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Episode 30: Masculinity & Authenticity (1/2)

In this week’s interview with Mike Sagun we talk about masculinity—from boyhood to manhood. We deconstruct toxic masculinity and discuss how to nurture more emotionally fit men, from awareness programs in youth to promoting connection for happiness and longevity later in life. We also talk about the healing power of owning your failures and flaws, the definition of living authentically, and we learn how to craft our own purpose statement and discover our “ikigai.”

Mike Sagun is a men’s coach and the founder of The Unshakable Man, an organization focused on men’s total health & wellness, success, purpose, and fulfillment. Their mission statement expresses, “we believe a man must be introduced to various perspectives, experiences, and ideas in order to discover new and different ways of being a man. This is how a man challenges his sense of self and becomes unshakable.” _________________________________ If you’ve enjoyed listening, please take ONE minute to write a review for our podcast! We would sincerely appreciate it.  We would also love to hear your feedback. There is a survey on our website or you can email hello@bbxx.world. Any questions, concerns, ideas, or suggestions are always more than welcome!  To check out the show notes from our podcast episodes and learn more about BBXX, visit bbxx.world.

Sasza
Thank you so much for joining us here today, Mike, it’s lovely to have you. 

Mike
Thank you for having me.

Sasza
So to start off today, and this interview, which we’re focusing this series around personal narrative, I’d love for you to just start off by telling our listeners a bit about your journey and how it is that you came to being on the path that you’re on today pursuing your mission. 

Mike
Mm hmm. Yeah. So I started off my career doing educational theater all over northern California with an organization called Kaiser Permanente is educational theater. And this was a huge part of my development before coming into coaching. The majority of the work that we did was we went into schools and we put on these huge elaborate shows and gymnasiums and in multi purpose rooms and cafeterias and we would put on shows about educating Young people about making healthy choices. And part of this program, it was multi interventional. So we would go into classrooms and we teach workshops, but we would also do one on ones with young people. And a lot of my heart was was coaching young people who are going through puberty, or were young teen, so in high school, or young adults. And after doing this for several years, it was I was in my seventh year and I had worked with a young person and they had just opened up to me and told me, things that they had never told anyone they had told me about sexual abuse, about being sexually abused about being emotionally abused, about being neglected from their parents. And the reality was, is that like, that wasn’t the first time that that had happened. And over the course of my 10 year career with Educational Theatre, I would see literally hundreds of students, hundreds of young people who would open up to me about things that they had never told anyone. And something just clicked in my heart. And I was like, Where the hell are all the adults at for these young people? They see teachers every day. They’re with their caretakers. There are adults around them all the time. But why aren’t these young people asking for help? And so I realized that a lot of adults, many adults don’t know how to talk to young people. Many adults don’t know how to hold space for young people to just be and so that kind of lit something in my heart to try to find a higher purpose in my in my life. I started poking and prodding around of like what that was and my good friend Leanna Lu mal week, was posting some things on Facebook about her coaching Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and surfing Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was living in Bali and she was just like living her best life. And I just sent her a message. And I was like, yo, Leanna What the heck are you doing? Like, tell me what you are doing because that sounds so fulfilling. And she’s like, yo, we need to hop on a call. So we hopped on a call, and she told me about coaching. And this was the first time that I’ve ever learned that coaching can be a career. And so I started to do more research about coaching and coaching schools and methodologies. And I landed on coaches Training Institute CTI in San Rafael. And as I was in this program, I read a statistic. And a statistic was one loneliness is now an epidemic and it is now more dangerous than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. And the highest demographic of suicides in America are committed by men ages 45 to 65 and mostly white. I was like, What the hell that is crazy. It’s I started doing more research on it. And more and more data was showing me that there is a problem here in America. And so I really had it in my heart to work with men, my, my entire life, I always had male mentors. I always had an adult male figure in my life that was there to bring me in to hang out with me to talk to me about my challenges. And I knew that I was an anomaly in that, that most of my friends didn’t have that in their life. And even now talking to the guy friends that I have now, I asked him about the male mentors that they had in their life, and they were like coaches, but they weren’t emotional coaches. And I had these men in my life who were very emotional with me who allowed me to just be and so that really clicked for me, and I kind of made it I made it in my purpose to really figure out what men need and how I can start holding space for men to just be and to feel safe with other men.

