What Project Alpha Means To Me

I find that as I get older, my biggest challenge is getting somewhere in life while retaining some semblance of my principles.

Not too long ago, I had the old idealist’s existential crisis of one day realizing that, seemingly, everything in life involves compromise. For example, my distaste for marriage and having children may complicate finding a long-lasting relationship. Or I may not be able to find completely socially redeeming employment that pays acceptably. Such complications may pose an impediment to my happiness. And I want happiness, don’t I?

A fatalism gripped me: if ideals will only complicate and hamper my life, is it perhaps natural to abandon them? And am I therefore, to any degree, more or less predestined to do so? And is this somehow permission to let it happen? Perhaps, if I find the right woman, or the right grass-fed beef distributor, or the right Democrat….I could just….let that principle go….go away….away from me….

In a way, part of this is true: I am disarmed somewhat in life, and disadvantaged, by having principles (I don’t call them ideals anymore). Where another person would act or speak without hesitation, I might require a moment. This has led to lapses in my self-esteem, to feelings of being inferior, and even to occasional bouts of insecurity bordering on paranoia, that I was being judged harshly by those I sought to emulate in their decisiveness and seeming clarity of thought.

In reality, 99% of them hadn’t manifested one iota of harsh judgment for me, except perhaps for my self-deprecation, because the simple fact is that people don’t really pay as much attention to each other casually, or at the workplace, or among society at stores and restaurants, et cetera, as I pay to myself. I was leveling judgments at myself.

By that same token, no one is going to tell me how great I am or how righteous my principles are. Only I can do that; only I can self-affirm and self-determine their role in my life to the extent that they actively empower me to act and speak up, not stifle me. I don’t want to lose my principles; I want to assert them and effect positive change from them. While it may be harder now, I know it will be worth it if it results in positive change. To this end, Project Alpha emerged.

In order to produce concrete goals, without which I should have no hope of success, I made a poster to reflect upon every day:

wpid-20141221_194255.jpg

Each one of these sentences summarizes a necessary component of becoming Alpha. Note that I did not actually list my principles themselves; I know them all pretty well by heart. Rather, I want to remove the  sense of disarmament that comes with having principles; to counter the urge to compromise them because it would “easier” (except for my conscience); to reinforce myself, that I am educated, intelligent, capable, and that I should believe in myself. Rather than proceeding with insecurity and fear and Betaness as I so often do, I should act confidently and assertively, and this will bring me success.

To explore even more, I made lists of characteristics that define “Who I am” and “what I want,” et cetera, one for each sentence.

Below in italics is the list pertaining to “You Know Who You Are.” The first group, “Reinforcing,” consists of aspects of myself that complement or help me, or that I should be proud of. In desiring confidence and strength (Alphaness) as a person, it is easy to malign characteristics that much of society considers weak, soft, or otherwise undesirable. But I know who I am by experience, and to a large extent, I accept who I am. I don’t seek to mold my character to suit the status quo; I want to shake up the status quo to suit me, and be molded by me, while empowering others. That, to me, is central to Alphaness.

The second group, “Undermining,” are tendencies of mine that seem to have a definitively negative effect on my development, and diminish feelings of strength and capability in the midst of a cold, uncaring society. Seeing that I only just recently realized that the world doesn’t care if I die in a fire (common hyperbole on my part), a subsequent realization is that only I can give myself strength. No one else can give it to me. By that same token, only I can divest myself of weakness by trying to remove those problematic characteristics, not because society tells me they are problematic, but because I have seen them produce negative results time and time again, and leave me disarmed.

The third group, “Neutral,” are those characteristics that don’t seem to fit into the other two categories, but that I have also witnessed as being part of “who I am.” “Areas of Improvement” consists of habits that seem to further undermine my feelings of confidence and capability, and “Solutions” is, of course, ways of addressing those “areas of improvement.”

YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Reinforcing:

Compassionate. Helpful. Loyal. Generous. Patient. Strong. Thoughtful. Brave. Intelligent. Kind. Feminist. Reflective. Friendly. Warm. Disciplined. Vegetarian. Ethical. Principled. Loving. Complex. Unconventional. Artistic. Sweet. Emotional. Sensitive. Hard-working. Activist.

