Over the holidays, between the decorating, wrapping, eating, visiting, celebrating and more eating, I managed to carve out some quiet time and read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Proclaimed the “counter-intuitive approach to living the good life”, the book has received phenomenal reception, including spending 105 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List*, and I can understand why.
Perhaps it’s because now that I’m in my mid-forties and have embraced my own “don’t give a damn” mentality, a lot of what I read resonated with me. Aside from Mark’s tell-it-like-it-is approach that mirrors my own, his notion of stop trying makes sense. Think about it; are you like me where some of your best thoughts or problem-solving ideas come from those non-moments when your mind is free and clear, like when in the shower or taking a bathroom break?
This is the same “backwards law” premise that Mark touts, in that sometimes when you stop caring so much about something, things somehow fall into place, everything works out as it’s supposed to. I’ve noticed this a lot in my own life.
In the past, caring too much about things that didn’t really matter was bad for my health, my relationships and my overall well-being. My metrics for success were making lots of money, the status of being married to an accomplished man, owning a big house, having lots of people in my circle and putting on perfect birthday parties for my kids, complete with making cakes that would look good on social media. I did achieve these things, but the trade off was I was run-down, out of shape, unhappy and unfulfilled. I was spending too much time and energy on things that didn’t really mean anything of significance. I needed to re-evaluate the metrics to which I measured success and focus my priorities on what matters the most. I needed to make these changes for me and to hell with what anyone else thought.
I had the guts to be self-employed, embracing its risks and rewards, but also enjoying the flexibility it provides so I can spend more quality time with my kids and on volunteer work. I left an unhealthy marriage that while has been hurtful for my girls, also shows them they too can be strong, independent females, and hopefully in the future will model for them what a loving relationship looks like. I live in a smaller house that takes less energy to clean and only fill it with things that bring me joy. I focus less on the quantity of people in my circle and more on the quality, and I work to nurture those relationships. I reinvigorated my health and fitness and am probably in the best physical shape of my life. And yes, I’ve simplified the birthday parties, making the cakes from a box and no longer spending countless hours decorating them. And you know what? My kids haven’t noticed – they still have a great time and know they are loved, and that I do care about. I am happy, energized and fulfilled. I am living my most authentic life.
I now accept who I am, failures and all. I’m an open book and take responsibility for it all – I own that everything that’s happened to me is because of my choices. Don’t get me wrong. I also celebrate my successes, but nobody else gives a damn about those except for me, and maybe my mother.
Our struggles determine our successes, and so I am thankful for all my struggles as they’ve brought me to where I am today. And I know more hardships are on the horizon. The differential, and what Mark Manson explains, is that anything worthwhile and rewarding comes from overcoming obstacles and negativity.
The same can be said in one’s professional life – failures in business give us the necessary perspective and metrics to understand what’s required to be successful. Becoming better means enduring mistakes and mishaps along the way, whether big or small. Those who are successful, measured by their own parameters, have embraced those failures and learned from them. Others become paralyzed with fear, not realizing that “everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience”, the “backwards law” at work again.
Failure is inevitable, but it’s also the way forward. Don’t recoil from it. Embrace, assess and learn from it. And most importantly, take responsibility for the failure, regardless of who is at fault. It may not be your fault per se, but how you choose to respond to the failure is all on you.
Take ownership of your own choices. Is one of your detrimental choices giving too much of a damn about inconsequential stuff? Do you obsess that your colleague spends too much time checking his social media or takes too many smoke breaks? Or are you resentful that your employee is taking her entitled lunch hour while you consistently work through yours? Or are you jealous that your competitor has a cooler office space? Why do you care so much? Really? If you’re servicing your clients well and/or doing work that has purpose, then isn’t that all that matters? And if you’re not, then maybe that’s a deeper question you need to ponder.
In the past I was needlessly bothered by some of those same things, and it got me nowhere. In recent years I worried that people didn’t think I have a real job because I’m a consultant and work from home. Forget that, it’s as real a job as any other. The difference is I get to work for myself, make my own hours and choose what work I want to take on. I’m grateful for the freedom and flexibility it provides, I’m doing work I enjoy, get to work with great people, and I can support myself and my girls. What more can I want?
The message here isn’t to give up on one’s hopes, dreams, aspirations or goals entirely, it’s just to care a little less about all the pointless stuff that gets in the way. Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as not giving a single damn about anything; we all must give a damn about something. As Mark so eloquently puts it, “the key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s about giving a fuck about less, about only what is true and immediate and important”.
So, this January, instead of spending your time making resolutions that have no hope of being realized, instead consider what’s most meaningful to you, change your metrics for measuring the benchmark, and care less about the things that don’t really matter. What are you waiting for?
Director, Marketing & Communications
*As of December 30, 2018, in the Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous category