Associate with Winners by Doing the 20 Men Exercise

Everyone needs an example to follow. The feats of great figures serve as one of the most powerful sources for inspiration and drive to immortality in our own lives. Even the greatest navigators needed stars to act as landmarks as they traversed the treacherous seas. And so we as men need the landmarks of other men to guide us as we navigate our own ships on the chaotic seas of the universe in which we live, especially when contemporary masculine role models are rare or non-existent.

To that end I’ve compiled this list of 20 men. They had different careers, different ambitions and drives, and different fortunes. They were kings and conquerors. They were philosophers and explorers. They were warriors and statesmen. They were inventors and businessmen. They were adventurers and seducers. The one thing they all had in common was that they left a legacy. They left something to guide the present man as he seeks to secure his place in time. For the man that desires to rise above the waves of mediocrity, these 20 men all have something to teach, lessons to impart.

This is of course, my own list. I encourage everyone else on the path to True Glory to engage in a similar composition. It will serve not only as a useful fountainhead of indispensable knowledge, but it will also encourage self-reflection. What men were important examples to you and why? What do you seek to learn and become? The answers will vary widely from person-to-person, so I don’t expect anyone to have exactly the same list. I don’t even expect that the lists will be very similar from person-to-person. But the exercise is indispensable.

The principle behind the 20 Men Exercise is association. It’s a common parlance that you become like those you associate with. If you associate with losers, you will be a loser. If, on the other hand, you associate with winners, you’ll start to become like those winners. I know it sounds cliche, so I think it’s best to demonstrate some ways how, in the 20 months since I first conceived this exercise, it has benefited me:

  • By watching Marcus Luttrell and reading his Lone Survivor and Service, I learned how to overcome doubts and thoughts of failure, how to get outside of my own head and, in the words of Admiral Joe Maguire, “just finish the day.” I also learned what to do when you’re feeling lazy and end procrastination, the truest meaning of friendships and how to look for them (as well as how to be a better friend), how to deal with the unfairness and injustices that happen every day in life, what to do when you’re feeling hopeless, and how to get back on your feet and keep moving forward in the face of defeat. Many of these lessons are deceptively simple mind-body processes which you can integrate, with some discipline on your part, very quickly.
  • By reading Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, I learned how to act when you’re in a position of powerlessness and survive, how to slowly and methodically position yourself to break free of those chains that bind you, how to not lose heart and vision when things seem hopeless, and how and when the time is appropriate for bold action in the face of a plight.
  • By reading about the Duke of Marlborough, including some of these accounts, I learned again, when the time was appropriate to take bold and decisive action, even if unpopular with crucial influencers, how to deceive enemies, what to do and how to act when you lose fortune and influence, and most importantly, how you should act (and not lose your cool) when dealing with troublesome fools of all stripes. Marlborough will also serve as a guide to picking the right woman – and how to prevent that asset from becoming a liability.
  • By reading Louis XIV’s memoirs, I learned, from a great king’s first-hand experience, how to lead and deal with subordinates, what kind of work ethic to have and how to approach work, how to delegate power (and keep as much of it for yourself as possible), how to deal with those who praise you (who may not always have your best interests at heart), the overall attitude a great man should take in life, and how to manage your relations with women.
  • By listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger (though I have not yet read his books), I learned how he found success by not listening to detractors, proceeding along his path no matter how crazy it seemed to other people, some of the secrets behind his iron will, how, like Marlborough, he risked everything to make a crucial decision that would change his life forever, and yes, some incredible fitness tips.

These are just a few examples. In associating with these men, however remotely, I started to become like them, implementing their own thoughts and observations into my own life to make it better.

Think of how you were after a conversation with someone who had their act together and was going places. Did you feel energized? Did you learn anything? Were you motivated to do something you thought you couldn’t do before? I remember feeling very much this way when I attended Roosh’s NYC stop on his world tour on July 18th. I made many lasting friendships in the process.

This same exercise is something almost as good. By listening to or reading the words of the men you choose, they will be talking to you, even if they are long dead or in a faraway land. In this way, humans are, as Carl Sagan said, capable of magic.

How I chose my list:

In my mind, a successful man will possess some, but not necessarily all, of the following traits:

  • He will put in the effort to take care of his body and achieve the best physique his genetics allow him to.
  • He will know how to be powerful.
  • He will be financially sound enough to secure a reasonable degree of independence.
  • He will be successful enough with women to be non-needy around them.
  • He will seek knowledge for its own sake, and expand the purview of his mind.
  • He will be devoted to True Glory, and seek to leave a legacy of his own that future men can learn from.