Undermining:

Fearful. Sad. Yearning. Congested. Paranoid. Lost. Addictive. Tired. Unfocused. Sense of inability. Conflicted. Overthinking. Assumes worst of self.

Neutral: Theoretical. Cautious. Proper. Assumes best of others.

*Areas of improvement: Self-effacing. Boosting other people confidence but not my own. Overly concerned with anticipating conflict. Too fidgety, often perhaps because no chairs are suited to my height.

*Solutions: Be more focused. Be less fidgety; stand up more. Respond to positive outcomes with an understanding that I contributed to them. Maintain situational awareness, but not at the expense of maintaining calm.

With each sentence on the poster, there is a list of “What I Want,” “What I Need,” and so on, along with “Areas of Improvement” and “Solutions.” Now, I have a concrete document to refer to, to update and add to. To some extent, I have taken an inventory of the value of who I am: it is everything written on these lists.

Naturally, making a list for “You Know What You Want” entailed really thinking about what I do, in fact, want out of life. It was difficult; some of it is general, some more specific. I consider it ongoing, and subject to change. Here is the contents of that list:

YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.

To work in the labor struggle. Radio show. Rock band. Apartment with music room AND workout room. To become a true revolutionary socialist. TO EMBRACE CHALLENGES, not sink from them. Write another novel. To find a few women with whom I share a mutual suitedness. Finish pamphlet. Write more political writing. TO OVERCOME FEAR OF REJECTION.

*Areas of Improvement: Issues with resolve. Fear of adversity.

*Solutions: Directly address these issues in interactions with others.

The next step, as indicated, is to turn this self-affirmation and validation into actions, confident, strong, and assertive.

The poster may constitute merely a set of slogans, but I must say, reading it everyday like a mantra actually helps. As I said earlier, when you traverse life with concrete principles and ideas, it is harder to function than when you skate about without a thought or concern. You have to remember what is important to you; no one else will. No one else cares.

Here is another visual component to aid in my effort. Project Alpha certificate-page-001 (1)You probably can’t read it; it is a certificate listing the virtues of Alphaness. It says, over and over:

confidence.awareness.strength.passion.focus.readiness. resourcefulness.openness.intelligence.presentability.honesty.spirit

I keep the certificate on my wall over my bed. I also have a small version, which I carry with me sometimes:

confidence.awareness.strength.passion.focus.readiness.resourcefulness.openness.intelligence.presentability.honesty.spirit.

On the back, I have written two useful quotes. The first is from my father, and the second one is attributed to James Hetfield of Metallica.

If you're given control, take command. If you're given command, take control. I would rather regret doing something than not doing something.

This may all seem painfully therapy-like, or touchy-feely. It is certainly narcissistic in a lot of ways. And I have had a lot of therapy in my life. But I hope to do more than survive in this life; I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to be cowed by the “powers-that-be,” that seek to diminish people’s sense of right and wrong, using a “pursuit of happiness” as the carrot, and social alienation (at best) as the stick. And I have been cowed by them; I have felt the pull of an easier life, devoid of conscience.

And I don’t fetishize individuality. I don’t believe my principles or the things I think, say, or do are “original.”  I don’t think that’s what defines Alphaness or self-determination. Moreover, I think it’s easier to be effective without such manufactured concerns. Nor is leadership always a telltale characteristic of Alphaness; although being able to lead is important, I can be an Alpha and follow as well as be a leader, as long as I am effective and passionate. But I will not be defined by anything that seeks to define me. That I will not accept.

If you were sent stumbling through life not knowing why you’re unhappy, or if you handily accepted the compromises or disowned your principles the day you had “children to take care of,” and gave up on what you believed in for a shot at “happiness,” only to look back and see unfulfilled potential and the same injustices and inequities of the world still pissing you off, as you now occupy the seemingly safe position of “bystander,” I can say to you that knowing yourself a little better earlier on might’ve been helpful to you, not to mention to the world. I believe our society programs us, especially men, to reject the emotional self-reflection necessary to cultivate what I am talking about. I am lucky to have had the ability and time required to do so.

