When Does A Boy Become A Man? Lessons From Kipling’s ‘If’

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

When you make a purchase using links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Rudyard Kipling
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  
   Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
   With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  
   And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
— If, Rudyard Kipling

These lines from Rudyard Kipling’s If are probably familiar. 

The poem, a letter to his son, contains a set of instructions on how he should live a virtuous and fulfilling life.

While the poem, through a larger lens, is a guide for everyone, it’s his last line “And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!” that makes it somewhat a recipe for manhood.

This is how Rudyard Kipling wants us to live if we are to be men.

Keep Your Head

If you can keep your head when all about you  

   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

   But make allowance for their doubting too;  

To be a man means to be calm in the most difficult situations. It implies maintaining composure, clarity of thought, and resilience in the face of adversity.

How many times have we found ourselves in a predicament, panicked and lost it?

Such moments test our masculinity.

Yes, it is easier said than done. But Mr. Kipling reminds us to ‘keep our head’ even when others are blaming it on us. 

To master your emotions is not to suppress them. It is to process them with diligence, and express them with intelligence.


If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

How long can you wait?

How long can you keep going even when it looks like nothing to others? Because the thought of success itself is greater than the desire to quit.

Not to be confused with indecision, patience is waiting on wisdom. And not just waiting, but waiting well and moving decisively. 

Patience is keeping a good attitude while you wait. No fast forwards, no rewinds, just waiting and having faith.

It is when you are supposed to be mad but, instead, choose to understand. Because you know that everything comes at the right time.

Patience is one of the greatest virtues a man can possess. But it cannot be rushed.

You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.

Triumph and Disaster

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

   And treat those two impostors just the same; 

This is perhaps Kipling’s most difficult lesson to apply.

He tells us to work desperately and ferociously hard at something, fail or succeed at it, and be placid with either outcome.

Because life is too unpredictable to overwhelm ourselves with a single victory or failure.

One win isn’t a guarantee for continued success, the same way a setback doesn’t equate to failure. 

The goal is to approach both situations pragmatically and not let them deflect us from our long-term goal.

Keep Your Virtue

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

   Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

We live in a world full of deception. Where the tendency to take advantage of people is fairly common.

Difficult as it is, manhood is the ability to not give into these temptations. Not to indulge in negative behaviors, and instead, lead a principled and honest life.

A life of virtue is where you put the needs of others before yours. Where you never act under compulsion, out of selfishness, or without forethought with misgivings.

And more importantly, when success comes knocking, we shouldn’t think of ourselves as too superior.

No matter where life takes you, don’t forget where you came from.

Fill the Unforgiving Minute

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

   With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  

Life in its madness is full of ups and downs. That’s why you need to make each minute count.

You owe your dreams your courage. So, go for it – whatever it is you want. Do the things you’ve always wanted, and make the most of every moment.

It’s better to worry about doing too much than doing too little. Because the ill effects of burnout can be undone.

But the regret of reaching the end of your life knowing you never attained your full potential– that is irreversible.

You’ll Be a Man, My Son

Masculinity encapsulates a lot. And to fully grasp it, you’ll need a lot more than this poem.

But Mr.Kipling sets a solid foundation for us. He creates a roadmap on what’s important for a virtuous life.

If we can take these lessons to heart, and apply them in our lives, work and relationships, ours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.

And which is more, we will be men!


More From the Author: