is likely depressed. It is essential in the care of very old men and women to help them maintain purpose in life in order to prevent the risk of existential vacuum, which can lead to psychological ill-health. Purpose in life seems to be relevant and worth being reflected on for very old men even in their latest part of life. Likewise if there were statements that showed that purpose in life was connected to faith in god, no men told about that in addition to purpose in life there also could be a purpose in death.


For this study we analyzed data about purpose in life from 23 men who completed the PIL questionnaire. Throughout the process we discussed the analysis and our interpretation in depth, both among the authors and within a seminar group, in order to ensure that we did not over-interpret the text. Our analysis is also strengthened by our first analysis of 30 interviews. The PIL scores among the 23 included men ranging from 77 to 134, and can therefore be seen as a representative sample of all men answering the PIL test (n = 69) in the larger study. One limitation of this study is that the participants were a selected group of cognitively healthy individuals who cannot be assumed to be representative of the entire population of very old people. However, we believe that our results may be transferable to other very old people in a similar context.


Our findings showed that very old men talked about PIL in various ways. They experienced purpose in life most strongly when remembering the past and describing their earlier work. The old men also reflected on purpose in life not just from their own individual perspectives, but also from a more reflective and analytic perspective. From a nursing perspective it ought to be of importance to listen to, and open up for how old men talk about PIL for enhancing their possibility to either experience PIL, or their ability to create PIL in their everyday life.


We are grateful an anonymous referee for helpful comments. All errors are ours.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Bruno: Complexes Made Simple (T-Nation)

Here is an excellent from T-Nation on the benefits and methods of doing complexes, a series of exercises performed with the same weight that generally hit the full body or the lower body, done without rest between exercises.

An example might be as follows:
A1: Deadlift
A2: Hang Clean
A3: Push Press
A4: Front Squat
A5: Bent Row
Whichever exercise requires the lowest weight to get 5-8 reps will the weight you use for the complex (the one I created above is particularly brutal).

With complexes, you get the benefit of strength training with the conditioning of cardio, and you don't have to be on the treadmill for an hour.

Complexes Made Simple

by Ben Bruno – 7/30/2013

Here's what you need to know. . .
  • Complexes are a great way to build muscle, boost conditioning, and burn body fat while avoiding the boring cardio section of the gym.
  • Despite popular belief, the goal of the complex should be to add weight to the bar, not perform it faster. Too much emphasis on speed can lead to shoddy technique.
  • Complexes are a good way to push your limits in a relatively safe way, provided you do them correctly. There are 10 guidelines you need to follow.
Despite the name, complexes -- a series of exercises performed in succession with a single implement -- shouldn't be complex. To put together an effective complex that builds muscle and slashes body fat, you just need to follow a few simple guidelines.

Why Should You Use Complexes?

They're a great fat loss and conditioning tool, especially for lifters who cringe at the thought of traditional "gerbil" cardio like the bike, elliptical, Stairmaster, or treadmill.

Complexes are far less boring to perform as the cardio is "masked" as lifting, which is much more palatable for most meatheads. 
They're a good option for a quick workout when you're crunched for time. "I only have 20 minutes to work out" is no longer a valid excuse to skip the gym. They also make for a viable option for in-season athletes. 
They're a good chance to work on technique. Because complexes require using significantly lighter weights than what you'd normally use in your strength work, you get a chance to work on your form without your ego getting in the way. 
For banged up folks, it's a chance to do exercises you might not otherwise be able to do. If you have exercises you love doing but run into problems when you do them heavy, you often can do lighter versions of them in a complex without issue. Many times it's not the exercise that's problematic but the load. Cut down the load substantially and you can then perform the exercise without pain. 
It's a great alternative to a deload workout. I loathe deload workouts. I either like to train hard or skip the gym altogether. Complexes allow you to lift hard and get the feeling of pushing yourself without beating up your joints, making it a good option for days where you're ready to get after it mentally, but physically aren't feeling quite up to snuff. 
They're a good way to test your mettle. Complexes can be downright brutal. While you shouldn't approach every workout with the intent to kick the crap out of yourself, no one has ever gotten better by being a pussy. Sometimes you have to forget what the textbooks say, ditch the script, and just see what the hell you're made of.

That's not free reign to be reckless, and many dudes run into problems by being knuckleheads in the name of being "hardcore." However, complexes are a good way to push your limits in a relatively safe way, provided you do them correctly.

10 Complex Principles

I say "principles" rather than rules because one of the beauties of complexes is that they offer a lot of freedom and leeway to construct them according to your personal preferences and goals.

That said, there are some guidelines to follow:

1. Form still matters.

I hate seeing people use poor form in the name of trying to be more "metabolic."

No matter what program you're following or what your goal is, good form still matters. Just because the weights are lighter and you're trying to burn fat and improve your conditioning doesn't mean you should lift like a spaz.

