It’s such a loaded and perhaps dated term: alpha male. For many it will suggest the kind of testosterone-fuelled, cocksure, crotch-thrusting type obsessed with his salary and his weekend triathlon training. Invariably, this type of guy spends an unhealthy amount of time in exclusively male company. He’s probably, even in this day and age, secretly still a bit sexist.
He’s certainly all about competition and comparison. After all, implicit in the idea of the alpha is that everyone else must, by definition, be at best beta. You can’t have a room full of alpha males. Yet there is, experience would tell most of us, a very fine line between being a “big swinging dick” – as Michael Lewis described the more egomaniacal bond traders of Wall Street in Liar’s Poker – and being, well, just a dick.
This isn’t to say one shouldn’t still strive to better oneself, for the benefit of both yourself and that of others. And that surely sounds like a more holistic, 21st century definition of alpha-ism, one that will likely ring true with younger generations in particular. It’s more about being a leader in your own life, rather than seeking to lead others. It’s about being alpha on your terms, not those of retrograde thinking or advertising stereotypes. So here is Ape’s 12-step programme to that end. None of it is easy. But it’s worth it.
Have Respect, Be Honourable
Yes, respect yourself, of course. There’s nothing gained in being a push-over, which isn’t to say that knowing how to compromise isn’t invaluable. But respect others too – regardless of their background, race, sex, age or place in life. We get along together when we all recognise we’re not the only person that matters. Don’t screw anyone over.
If you’re getting along, in good health, want for little of any real importance, and your friends and family are too, recall that it would only take a coin flip – among the countless coin flips that have shaped your life – for things to be very different indeed. Studies have revealed how ready most CEOs are to take credit for their success. The fact is most owe a huge debt to sheer luck – the luck of their parentage, opportunities and of sheer blind chance.
This isn’t to say dress your age. It isn’t to say dress “like a man”. It isn’t to say don’t be expressive in your attire, or don’t have fun with your style. It’s simply to say that your clothing should, when called for, reflect the occasion. Don’t wear flip-flops to a wedding. Don’t wear jeans to a black tie event.
Yes, shit happens, through no fault of your own. Such is life – much of the way it works out is utterly beyond your control. But for everything you can act on, take responsibility. If you want to change something you don’t like – about yourself, about the world – take steps to make that change. It might not work out. But don’t just sit there whining.
Know And Admit Your Weaknesses
The traditional alpha male admitted no flaws or limitations. He was his own comic book hero (without the kryptonite). But there’s a point where admirable self-belief becomes self-delusion. You can’t do everything. You can’t be everything. You are – through genetics and circumstance – who you are. Strive for improvement, of course. Make proper changes where called for. But embrace this liberating fact too.
Appreciate Your Body
Most of us want to live a long, active life. It’s remarkable, then, how self-destructive so much of our behaviour is. Your body is the only one you have, it requires good maintenance. This isn’t to say you need biceps the size of melons – you literally don’t. But it does mean taking care of yourself. Drink if you like but drink less. Mind your drugs. Don’t smoke. Get plenty of sleep. Eat moderately and well. Exercise regularly, not maniacally.
Contrary to the saying, the meek shall not inherit the earth. It’s the bold who get things done, or at least have a go – which is what matters. Being rejected is never pleasant. Failure is disappointing, it can even be crushing. Still, both are preferable to having never made a move – whether in work, relationships or life in general. Cliche alert: you’re only here once, and, in cosmic terms, for the blink of an eye. So take a deep breath and get on with it.
Set Your Own Agenda
Lots of money. A big house. A beautiful partner. The right clothes. Accolades and applause. So much of what men have traditionally strived for is, truth be known, empty and materialistic, a product of what society tells us to chase in order to fleetingly satisfy the ego. You need to make your own game plan, find your own cause: whatever does it for you, whatever gives you joy and/or purpose at your very core (and, ideally, helps other too), that’s what you need to pursue.
Appreciate Your Mind
It’s old-school alpha to be obsessed with the body. New-school alphas are training their minds. Exercise it like you would a muscle or joint: be informed, read books (lots of them, all the time), find ways to challenge your own received wisdom, learn new skills, make stuff, have deep face-to-face conversations, watch less TV and lay off soul-sucking social media.
Take A Stand
OK, so while it’s all too easy to dismiss the alpha as caveman – the more brutish call to the warrior code, to using fists rather than finesse, all that painfully macho stuff – sometimes it matters. Fighting isn’t clever. But there are times when you have to take a stand – against bullies, against petty dictators, against unthinking politics or whatever it is that you know to be plain wrong. Don’t be a bystander.
By all means call on friends and family for help occasionally, as they will call on you. But accept there comes a time when you need to push on under your own steam, to tend to your own needs (and that of any dependants), to pay your own bills – the real ones and the more figurative kind. Nobody owes you anything. But, by the same token, don’t underestimate your resilience.
Stand Tall, Speak Softly
You don’t need to push your way to the front. You don’t need to bellow over everyone. You don’t need to be the centre of attention. You do need to have presence – not of the movie star kind, just of the comfortably self-assured variety. Stand tall, shoulders back, chest out – literally. Speak your mind and be heard – when the moment arises. Grow, don’t wilt.