Sasza
Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I’m wondering as you’re talking and kind of about those experiences of isolation or not knowing who to turn to in youth that you saw. How would you describe some of the parallels that that might be between that and between men today and some of the men that you’ve worked with?

Mike
Yeah, you know, growing up, I had a very work oriented father, who I deeply, deeply appreciate and I deeply, deeply love but at the time, growing up, I always felt like he chose to work before us. And it was totally ingrained not only by his Filipino culture, but also by this hard work. Like meritocracy kind of culture that we have in America of like you work hard and you get what you pay for and like, you do everything that you can to put food on the table. And my father did that. Right, my father provided a roof over the head, food on the table clothes on my back. But what was missing from my father was the intimacy and the affection that I needed from a male. I got it from my mom, right? That was totally there. But I needed that strong male figure to hold me to teach me and to just be with me. And I don’t think my father’s ideals or his his idea of what it means to be a man is uncommon. I think many men still have that ideal of like, I need to support my family. I need to work 40 plus hours a week and I need to provide which is really beautiful, right? Like, we need that. But at the same time, what we what we start to see is like there’s a lack of intimacy and affection between father and son. And that’s what I was missing. And there’s a lot of phobias attached to that. Right? There’s one of them is homophobia of like, if I, if I’m like this with my son, or if I’m like this with other males, what does this mean about my sexuality? What does this mean about me? And so we were never taught, growing up, and I think that’s totally changing. Now. It’s totally, totally changing. But we were never taught when we were growing up. My father was never taught when he was growing up, that it’s okay to hold to listen, to be affectionate to be intimate with other men. And it doesn’t it does not define your sexuality at all. When I think about the teachers in my life, the male teachers in my life, who were affectionate with me who were intimate with me, who were there to hold conversations with To me, there is this unsaid boundary of like, is this appropriate for a male teacher to have these intimate conversations with another male? The reality is, is like I needed that male figure in my life. In order for me to be where I am right now, my father wasn’t providing it. So I’m really grateful for the teachers in my life, the male teachers in my life, who were able to just be there for me and be with me. And that’s where I was in my life. I wanted to be that male figure for young people.

Sasza
I have some friends who have spoken to me about the impact that some of their coaches have had on them if they were people who played sports, because you often end up spending more time with that person than your parents or caretakers. And so I think that it gives the power to have a huge positive, but also shaped people in a negative way. If that adult figure doesn’t take care, too. really set a good example and send healthy messages. I would love for you to kind of just speak a bit more to the really the importance of having that figure in that person to go to for both younger people who might be listening, but also adults who have the opportunity to be that person for somebody else, and perhaps a bit for how to initiate that and how to go about that. 

 

