Mike Sagun is a men’s life coach, retreat facilitator, and the co-founder of The Unshakable Man. He is a proud Bay Area native and a fresh American immigrant permanently living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where he lives a less chaotic and much slower life. We invited Mike for an open conversation about his own personal story, and also to listen to his knowledge and experience in dealing with stress, trauma and to understand how to help people in tough times.
Hi Mike, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in San Jose, a multicultural city with a rich history of immigrants who found homes around orchards and raised families that represented every shade of brown. My father came to the US from the Philippines in the late 70s. My mother was born in Norfolk, VA to 2 Filipino immigrants who found opportunity by way of the US Navy. My father had strong Filipino values: loyalty, work hard, work often, do as you're told, and don’t ask questions. My mother had strong American values: assimilate, blend in, and follow your heart. Both my parents were born in the 50s. My father was raised with American soldiers taking over their land and then giving it back to the Philippine government. And in his teens, he grew up with President Marcos and Marshall Law -- he was obedient, even if it went against his own wild nature. My mother grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and her parents took a side. They did their best to blend in with white people, oftentimes staying out of the sun to keep their fair complexion.
My parents were unhappy together -- two people with dissimilar values, raising two kids, in an ever changing environment of tech and money. They divorced when I was young. For years, my sister and I would split time between parents every week or every other weekend--mostly living out of our suitcases. Unpacking our clothes seemed irrational. Growing up, my father never taught me what it meant to grow from boy to man. And my ideas of manhood mostly came from my mother, who had a skewed view of men -- I don’t blame her, she had been traumatized by many of her male partners.
I was a victim of sexual abuse, physical and verbal bullying, and I was a closeted gay. I had anger, sadness, shame, guilt, and fear trapped in my body my entire childhood. And I didn’t know how to talk about it. I never felt safe telling my parents -- sadness and anger was attached to physical pain. My mom would say things like, “Stop crying or your dad will see you”. And my father would call me “stupid” for feeling angry. So I put on several layers of masks to hide my pain and it became destructive.
How did you become men’s life coach?
I turned to alcohol and other risky behaviors. One night during my sophomore year of high school, I sat in my bedroom alone and drank a bottle of tequila. I woke up the next morning choking on my vomit. It was a major turning point in my life. And I knew I needed help and guidance.
Kevin Lasit, was a high school teacher turned mentor. He was the first man in my life that held me when I cried and told me it was “ok”. This man fostered love, compassion, and empathy in me. And he helped heal some of my wounds. I followed his footsteps -- going to school for education, finding a career working with young people, and educating communities about making healthy decisions. About 7 years into my career, my intuition told me that I had a higher purpose to serve.
I stumbled on some surprising data: 1. Loneliness and isolation are epidemics in America. 2. The highest demographic of suicides in America are committed by men. 3. Men are less likely to ask for help than women.
I was lucky. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience Study I should be at risk for a list of health problems and early death. But I’m living with good health, beautiful relationships, and work that energizes me. And I owe it to the mentors, teachers, and coaches I’ve had in my life.
While I attended Coaches Training Institute, I discovered a new purpose: I create safe spaces for men to think deeply about themselves and live authentically. I’m here to help, guide, teach, and mentor men to heal and find meaning in their lives. I believe when men heal, the whole world heals.
What is the Unshakable Man Paradox?
The Unshakable Man is a men’s coaching practice focused on men’s total health and wellness. We also produce The Unshakable Man Podcast and a Newsletter for Men. We help men slow down to connect with who they are and what they want in their lives.
By definition, unshakable means to stay steadfast on our beliefs and opinions. It means to be unwavering in who we are. Men who come to us have realized that their path isn’t in alignment with who they want to be. We help those men gain clarity so they can start living an unshakable life. An unshakable man is assertive and bold. He takes risks and practices personal integrity. He leads with vulnerability and his heart. He is aware and present. And he loves hard, cares deeply, and lives with compassion. We are a community of men who want to learn new perspectives and ideas of what it means to be a man. And sometimes that looks like breaking down and rebuilding our thoughts, stories, and beliefs about who we are.
Part of the solutions you offer is a stress training. In our current crisis - how do you think we should handle the stress?
I feel scared. I can feel anxiety in my temples and chest. I feel fear in my gut. And there’s stress in my shoulders and upper back. I also feel gratitude as the corners of my lips rise. And compassion is living in my solar plexus.