To me, feelings are essential to Alphaness. There are no two ways about it. If a sensitive person wants to change the world, he or she must learn to be strong enough to withstand the abuse that will be rained down upon her, and in fact to become stronger by it. Without sensitive people, the world is brutal and harsh. The answer is not to desensitize them, or let them desensitize themselves. To me, this is a kind of castration.

Rather, such a person must divest himself or herself of the impulse to doubt the value of his principles, the correctness of his outlooks, or his inner strength, and wholeheartedly reject any doctrine that says, “life is unfair, so deal with it.” It is by billions of people silently “dealing with it” that it remains unfair. A true Alpha person recognizes this, and rather than conform to it and have all his goals and hopes and dreams and principles defined for him, he resists it as best he can, and for as long as he can, in whatever ways he can, and speaks of it and acts on it until the world itself is compromised, by the movement he or she helped build.

                  “Discipline is tough for a guy who is a rebel.”                                    -Jonathan Winters      

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An Exploration of Beta

There are certain occurrences in my life that contribute to my perception of myself as a Beta Male. I want to describe some of them, but before I do, I think I should explain something.

What is “Beta”? That is an important question. How can I go about discussing something or the people associated with it if I never actually define what it is? That would be devious and wrong.

By Beta, I mean tending towards a passive attitude in life, being “cool with whatever,” or “just going with the flow.” Certainly there is something to be said for chilling out and letting whatever happens happen, but when it becomes essentially a way of life—an approach describable as a lack of an actual “approach,” but rather sitting back and letting things happen to you—is when it starts to constitute Betaness.

What is the possible result of this attitude towards life? Anything good that happens to you seems to happen as a result of mere chance. Anything bad happens for the same reason. Never do you feel like you’re in control of your own life; in fact, if things are going even remotely acceptably, you avoid control of it at all costs, because you start to believe that controlling it will mess things up for you.

What else is Beta? Dependence on other people for your idea of yourself. There comes a time when everything our parents tell us as children and we hear in society comes into complete conflict with the way society seems to actually work. Being told that “you can be whatever you want to be,” or “follow your dreams,” has little to do with the fact that other people define your value as a person from childhood onward: parents, teachers, bosses, public figures, celebrities, police. In other words, this is a society based on respect for authority figures. So how is a person, of any gender, supposed to materialize “dreams” when their entire image of themselves has been imposed on them by a string of authority figures?

Many people on the internet who discuss Alphaness often complain that there are no Alpha males anymore, that it is a “dying breed,” and that Beta Males constitute the majority “these days.” I agree in some ways, and I assert there is a good reason for it. It is less that the world is “polluted by socialism, political correctness, and complacency,” and more the above conflict I have just described.

Speaking generally, as the middle class in America has grown over the last 50 years, so has the tendency of parents to teach children that “anything is possible” and that they can “be whatever they want to be.” They start to believe that success will come to them, that it is essentially guaranteed, whether they work for it or not. Meanwhile, myriad consumeristic comforts are provided to them: TV, video games, HBO, the internet and all of its lighter and darker idle amusements, and the belief that being allowed only one or two restaurant outings per month is somehow indicative of financial straits. Because the fruits of financial success (material comfort) are already in their possession, these children believe they are already successful. Going further, part of them—the privileged part—believes they deserve success without having to do anything, because they didn’t have to do anything for the comforts they’ve enjoyed their whole lives besides be born.

When so many of your comforts are provided for, and your need for entertainment is more than satiated, where in all of that morass of encouragement is a person supposed to find himself or herself? Where is he or she supposed to identify what is important in life? Will it be helping others or contributing to society in some way? Or will it be getting the new game console for Christmas, getting a laptop to use at college, or getting a car that makes you feel cool?

I’m not saying that comfort isn’t good. I’m saying that in a society that demands we get out of our comfort zones and “make something of ourselves,” it leads to spiritual confusion. And this is where the Betas that seem to dominate our society come from: being told what’s important—video games and cars and phones and computers, by the parents who buy them and the friends and advertisements who implant the need—and being given those things their entire lives, only to have nothing to be passionate about or interested in when it comes time to “make a living.” So a decision is made to do something you don’t care about or want to do. Why? Because people tell you that you must.

