If you know about Electrogent, then you surely know about the Art of Manliness. If you don’t, then get ready to have a new favorite website. Brett McKay is far and above the best men’s interest blogger on the entire web, and he’s even written a few books to add to it. Brett was gracious enough to answer my questions about life, blogging, and manliness, and the full interview is below.
Electrogent: First of all Brett, thank you for taking the time away from your busy website and life to take a few minutes to enlighten us. For those who don’t know you, how would you introduce yourself?
Brett: I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of the men’s lifestyle blog, The Art of Manliness. My wife (Kate McKay) and I work on it together out of our home in Tulsa, OK. I started AoM while I was a law student at the University of Tulsa College of Law back in 2008. By the time I graduated law school, we were earning enough from the site that I could do this full-time. So I skipped the bar exam and became a full time blogger much to the chagrin of my parents. We’ve published two books based off of the site The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man and The Art of Manliness Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues.
E: You are most known for your website, Art of Manliness, and it is by far the most popular, insightful, and well-written mens’ interest websites on the entire internet. I really don’t think there’s much debating that fact. How did you go from a law student to a well-known full-time author?
B: Well, thanks for the kind words about the site. The transition from law student to a full-time author wasn’t planned. I never thought in a million years that I’d make my living writing. I just sort of fell into it and ran with it.
E: When you made the decision to leave the legal track and follow your passions elsewhere, was there ever a time when you took a double-take on your life and thought, “Is this the right path for me?” I mean, you were one of the best students in your law school–it takes some serious guts to turn away from that. Explain that decision process and how you dealt with any inner struggles you had in that regard.
G: I did have a double take. After I graduated from law school, I did the site full-time for about a year. Kate and I were getting by okay. I started having regrets about not using my legal education. So I took a corporate gig with a legal publishing company. Right about at that time things started to really pick up with AoM and Kate and I welcomed our firstborn. I couldn’t juggle all of this stuff, so I quit the corporate gig after just seven months of working for them to go back to the site full-time. I haven’t looked back since.
Making the decision was tough. But I just went with my gut.
E: Your wife plays a huge role in the Art of Manliness community, and I love to see women interesting in “reviving the lost art of manliness.” Explain what she does behind the scenes and how she fits in to everything you do.
B: My wife and I collaborate on pretty much all the articles on the site.
E: Admittedly, this website draws very heavily on Art of Manliness, as well as from some other blogs. I think this is true for just about any mens’ interest website these days, simply because of how deep and wide you’ve covered all aspects of manliness, from the serious to the humorous. When you first started Art of Manliness, did you draw from any websites? What else gave you the inspiration to continue on through those first few months when you just got off the ground?
B: When I first started AoM, there really weren’t any websites doing what I was doing. Sure, there were the big men’s lifestyle publishers like Askmen.com, menshealth.com, and esquire.com. My goal with AoM was to differentiate myself from them by not focusing on the typical men’s interest website stuff like six-pack abs, photo galleries of babes, and sex tips. I wanted it to be a bit more profound and much more relatable than those other sites. So for awhile I was kind of on my own, but in the past few years several sites have popped up that are writing about men’s interests with the same kind of tone that we are doing.
The biggest inspiration to continue with the site when I was first starting and even today is that the I’m creating the men’s magazine I’ve always wanted to read. If I enjoy researching and writing about the content we publish on the site, I’m happy.
E: If you were to start the website all over again, taking what you know now and putting it into practice from the start, would you change anything? If so, what would you change?
B: We pride ourselves on publishing thoroughly researched and thought out articles. It took us awhile to establish that precedent. I wish we would have start that from the get go.
E: I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance, but if you were given the opportunity to give advice to an auditorium full of 13 year old boys, but you only had 60 seconds to do it, what would you say?
B: I’d tell them to meditate upon the line from William Wordsworth, “The child is the father of the man,” until the understood what it meant. As soon as they did, they need to put that idea into practice.
E: When you look around at men in society, what do you think? Are you ever disgusted? Hopeful? Annoyed? How has your work with Art of Manliness changed your perceptions of your fellow men around you, particularly the 20-somethings?
B: I’m hopeful. The media tends to focus on the negative aspects of young men because it makes for a great story and gets people’s attention, but in the few years I’ve been running AoM, I’ve interacted with thousands of men from across the U.S. and world and have found the vast majority of them are wanting to improve themselves as men and make a meaningful contribution to society.
E: You semi-recently had a son. Congratulations. What are some lessons that you’re instilling in him at an early age? What is the most exciting thing about having a child?
B: Well, thanks! At twenty months, there aren’t too many high-level lessons I’ve been able to instill in Gus. We’re working on teaching him that pooping your pants isn’t a good way to make friends and influence people. Mission failed so far.
Besides that we’re teaching him basic manners like saying please and thank you which he does with moderate success. He’s picked up the no whining rule pretty well.
The most exciting thing about being a parent is watching a person develop right before your eyes. You get really excited when you see your child achieve those big milestones like walking or saying words. It’s just fascinating to observe.
E: There is a lot of talk about the “decline” of men, because women are enrolling in college at a higher rate, slowly closing the gap on pay disparities, and gaining employment at a faster rate. Do you think this is a “decline” of men, or is it an equalizing society?
B: I think there’s a bit of both going on. While women are certainly making strides to close (and in some areas, exceed) the gender gap on their, some of that closing is attributable to male sector jobs getting hit hardest by the recession. We’re already seeing men adjusting to the new economy by taking on traditionally “pink collar” jobs in healthcare and education. I’m sure we’ll see more of it in the future.
In the college arena, after years of focusing on women at the expense of men, many universities are shifting their attention to men as they see male enrollment and graduation rates decline precipitously. In the past few years, I’ve seen more and more universities establish Men’s Centers and male studies programs, something that didn’t even exist when I was in college ten years ago.
E: If someone wanted to do what you do (write for a blog full-time), what pieces of advice would you give them?
B: Don’t publish schlock. There’s plenty of it online already.
Work hard. Despite what you might read elsewhere, blogging for a living isn’t something you can just spend four hours a week on. If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to put in 50+ hours a week.
Get lucky. Sometimes getting notice by a big web influencer is just the thing you need to put yourself on the map. While there are things you can do to make that happen for yourself, most of it comes down to luck in my experience.
E: Oklahoma City was just named the “manliest city in America” by a snack food company… again. As an Oklahoma native, how do you feel about this? Was Tulsa robbed, or does OKC deserve it?
B: Haha. As a native of OKC, I thought that was pretty fun. I don’t put much stock in it actually. It was named the manliest city by a snack company and one of the criterions for determining which city is the manliest is how much snack food a city eats. OKC’s love for salty snacks and TV sports watching probably also explains why it’s one of the fattest in the country. Not manly.
E: Who are three of your favorite lesser-known men who you think did something awe-inspiring?
Bass Reeves. Born a slave, but then became one of the most successful US Marshals in the history of the Wild West.
Chiune Sugihara. A Japanese diplomat that risked his life by saving over 6,000 Lithuanian Jews during WWII.
Joshua Chamberlain. Grant and Lee seem to get the lion’s share of attention in Civil War history, while Joshua Chamberlain gets overlooked. He was a college professor in Maine who volunteered when the war broke out to serve in the Union army. Despite not having any military education, Chamberlain became a respected officer and executed one of the most amazing military maneuvers that allowed the Union to win the Battle of Gettysburg.
Thanks to Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness for his time spent answering my questions.
Ever been to the Art of Manliness website? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.