It is normal to feel a mixture of emotions right now. The news sends a clear message that stress, anxiety, and fear are being felt by people all over the world. And it’s a natural response to mirror those emotions in our own lives. So many of us are living in survival mode right now — our bodies are tense, our nervous system is activated, and we are ready to fight, take flight, or freeze.
But there's help… and you don’t need to take a pill or pay a professional.
Breathing isn’t new. It’s the first thing we do when we leave the womb. And the last thing we do when we join the earth. We’ve been doing it our entire lives. You’re already a skilled breather. But how often do you take intentional and voluntary breaths?
Intentional breathing reactivates our parasympathetic nervous system — which calms our heart rates, lowers our blood pressure, and slows our bodies down. Try this right now, sit upright, plant your feet flat on the floor, place your hands at your sides or on top of your lap, close your eyes, and take 6 deep belly breaths — breathe deeply into your stomach and fill your lungs, then slowly release the air through your mouth. As the air leaves your body, start to relax your face, drop your shoulders, and let your gut stick out. There isn’t a wrong way of doing this. After you take 6 breaths, notice what feels different in your body. Maybe there’s less tension in your shoulders or your legs feel more relaxed. If you don’t feel anything different, do it again and let go of any stories, thoughts, fears, and expectations that might be inhibiting you from relaxing. And if you felt something different, do it again and this time try 10 deep belly breaths.
Another simple exercise to destress takes 30 seconds to a minute. And it only involves acknowledging and labeling the emotions we’re feeling right now — similar to what I did above. When we acknowledge and label the emotions we’re feeling, it diffuses the power of that emotion. This also builds our emotional awareness. Developing our emotional awareness increases our capacity to respond to difficult situations (like what we’re all experiencing right now) productively and healthily. Emotions live in our bodies. And when we don’t express them or let them out, they get trapped in our muscles which leads to chronic stress.
If you’re having trouble articulating your emotions, don’t worry, you're not the only one. Check out our Vocabulary of Emotions worksheet to strengthen your emotional intelligence.
What are your tips for the new "WFH" routine?
My husband, Jerry, and I have been #WFH (working from home) for several years. He runs an art business and I run a coaching practice. And even before we moved to Mexico, we worked only 7’ away from each other in our Oakland home. There’s now a whopping 10’ gap between us and our dynamic is the same. We set boundaries:
-9am-5pm are work hours
-5pm hits and we are completely unplugged with a glass of wine or martini in hand
-Closed door or headphones in ears means “Do Not Disturb”
-If there is something pressing we need to talk to each other about, we ask if we can take a minute or 5. If we are focused, we are allowed to say, “not right now”.
-We give each other physical space. Even though we work 10’ away from each other, we’re usually in different rooms.
-Speak up for your needs. And honor theirs. This might be new for both of you. The dynamic in your relationship can change. And that’s ok — you’re seeing a lot more of each other and new challenges might arise. Share what you are feeling. And listen to theirs.
-If you have video calls, you might see a decrease in bandwidth if your partner is also on a video call. Sync up your calendars to see upcoming meetings and plan calls/meetings around each other’s schedule. We use Google Cal.
-Use your calendar to schedule work, meals, quality time with your partner, personal time, and space away from each other.
-If you don’t have a commute anymore, use this time to focus and take care of yourself. Develop a morning ritual: meditate, journal, read, move your body, and drink plenty of water.
How has masculinity changed during the years and where do you see it is going in the near future?
Masculinity hasn’t changed. But our culture around masculinity and manhood has. Masculine traits have always been about being confident, assertive, purposeful, protective, and responsible — and these are traits we see in both men and women.
However, the qualities of being a man for our fathers and grandfathers have evolved. We’ve given more power and responsibility to women to assert, protect, and provide. Which has left some men with traditional views of manhood feeling less than or powerless. It has also empowered men to step into their feminine fully as caretakers and nurturers. What defined a man for our parents might not define the man we are today. So we’re seeing a shift.
More men are stay at home dads, proud feminists, and there are more out and proud men in the GBTQ community. So the idea of what it means to be a man is changing towards a more balanced human being.
And I see a major divide happening with the culture of manhood. If there were a spectrum of men, on one side of the spectrum we see guys who embody the divine masculine and on the other side of the spectrum we see what Mark Greene calls the “Masculinity Extremists” (MGTOWs, Incels, & RedPill guys). If we want to have a more balanced culture, we need to start listening to each other.
The question, “what does it mean to be a man?” is polarizing today. Rather, I like to ask a man, “what’s it like to walk in your shoes for a day?”