Almost every American man wants to be a cowboy, a pirate, a warrior or a poet. Maybe all of them or at least some variation. No boy ever grows up dreaming of being an account manager and driving a Toyota Camry.

The archetypical story of the American man isn’t about the country boy who goes to the city and becomes civilized. That’s a European story. The American story is the opposite. The civilized become uncivilized. It’s Thoreau’s Walden, It’s Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, It’s Jack London’s Call of the Wild, It’s Robert Redford’s Jerimiah Johnson. It’s why you cheered for Captain Jack Sparrow instead of Commodore James Norrington.

The American story isn’t a story of gentlemen. It’s of rough men. We don’t celebrate softness. We don’t celebrate the refined. Like it or not, American culture celebrates the restrained savage attuned to the environment he finds himself in. We admire men who are dangerous but capable of self-control. Though social media may have you thinking otherwise, take a step back and remember that you can find what a culture honors and fears by the stories they tell. The very first American film, The Great Train Robbery, spawned an entirely new genre of film called the Western. And from John Wayne to Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone, American’s can’t seem to get enough of it. You don’t have to agree with this claim, but you should at least acknowledge it.

Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and their peers defined a philosophy that became known American Transcendentalism. It pushes back against conformity and tradition and embraces free thought, self-reliance, individualism, civil disobedience and a strong moral code. As Thoreau, put it “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”

In other words, the archetype of the American cowboy.

And let’s face it. It’s hard to feel like a pirate or a cowboy when you’re driving a Camry and work in middle management. And that disconnect can be soul killing. Again, as Thoreau put it, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”

Your soul wants to sail the open sea or chase bandits across the prairie. You want to live in a log cabin somewhere back in the mountains hunting your own food and bathing in crystal clear stream. You want campfires and be able to see the stars at night. But, instead you’re sitting at your desk considering writing a very strongly worded e-mail to someone at work who’s being passive aggressive. But then again, what happens if they report it to HR and you get accused of microaggression?

Deep down, embedded in our culture and our souls there is this ideal, this archetype of what we, as men, consider the ideal man. And that ideal has been reinforced by the stories that surround us. But, in case you haven’t noticed, unless your Johnny Depp or Kevin Costner, there’s generally not that much money in being a pirate or cowboy. The American archetype doesn’t always fit very well as a career path. And we can’t seem to get away from the reality that there are bills to pay, families to feed, Camrys that need their oil changed and e-mails to answer. So we trade wide open spaces for a house with a two car garage in a good school district.

You may imagine yourself as Rooster Cogburn with the reins of your horse clinched in your teeth, galloping across an open field with guns blazing, but the fact is you’re not. A long time ago, you traded a life of risk and adventure for one of security and comfort. And yet that nagging call of the wild is always in our ear and has us scrolling our phones during Zoom meetings and living vicariously through YouTubers who seem to be living a more vibrant life.

When we don’t serve the ideal, the godhead. We pick the next thing on the list and become the children of a lesser god attuned to lesser values

And we know that nobody wants to watch a movie about this life.