So, the video games and internetting and watching sports are done in your meager free time with the hope that you’ll come across a great creative idea that gets you entrepreneurial wealth and success from the comfort of your desk chair, Mark Zuckerberg-style, so you can quit your job and go back to….playing video games even more. But the idea never comes; you don’t have time, or make time, to really focus on it, or are the type of person to take such risks. The years pile on, as do the obligations—marriage, children, mortgages, financing—and promotions at the workplace are taken, paying better but still poorly for longer hours, and those odd, misshapen dreams of financial success without risk recede further and further into the background…

So much for “you can do whatever you want to do.”

That little tangent is by way of saying that Betaness is about more than being a “nice guy” who “finishes last,” although that is part of it. It is about having no passion, no driving spirit in your soul, because all of the painful conflict that should occur between the soul and the world—the good type of conflict which lets you see a problem or challenge in the world worth fixing and actually GIVES RISE to passion—has been massaged out by a lifetime of material comfort and affirmation or validation from others. And then, as an adult, nobody cares how you feel anymore. You need to get a job, or you’re a worthless lowlife. A failure.

So many people engaged with jobs they hate, marriages they settled upon, and children they conceived by accident. What else would be the result but loss of passion, loss of engagement, loss of confidence? In a word, Betaness.

Lao Tzu

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

What is Project Alpha (A Beginning)

For much of my life, I have felt easily pushed around. I attributed part of this susceptibility to a perception of myself as one who is “easygoing” and “a nice guy,” and someone whom everyone generally likes. Eventually this evolved into the misguided belief that everyone should like me, and if they didn’t, it meant I was failing in some way.

While researching common perceptions of Alphaness, in addition to fitness topics (I am a personal trainer by trade), I came across the figure of Zyzz.

I won’t reiterate what’s been well-documented a million times about the well-known internet personality, suffice it to say that Zyzz is a modern-day bodybuilding icon surpassing Arnold and most anyone else. Zyzz inspired a generation of young fitness enthusiasts both because of his physical beauty and his personality, which is crudely but accurately represented by the phrase, “live life to the fullest.” Or in his own words,

Many people think of Zyzz as an archetypal Alpha Male, in large part because he seemed to do things “his way” and have no shame about who he was. These are traits that we definitively associate with Alphaness. But there are also those who believe that Zyzz required too great a level of affirmation from others, that he was insecure, and his constant attention to himself—to cultivate and maintain his striking physical beauty and partying lifestyle—was merely a manifestation of that.

The question anyone seeking alphaness needs to ask is, “is it enough to be liked by people?” Is it enough to be adored, or even loved? Is wanting to be loved enough of a goal in life? The question immediately following that one is obvious: “Is seeking the approval of others bringing me anywhere closer to where I want to be?”

The next question for many of us is obvious: “do I even KNOW where I want to be, and is trying to please other people helping me LEARN where I want to be?”

I think, and I am not the first to say this, that is it easy to misdirect our attention towards trying to meet the expectations people place on us, preventing us from ever fully materializing any expectations of our own. Living in such a way leads to the types of lives where people end up thinking or feeling, “I did everything I was supposed to do, and yet I feel empty inside, and unhappy.” This is why guys who spend lots and lots of time in the gym often make poor role models for alphaness, because much of their quest is focused on obtaining adoration from others, and concealing a sense of insecurity.

Society’s image of men involves being decisive, “no-nonsense,” and the type of man who “takes what he wants.” Yet the same image demands men should be hard and unemotional, strong providers and problem-solvers. How is a person whose emotions are undeveloped supposed to decide how he feels about anything, and then, what he wants or cares about? How is he supposed to get respect if he has no ideas of his own, or if he is constantly trying to please someone else?

This is the way in which current understandings of Alphaness can actually be completely counter to our goals as Alpha Males. Sure, societal guidelines can be useful in helping us determine when we’ve succeeded or failed. Or they can help us think through things based on how other people reacted to them. But one of the central parts of being true Alpha is also one of the scariest: the prospect of actually becoming what Zyzz worked so hard to merely look like: someone who determines who he is, what he wants, and what he’s going to do with his life, to any degree whatsoever, on his own.