Use a full range of motion and always make sure you're in control of the weight and not just flinging it around -- quality over quantity.

2. Time isn't a good way to gauge progress.

With some programs, the workout and the load remain consistent and the goal is to complete the workout faster, with a better time indicating improvement.

To me, that's a misguided way to gauge progress because all it tells me is that you used shittier form and rushed through it. So while you may think you're getting better, you're really just shortchanging yourself and needlessly risking injury.

Instead, aim to increase the load you use for the complex while still maintaining good form. In most cases -- not just complexes -- adding weight to the bar is the best form of progress.

You could also do things like add more rounds or decrease the rest period between rounds, but don't rush the complexes themselves.

3. Complexes should either have a full body focus or a lower body focus.

Upper body complexes sound good in theory but don't work very well in practice. The upper body doesn't have the same endurance capacity as the legs, meaning you can't challenge yourself nearly to the same degree without dropping the weights to almost pitiful levels.

You can certainly include upper body exercises in a complex, but make sure to alternate them with lower body exercises for a full-body training effect.

Alternatively, lower body complexes work well as a way to blast the legs while also jacking up the metabolism. The downside to them is that you might also jack up your lunch. Consider yourself warned.

4. If you're using Olympic lifts, put them first in the complex and do no more than five reps.

Olympic lifts can work well in a complex and are a great way to work on technique with lighter loads. However, doing them in a fatigued state late in a complex or doing them for higher reps is a bad idea due to the technical nature of the exercises.

5. Put the hardest exercises early in the complex.

"Hardest" refers to technically demanding lifts such as the Olympic lifts, along with exercises that require using lighter loads. Do those while you're still fresh.

6. For full body complexes, alternate between lower and upper body exercises.

This gives the upper body a chance to rest (at least to some extent) while you do your lower body exercise, and vice versa, which in turn allows you to extend the complex without fizzling out.

7. Try to order the exercises in a way that flows.

Nothing kills your complex mojo like an awkward transition between exercises. Instead, try to structure the complex such that one exercise flows seamlessly into the next so you can maintain a good rhythm.

An example of an awkward transition would be a barbell row into a back squat -- you have to clean the weight and put it over your head before you can start squatting.

Examples of better transitions might be a push press into a back squat, a front squat into a military press, or a barbell row into a deadlift because they don't require extra steps to get into position.

8. Avoid choosing exercises that require a significant reduction in weight as compared to the other exercises.

The load you use for a complex is going to be limited by the weakest exercise, so try to avoid picking exercises that require drastic weight drops so you don't shortchange the whole complex.

For example, rather than a military press, you may be better off with a push press. Similarly, you might be better off using a power curl instead of strict biceps curl, or a high pull instead of an upright row.

This point applies more so to upper body exercises as these tend to be the weakest links.

9. Try to give your grip a break.

Grip often becomes the limiting factor in how much weight you can use in a complex because the weight never leaves your hands. So whenever possible, give your grip a little reprieve by interspersing exercises that allow you to rest the weight on your shoulders -- such as squats, front squats, and lunges -- in between more grip-intensive exercises.

10. Combo exercises can be great.

I'm typically not a fan of combo exercises (i.e. squat to press) for strength work, but they tend to work very well in complexes where strength isn't the primary goal.

Sample Complexes

Abiding by these principles, here are four sample complexes for you to try. That is, if you're up for it. Wussies need not apply.

Barbell Complex

Here, Eirinn Dougherty does 5 hang cleans, 10 reverse lunges with a front squat grip (5 per leg), 10 push presses, 10 squats, 10 high pulls, and 10 Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) all in succession without putting the bar down.

Eirinn makes it look easy, but trust me, it's anything but. Get the puke bucket ready. 
Landmine Complex

Here Kevin Anderson uses the landmine to crank out 10 squat-to-presses, 10 single-arm presses per arm, 10 single-leg RDLs per leg, 10 single-arm rows per arm, and 10 reverse lunges per leg, all without letting the bar touch the floor.

Holding the thick part of the barbell really challenges your grip strength, but because the complex is composed primarily of unilateral exercises, one arm rests while the other works, allowing you to extend the set.

Trap Bar Complex

Here's a complex I like using the trap bar or Dead-Squat™ Bar that absolutely fries the legs: 10 split squats (5 per leg), 10 RDLs, and 10 low handle trap bar deadlifts.

For the final leg of the trap bar deadlifts, focus on getting your hips low and almost try to squat the weight up to keep the stress on the quads for a total leg blitz when combined with the RDLs. 
Barbell Leg Complex

This one's a real doozy so you'll want to wear your big boy panties. Ten reverse lunges with a front squat grip, 10 front squats, and 10 squats, done as one continuous set.

Kevin knocks that sucker out with 225 pounds on the bar, which is no joke:

Put It To Work

Now that you have the guidelines to put together your own complex and even have a few to try, it's all on you now to put in the work.