Men's Journal

Nick Offerman’s Life Advice

 Douglas Gorenstein / NBC / Getty Images

What's the best advice you've ever received?
I had this amazing teacher in college, my sensei in Kabuki theater, named Shozo Sato. For me, he was between Mr. Miyagi and Obi-Wan Kenobi. He told me to always maintain the attitude of a student. No matter how old you are, wake up in the morning and think, "OK, how am I going to better myself today? Am I going to improve my French? Am I going to give my wife a back rub?" Then you go to bed having tried something. It leads to a life that is more fruitful than if you have the mind-set of a master. Once you think you're the master, then you grow bitter waiting for someone to throw you a parade because you're so smart.

What did your family teach you about being manly?
Well, that's funny. Being manly is something I get accused of with some regularity, and it's an accusation I'd like to shirk. I'm lucky that I grew up in a family where I was taught to take care of myself. That included being able to do things like split firewood or change a tire, build a barnor a fence. But none of those are particularly manly tasks, and, you know, my young female cousins are generally better with an ax than I am. I think manlinessis a buzzword these days, what with all the cute guys in Brooklyn growing beards and wearing flannel. Those of us who can change our own tires, we were there before axes came in fashion and will be there after the guys move on to their next accessory. By the way, I'm predicting it's going to be a unicycle.

How do you tell a dirty joke?
Preferably at a medium to low volume with sensitive timing and an absolutely straight face.


How does woodworking fulfill you?
Well, it fulfilled me in a very tangible way for years. I built scenery and props and made a wage as a carpenter, which allowed me to subsist until I could get paid enough as an actor to let my hands get a little softer. Then once I was doing better as an actor, I found I needed to make things with my hands to satisfy my sense of self-worth. My family are all incredibly humble and hardworking, and all work in public service in some way, which I admire. They make me want to achieve tangible goals like building a table so I can hold my head up around them, since I've done something beyond my squirrelly work as a clown on TV. It allows me to feel like I'm still a member of my family.

What's the best way to collaborate? 
In general, keep a lid on the ego. At my woodshop for example, there’s always more than one right way to solve any problem. So we relish the opportunity to get three or four of us around and say, okay, this tabletop is very heavy and unwieldy but they want this particular pillar base design. How can I best engineer this so that it’ll last for 300 years without falling on any toddlers. It’s a really enjoyable puzzle — and puzzles are delightful. 

How should someone approach a carpentry project?
I would liken it to the typically male tradition of not wanting to ask someone for directions. My advice would be to let go of that. Just do as much homework as possible, and if you have someone in your life who is a builder, talk it through with them.

What's the secret to a happy marriage?
Having the ability to quell the inner voice that says, "I'm right, goddammit," and come around to understanding that we're both right and we're both wrong, so let's make sweet love.

Is there an advantage to being with an older woman?
They are much more learned in the manipulation of things like genitalia and bureaucracy. From the get-go, I’ve considered Megan Mullally — besides being my best friend and lover and collaborator — my teacher. I think that’s probably a good secret to marriage as well, whether you have an age difference or not. If you can understand that any other person in a partnership has a great deal to teach you and if you mutually learn from one another, then you come to understand how the partnership is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Much like the wonder twins on Superfriends. 

VIDEO: Nick Offerman's Woodworking Secrets

What advice would you give the younger you? 
I would tell young Nick Offerman, don’t ever be intimidated by anyone no matter how fancy a suit of clothes they’re wearing. They still wipe their fanny every day the same as you. Early on I would have these meetings in the offices of executives at studios and networks and I considered myself of the hoi-polloi and them of royal lineage and I put myself beneath them. It made a big difference for me when I learned that they hoped I would be royalty just like I hoped they would. Once I was able to relax and be myself and understand I was their equal, things really took off for me. 

What are your rules about facial hair?
I don’t have any rules. As a character actor I’ve enjoyed employing every possible iteration of facial hair and everything from a shaved head to long curly ringlets. I love bringing a toolbox of all these different looks to the table for any role but because my most visible role — that of Ron Swanson — had a substantial share of mustache, I somehow became associated with that. I don’t identify with a mustache any more than I identify with a beard or mutton chops or any other look. It’s simply one of the masks that I was able to use in my job. 

What does the great outdoors mean to you?
I'm besotted with walking through the woods and hiking wherever I can, as well as paddling my canoe at any given opportunity on any body of water short of the ocean. I grew up in the country, so I love being outside and being in the weather and the elements. I feel like that makes every day more delicious, and it allows me to maintain an appreciation for the state of the health of Mother Nature, something I think our society, in urban and suburban areas, has dangerously lost track of.

What should a person know about drugs and booze and how should they use it?
We learned from the two great failures is prohibition and the war on drugs that by telling our young people you can’t have something, all you’re doing is exponentially increasing their desire to have that thing. Intoxicants should be handled with respect, and they shouldn’t be hidden away. 

How should a person handle regret?
Regret is something to be swallowed and digested and then let pass through. It’s a natural part of life and if you turn your regret into a lesson, it seems to me like that’s the best thing that can come of it. 

How should a person prepare his or her meat?
Over flame, briefly. If there's no pink, I will demur at placing it in my piehole.

What role should vanity play in a person's life?
I have always found that the less I look in a mirror, the happier I am.