Mike
Yeah, you know, I think we need to create some urgency around this because, as we see like our future is in the young people’s hands and there is an urgency. I feel, especially around men because men’s mental health we’re starting to see that more and more men are lonely. More and more men are isolated more and more men have depression or anxiety disorder, and more and more men are committing suicide. There’s a study called the adverse childhood experiences and the studies showed that if a young person has For more traumas in their life, it increases their chances of having health problems, it increases their chances of having mental health issues, unhealthy relationships and early death. And by that test that statistic, I should not be here right now. But the one thing that saved my life for those adults, and study also showed that just one trusted adult in a young person’s life can change the entire trajectory of their life. That’s what those adults did for me. I had a privilege of having these adults that really cared about me and listened to me. And this is the urgency that we have so many adults and so many young people that want adults on so many adults need help, but also all these young people need help too. And we need more adults that have the ability to help these young people out because we don’t have enough resources to support these things. Young people, and the direct resource for these young people, our teachers, our parents, our caretakers, our aunts and uncles, they are grandmas and grandpas. But the work has to be done first with the adult. I think what makes it difficult for adults to be that trusted person for a young person is they haven’t actually worked through their own shit themselves. They tend to project their own pain and their hurt on young people. One of the unhealthiest things and the least productive things that you can do for a young person is if they are telling you what’s going on with that life. You cut them off, and you say, Actually, I know exactly what you’re going through. Because I went through that, and this is what I’m doing. This is what I did instead. That is like one of the most unproductive things that you can do because what you’re telling the kid is, you’re essentially saying, your story is not that important to me. And this is how you fix it. It’s invalidating it absolutely. And when we can can be that trusted adult. The first things that we need to do is just like check what we’re projecting. Check ourselves. And notice what we feel when this young person is opening up to us what is coming up for us because if they’re coming to us with traumas that might trigger some of our own traumas as well, and we as adults have to learn how to modulate that how to how to respond to that and not project that trauma back to that young person. And I think the greatest gift that you can give anyone but the greatest gift that you could give a young person is just listening and responding with love and compassion, non judgment and kindness and letting that young person know that you are there with them. And that you are listening to them. If we feel this comfort we we show that this comfort I see this happen often in conversations when when I want to get vulnerable with someone I opened up to them, I immediately could tell like their body language shifts or they or they like turn another direction or they change topic or they say oh, you’re okay or you’re fine. And that’s not what I’m asking for. And that’s also another thing that can be unproductive with the young person is like telling them you’ll be okay, you’ll be fine. It’s not that bad.

 

Sasza
And so kind of how can we take that because I think we can all identify with having been young and that it wasn’t necessarily the easiest, was probably a confusing and, and lonely time for us all at some point. And so being able to identify with that, but instead of negating it and saying you’ll get past it, really taking the time and space to empathize and open up and using tools such as Tell me more, which I’ve read about how just something as simple as that, you know, has no judgment and just gives them the floor and helps you slowly and also very, kind of carefully and not in a threatening way at all really dive deeper into it and try and understand the level of why behind us. And so I think that can be important. And as you mentioned that some of the adults haven’t gone through some of their own stuff when you were talking about your dad earlier, a phenomenon that I find really fascinating that I have named. I’m not sure if it has another name compounding daddy. I once remember reading and somebody was talking and they said, Yeah, you know, everybody has daddy issues, but think of your dad’s dad issues and your dad’s dad’s daddy issues and how far back these daddy issues go and there are so many levels and the filter through which you are seeing stuff and absorbing stuff. And the ability to understand where it’s coming from and that the person who is shaping you, perhaps, in a not so positive or open way. It’s because of the same thing that they do so how can we better understand that and kind of create change a cornea or at least empathize with that person who it’s easy to, to present insight 

Mike
Empathy and compassion are one of my highest values. Empathy is putting yourself into another person’s shoes and trying to feel how they feel. and compassion is basically understanding that we all struggle, like you struggle, like I struggle, and it’s okay. And through that I’ve found forgiveness for my father for both my parents. My father was doing his best. And I’ve had to really do a lot of work around that. Growing up I was always like, is my dad doing his best? Like it seems like he doesn’t give a fuck about me like, is he does he care about me? But I’ve really had to observe that story that I’ve told myself for decades, not just not just a few years but literally decades of me telling me that myself that story, but Also not only that, but like my mom also strengthening that story by her own stories in her head about my father. So I really had to dismantle the storyline that I had about my father and learn how to forgive him. And I recently went to the Philippines to go visit my father, my dad lives in the Philippines, most of the time, and I was out there. And this was live. I’m 32 years old. And this was the very first time that I’ve spent more than a day with him, just he and I, and I was going to be with him for a week and a half. When I made that decision. It was really uncomfortable for me. And I felt a ton of resistance. But I wanted to do it because I wanted to better understand my father. I wanted to like, really look at the stories that I was telling myself and see like, Is this true? Like, is this really true about my dad? Or is he just a flawed human just like I am, right? Or is he just a flawed human just like my grandpa was and His his father, so and everyone on earth right? And guess what he was flawed as fuck and I’m still flawed as fuck you know, but that the beautiful thing is that I went over there and I went with the intention of understanding my father so I could better understand myself. I went there and I spent a week and a half with him and it was beautiful. We had great conversations and I got to see myself in my father. I got to see the the challenging parts of myself the things that I I try to hide the judgments that I have about myself I got to see all the the ugly and the like, the impatient and the the mean and rude and arrogant side of me, that’s something that I need to work on. But I also got to see the side of me and my father. That is loving and caring, and charismatic and loves to entertain and take care of people. And I saw the generous side of myself and my father and and it was just a really beautiful reflection. The the entire trip felt like a mirror that was put in front of me. And I got to see my dad and I got to look at all the things and be like, oh crap. Yeah, I’m totally working on that still. Oh, my dad has looked at his anger right now. Oh, wow. Yeah, I do the same exact thing. 