In accordance with this criteria, this is the list I chose:

1. Cyrus the Great (c. 576 – 530 B.C.): The founder of the Persian Empire whose successes on the battlefield and great desire for knowledge allowed the flourishing of all peoples subject to his rule. He was one of the first rulers to display a genuine religious tolerance, and his satrapy system of relative regional autonomy generally respected to the highest degree possible the local cultures, allowing a generally stable empire. His career was one of achievement that allowed the advancement of civilization to follow.

Cyrus the Great 20 Men Masculine Epic

2. Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.): Often described as the greatest thinker to ever live, Aristotle’s works on physics, though wrong, were brilliantly argued, and became ingrained in science for the next 1,500 years. His works on ethics were so influential that they still serve as the foundation of Western ethical and political thought and are taught in their pure form in universities today. In particular, his Doctrine of the Mean is well worth looking into as a guiding light for everyday life.

3. Julius Caesar (100 – 44 B.C.): One of the greatest generals of all time, his battlefield victories and his ability to lead men to do extraordinary feats are very well-known. But he was so much more. In Caesar we see the story of a lesser noble, who through his ruthless drive and cunning, and his mastery of the game of power, rose to the pinnacle of his society. He was a great seducer of women. He knew how to stage spectacles that would earn him praise. Cicero himself described Caesar as the best public speaker in Rome. And he was also a great statesman, showing a clear vision of polity that few leaders have ever shown. The one great mistake he made was that he neglected the spirit of republican Rome, and displayed his dictatorial power too openly, leaving room for not only the envious, but the stern believers in the republican principle that no man should have absolute power, to conspire and assassinate him. This mistake is one that the future early emperors wisely did not repeat, and one that all men who seek to rise beyond the ordinary must take into consideration.

4. Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180): The last in the series of Rome’s “Five Good Emperors,” Marcus Aurelius governed his empire well and oversaw important military victories for its security. He was in fact described as being closest to the ideal of the Philosopher-King in his own lifetime. All the while he was on campaign in the north, he penned his longest-lasting legacy, his Meditations, a Stoic guide to purpose and self-improvement. If we are to measure a man’s legacy by the quality of his successors that found it valuable, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations has been praised by such figures as Frederick the Great, John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold, Goethe, Wen Jiabao, and Bill Clinton, who has described it as his favorite book (According to Wikipedia).

If men like that have found Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations valuable, surely it will serve as a fine example to me or nearly any other man moving up in the world.

5. Charlemagne (c. 742 – 814): The principal regenerator of the flame of civilization in the West after it sputtered out with Rome’s fall, Charlemagne reigned over a time of peace, prosperity, and security that brought about cultural rebirth, helped in no small part by his own commitment to education. He demanded that he be taught to read and write, which was considered unkingly in his own time. For his achievements he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor of the West in 800. He thus started a tradition that would last for a thousand years.

In addition to all of his stately achievements, Charlemagne ran strong game, amassing a long line of wives and concubines, and fathered many children.

6. Francis of Assisi: (1181/2 – 1226): He’s been popularized with the reign of Pope Francis, and this is a very good thing, for Saint Francis of Assisi lived an admirable life. Willingly giving up a life of wealth and luxury that he was born into, he devoted himself to a higher calling, founding the Franciscan Order and living a life of disciplined self-denial. He also served as a diplomat seeking peace, by going on a mission to Egypt to convert the Sultan and put an end to the Crusades. His dedication to the poor has left a lasting legacy on the current Pope, who has already made an impact in the hearts of the people (for better or worse, but that’s another topic).

Though we’d probably think giving up the wealth he amassed was a poor decision, the discipline he showed in his life and his devotion to a greater cause than himself are good examples to follow, especially now, and should help anyone succeed in his own life.

7. Zheng He (1371 – 1433): Admittedly, my knowledge of Eastern history is poor, but Zheng He seems a wonderful example to begin catching myself up to speed. The great explorer of his age, Zheng He reached the Atlantic Ocean and brought Chinese naval power to a point that would not be repeated for many centuries to come. In Zheng He we see a clear-cut example of how, less than a century before the next man on the list, history could have been vastly different, were it not for circumstances of fate. Zheng He also knew how to play the game of power at court, or else he would not have risen to his position.

8. Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506): Truly the father of the modern world, Columbus’ voyages began the great Age of Discovery that would bring the West to preeminence in wealth and power, but the fact that he was the one to get the process started seemed far from certain. Columbus had an ambition to succeed that rivaled Caesar’s, and he rose from an even poorer place than his predecessor to high social status, selling himself and his proposed voyage eventually to Queen Isabella, and thus took his place in history. Setbacks and failure were simply not an option for him, and he found cunning ways to spin negatives into positives, a must-have skill for anyone wishing to become powerful.

9. Giordano Bruno: (1548 – 1600): I have been introduced to Bruno only in recent years, and since then, I’ve always had a desire to read his writings. Living during the Renaissance, he is a figure which embodied the spirit of the age – bold, adventurous, inquisitive, and a victim of its persecutions. Among his most notable ideas is not only the acceptance of the Copernican model of heliocentrism, but his belief that the other stars were just other Suns very far away, each with planets and life. As Carl Sagan said of Aristarchus in Cosmos, “I’d love to know how he figured it out.”

Bruno was more interesting than just that however. According to Wikipedia, he was a spy serving under Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster Francis Walsingham. The exercise of deception and stealth that he would have displayed is a key element in the mastery of power, and is therefore a lesson all in itself.

He also wisely agreed to outwardly conform with the Church’s teachings while preserving his own inwardly. Nevertheless, he could not abandon everything, and was burned at the stake. The story of his trial should be well worth reading and analyzing for potential tactics to ward off persecution, an especially important skill to learn now.

10. Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 – 1645): The first name that comes to mind when one hears the word “Samurai,” Miyamoto Musashi asserted himself in the most pure masculine way possible: by meeting other distinguished men in battle and defeating them – face to face. It was brutal. It was primitive. But it worked. It secured his fame and legacy. Miyamoto Musashi was no barbarian, however. His cunning was legendary in his own lifetime, and warriors far and wide eventually begged to challenge him so that they could prove their own worth as men. Musashi never lost a fight. In addition, he studied the arts extensively, and was a cultivated man. His greatest legacy is the Book of Five Rings, which is widely-read today by ambitious and powerful men.

11. Louis XIV of France (1638 – 1715): “Louis le Grand” was the longest-reigning monarch in European history, spanning over 72 years, though he did not take personal control until the age of 22. In his reign, he oversaw the rise of France as the greatest European power and himself as the most powerful monarch in Europe. His territorial expansion strengthened France, and to his credit, was able to put his monumental ego in check to the degree that he recognized talent when he saw it and put it to use extensively. If another measure of a man’s worth is the quality of the men working under him, then Louis XIV is one of the greatest of all time. Such names as Turenne, Colbert, Vauban, and Villars, along with numerous others, were all under his employ, serving his interests. Despite losses in his last war, France was more prosperous and secure after him than before him.

Louis was a very cultured man and he saw French culture reach a degree of pedigree and influence that was unrivaled, arguably lasting to this day. He was one of the best power players in history. A mere look of displeasure from the King could frighten and humiliate not just other men, but other men of power. Naturally, he attracted women like a magnet – and it wasn’t just because he was King. He was handsome and had top-notch game. In short, Louis XIV was maxed out in all categories, but all of this isn’t something he was just handed – he had to overcome the chaos of the Fronde as a child to get where he was.

There is one very important lesson from Louis to learn and not repeat, however. Throughout his lifetime Louis’ unmasked ambition and aggression simply made him too many enemies. And in the War of the Spanish Succession, it would cost him, first and foremost at the hands of the next man on this list.

12. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650 – 1722): It was under his direction that Louis XIV was baffled and humiliated by the Grand Alliance, but this was far from a certain fate. Marlborough is perhaps the ultimate example of a late bloomer. Impoverished in his youth, he played court politics perfectly and rose above many challenges and setbacks to secure his fame and fortune in his 50’s – by navigating complex international relations and winning stunning battlefield victories. It also helped that he chose the right wife, even though luck may have been on his side with this choosing.

Another measure of a man’s prowess is the type of woman he settles down with, and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was quite the catch – and a dangerous one. She was considered beautiful well into her middle age by contemporaries, but she was also a cantankerous bitch who was widely hated. Her own children despised her and she was arrogant enough to try to control Queen Anne. Despite this, she never dared treat her husband poorly, and was devoted to him even after he died. In one entry in her diary, she was very blatant about the pleasure he gave her when he returned home one day from campaign. That Marlborough could secure the love and devotion of such a woman speaks monuments as to his personality.

If there are three words to learn from his life, they are these: ambition, persistence, initiative.

Duke of Marlborough Masculine Epic

13. Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790): The first premier American, Franklin was probably as close to the ideal of a renaissance man as one can get. Rising above poverty at a young age by his printing trade and writing, Franklin didn’t dare stop there. His experiments with lightning became world famous, and his wisdom as a politician and statesman is well worth learning. And of course, in addition to his success in business, science, and politics, Franklin was a noted playboy. He attended the notorious Hellfire Clubs in England and was charming and attractive to the ladies of the French court even in his 70’s.

14. Giacomo Casanova: (1725 – 1798): The man whose name has become synonymous with seduction, Casanova was a traveler and adventurer who managed to get himself imprisoned and escape from his confinement. He constructed a role for his life that he wanted to and not what convention seemed to have planned for him. He is perhaps the ultimate example of the vagabond – the man that really found no career but made the most of his life by various enterprises. His character is certainly interesting, and his Story of My Life should serve as an example in not only seduction, but in assuming different roles for maximum effect, defying society to do so.