Mike
And I think for people who are curious about doing their own work about seeing their tics about seeing what their pet peeves are or their patterns and their habits, hang out with your mom and dad. Look at what they do or think about what how their reaction was to certain things when you were growing up or how they still react to things. And be honest, like, Is that who you are today? What what I’m learning right now. And what I’m working on right now is when I feel anger towards my husband, when he does something that like hurts me or annoys me, and I get angry and rage comes out and that rage gets directed at my husband. I am learning that that rage is actually not towards my husband, but I’m projecting that rage because I learned that from my parents. I’m actually projecting I’m actually aiming that rage at my parents because of how they taught me how to respond to whatever my husband is doing. It’s not my husband’s fault. He didn’t do anything. What I have learned from my parents is, if an expectation isn’t met by my standards, I get angry and it’s automatic. Have your fault. And then rage comes out. And that’s unfair for my partner that’s unfair for Jerry. And so I’m learning to just step back and say, Where is this anger being directed out? And what is this anger? What is this anger?

Sasza
You’re speaking about. And even, you know, science and psychology shows how much our past experiences Be it with our family or not, or things we were exposed to in culture and the media, we absorb so much from the time that we are little and learn so much without it actually even being registered as. And so being able to look back and understand how our reactions to the present are actually shaped by those experiences. And those influences in the past is so incredibly important and understanding your flaws is one of the most important part It’s about understanding yourself and not trying to be perfect. And you know, not necessarily trying to erase those flaws, some of them. Some of them may be but some of those are ingrained in us it’s learning how to navigate them and acknowledge 

Mike
And accept it. 

Sasza
Yeah. And to work at improving them but to work at also adjusting our relationships and expectations and thought processes accordingly so that despite those flaws, we can still form deeper connections with other people as a result of hashtag bbxx, better understanding ourselves exactly. 

Mike
Right. You know, I, I work with men who have so many identity issues around what it means to be a man. And I think what’s I think a lot of that is what you’re talking about is like these compounding daddy issues that are conflicted with how we are evolving. With as a man today, does that make sense? So like, we have these like compound daddy issues, right? I’m like, Okay, cool. This is what my father taught me. This is what it means to be a man. But now we’re moving towards this evolving definition of what it means to be a man. And there’s internal conflict of like, well, then what does it mean? What is it to me to be a man because I grew up learning and understanding that this is what it meant. But now, everyone is saying that this is what it means to be a man and this is actually what my partner wants for me. So what is it? What is this? And it’s like this identity of like, What? Who am I now?

Sasza
Yeah, kind of this conflict

Mike
Yes.

Sasza
One of my questions for you was, should there be a definition of what it means to be a man and what would your definition be? If so

Mike Sagun
Hmm, that’s a great question. Ah, I need to sit with that for a moment here. That is a really great question. Yeah.

Sasza
There’s a part two of the question.

Mike
Yeah. You know, my immediate response is I think it’s important for us to identify with something. You know, there’s the gender spectrum and everyone in the gender spectrum wants to have a pronoun, or they want to have some kind of way that defines who they are or expresses who they are. And so, like, I think it is important for men to really own that. Yes, I am a man. I am. This is how I identify. On the other side of that which is where I’m conflicted is this question what does it mean to be a man is such a like, it’s such a trigger question nowadays, because what it means to be a man is just you were just human. Right?

Sasza
Right. So the part two of my question is, how would it be different than the definition of what it means to be human

Mike
Right? And, and there isn’t. Right? Like, for me, like, there isn’t any difference in that we could talk about masculine feminine qualities. 

Sasza
Is just personal. It’s the role model, it’s being able to have a specific and more personalized role modeling. I could see what you mean.

Mike
Yeah. And, and I think, you know, growing up, I wanted, I wanted to see and be with another person that identifies with me that I could identify with. So most of my mentors are growing up or men of color, and I totally latched on to those men, and they were so gracious Just enough to bring me under their wings. But also like I think about like, what my life was like watching TV and I never saw men of color. We sometimes saw black people or Latino people on on television, but I never saw a Filipino person. And if I saw a Filipino person, they’re either playing a Latino or a Chinese person. And so like, yes, like coming back to owning that identity can help serve another person to connect with you.

Sasza
It might be interesting even to have those different labels or pronouns or whatnot on it yet to have the same definition behind 

Mike
Hmm. Right like whatever you identify with this definition is human

 

In this week’s episode, we sit down with Mike Sagun, a men’s coach and the founder of The Unshakable Man, to deconstruct toxic masculinity and discuss the importance of nurturing emotionally fit men by providing young men with mentors and emotional awareness programs. We also talk about the healing power of owning your failures and laws, the definition of living authentically, and the value of crafting a life purpose statement.

Troubling Statistics Surrounding Loneliness

Intimacy & Affection Among Men

Mike repeatedly underscores the lack of intimacy and a”ection between men, specifically within father-son relationships. He mentions the many stigmas attached to a”ectionate men, specifically homophobia. At The Good Men Project, they highlight three ways for fathers to practice showing a”ection to their sons.             

  1. Watch your language. Be wary of demeaning emotional expression as something that is feminine, “gay,” or un-masculine.
  2. Demonstrate appropriate physical touch with your male friends. Whether it’s hugging or wrapping your arm around your friends, demonstrate friendly affection with friends in front of your son.
  3. Express physical affection with your own father and male siblings. Display your love and a”ection for your own father as the ultimate model for your son.

Display your love and afection for your own father as the ultimate model for your son.

What it means to “be a man” is just that you are human.

Forgive Your Parents or Caregivers for Their Faults

Cultivating empathy and forgiveness towards your parents or caregivers for their flaws and the trauma they may have caused during your childhood is a crucial step for healing and self-growth. Blame perpetuates pain. By resolving our resentment towards our parents, we free ourselves from a victim mentality and break the cycle of emotional su”ering. The book Forgive Your Parents, Heal Yourself offers guidance and actionable advice for those ready to heal childhood wounds.

Understanding your flaws is one of the most important  parts of understanding yourself.

Write Your Own Purpose Statement

Mike emphasizes the power of crafting your own “life purpose statement” in order to gain clarity about your goals and to create a roadmap to achieving them. He references the concept of “ikigai,” a Japanese word that roughly translates to “reason for being.” In order to find your ikigai, identify what the world needs, what you love to do, what you’re good at, and what you can be paid or rewarded for doing. The cross section of these four areas is your ikigai. 

What Does It Mean To Live Your Best Life?

In our aspirational culture, we hear it all the time — “live your best life.” But what exactly does it mean? In Mike’s words, “Living your best life is accepting what is in front of you and where your life is right now. And another part of living your best life is accepting that you need to make some shifts—and then accepting the challenges.”

Mike’s Recommended Resources 

You might take a wrong turn, you might take the wrong exit, you might even get detoured, but your internal GPS will get you back on your path

More Resources & Research

About the Expert

Mike Sagun

Mike Sagun

Mike is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), facilitator, and speaker. He works with companies like Dropbox, Google, LinkedIn, Kaiser Permanente, Kumu, and Saje Wellness. Before founding The Unshakable Man, Mike spent 10 years as a teaching artist, educating and coaching young people to make healthier choices for their lives. He’s spoken in front of thousands of people on stage with TEDx and TFCU. When he’s not coaching, facilitating, or speaking, you can find him leading men at retreats and EVRYMAN men’s group.

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