15. George Washington: (1732 – 1799): The 18th century’s “action hero,” George Washington’s wisdom and foresight in becoming the “Father of His Country” is well-known. His Farewell Address is one of the most astute political documents I have ever read. But he was more. He ran a successful business and displayed immense personal bravery in his service in both the French and Indian War and the Revolution. It’s almost a miracle that Washington wasn’t killed in action, and it makes one wonder whether he truly was picked by a supernatural agency for greatness. Throughout his life Washington showed a determination to rise and a fortitude of leadership that are vital areas of study. He also knew how to mask his ambition perfectly – a very important thing, as we’ve seen in the cases of Caesar and Louis XIV.

16. Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895): I read Frederick Douglass’ Narrative in my freshman year of high school. Despite it now being many years later, it has still stuck with me. There is a rawness to it that sucks the reader in and makes him feel present in the narrator’s life. He experiences first hand the hardships that Frederick went through and the joy that was felt when he escaped. Frederick’s first job as a free man, despite being a somewhat menial position, was described in such flowery terms because of how much it meant to him to be his own master. It is a powerful thing to read. In the life of Frederick Douglass we see a man that was determined to not only escape from slavery, but make something of himself as a free man. This drive eventually led to him dining in the White House and, like Casanova, defying the role that society had laid out for him.

17. John D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937): One of the wealthiest men in history, Rockefeller wasn’t born into it – he earned it through relentless drive and savvy business acumen. The story of his exploits against competitors is legendary. Nothing less than a monopoly on oil would do, and Rockefeller employed genius ways to attain it. His success can be summed up in a few words: he was hated and vilified for decades in his own lifetime. The old adage from Winston Churchill can easily apply here: “if you’ve made enemies, be thankful. It means you’ve done something.”

Rockefeller also helped to establish the modern tradition of philanthropy. He was not a hoarder, but gave vast sums away, and did much for the advancement of education and medicine.

Rockefeller may have been ruthless in business, but he certainly had a heart. We would do well to remember this.

18. Warren E. Buffet (b. 1930): A name that recurs near the top of Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest people like clockwork, Warren Buffet is the most successful investor of the 20th century, and if you really want to make money on the market, you need to at least listen to what he has to say. He also displayed a business acumen from a very young age, famously goin door-to-door to sell various things in his youth.

He took literature on investment seriously when he was in college, and became a millionaire in his early thirties (and that was a bigger deal back then than it is today).

Though he famously suffered in 2008, losing tens of billions, his lessons still need to be learned.

Warren Buffet is also known for his sense of humor, and listening to him is far from a chore. It is entertaining.

19. Arnold Schwarzenegger (b. 1947): Imagine yourself as a poor immigrant in a new country whose language you do not speak. What would you do? Where would you go? How would you eke out a place in life?

For Arnold Schwarzenegger the answer was dedication in the gym. Though his taking of steroids is now well-known, Arnold winning the Mr. Olympia competition seven times put him on the map. But he didn’t want to stop there. Arnold wanted to be a Hollywood star. He was told that he couldn’t do it. No one would want to hear his accent. No one would want to pronounce his name. Arnold didn’t care, and did it anyway, becoming one of the greatest action heroes in history. His level of influence was enough for him to marry into the Kennedy family.

That’s quite a resume, but he still wasn’t done. Always passionate about politics and bucking the trends in Hollywood by being a staunch Republican (the Democrats, to him, sounded too similar to the Communism in Eastern Europe that he wanted to escape from), Arnold eventually decided to run for Governor of California in the special election of 2003. Arnold won, and served for seven years. He even got his own postage stamp in his native Austria for this.

Arnold has returned to acting. He is already a living legend, and seems to have many years left in the tank.

20. Marcus Luttrell (b. 1975): A modern day warrior who endured pain and suffering unimaginable to most of us, Luttrell, the lone survivor of Operation Red Wings, has always shown a grit and determination that is the necessary catalyst to making men great. His devotion to his comrades is the ultimate example of friendship. Listening to him speak is always an eye-opening experience. Full of both wisdom and inspiration, his words will leave you deep in thought. Marcus is a living example of cool masculine resolve, and a signal to young men that there are contemporaries worthy of emulation.

Marcus Luttrell 20 Men Masculine Epic

And there you have it. My list of 20. It was very enlightening and inspiring to create, and I learned a lot just from thinking about and compiling the list.

I once again encourage every one of my readers to make a list of their own. And do share your lists with me! I’d love to hear from you.

[Note: the original version of this post appeared in the archive on January 24,2014]