A Subtle Art
A new perspective, a self-help book, and a road map for the future.
In general, I am a pessimistic person. My glass is always half empty. I am quick to take extreme, black or white, all or nothing, positions. I predict the worst in every situation.
My anxiety is high. My blood pressure is elevated. My fear of the unknown is ramped up to 11. My self-induced stress level is through the roof. Politics, sports, and pop culture oftentimes tear me apart, and I have trouble finding silver linings.
I recognize these less than stellar qualities in myself and, now with my attention as of late focused on current events, they bubble and froth. However, it’s really not just about the election, baseball trades, or basketball recruiting. My belief is there’s something more going on. It’s a general malaise floating around me like the cloud of dirt around Pig-Pen of the Peanuts gang.
I can’t enjoy anything unless I’m emotionally detached. I didn’t care who won the World Series and found it fun and exciting. I was also genuinely happy for my friends and family, who are long-time Cubs fans but don’t tell anyone. If the St. Louis Cardinals would have been in the Fall Classic, my emotional barometer would rise and fall with every pitch. If they would have lost, I would have been a wreck.
I used to follow college basketball and football recruiting at the University of Illinois practically religiously. I can’t do it anymore. The highs are never high enough, and the lows are devastating.
Just watching regular games at home can be difficult. I scream at the players, the coaches, and the refs. I get worked up, and my self-induced stress level is always close to hitting the red line.
My wife asked me recently what makes me happy. I said my family, my extended family, lots of external things like a good book, music, movies, good writing, art, and being creative. She said it’s important to remind yourself what to care about and, more importantly, what not to care about.
That is my problem―I care too much about things that I shouldn’t let affect me. Prioritizing the important things in my life and keeping my focus there is one of my biggest personal faults.
So, I bought a book.
Yeah, yeah… it’s a self-help book, but one that has surprised me with every page turn. Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of the Not Giving a F*ck is making me think about things in ways I haven’t before. It’s funny; when I tell my wife about some insight or thought process from the book, she just smiles and says something akin to, “I’ve been telling you that for years…”
The premise of the book is simple. We care far too much about situations and things when they do not deserve the time and energy. Manson says it this way (warning: there’s a lot of “fucks” coming up. He doesn’t give a fuck. Neither should you.):
We give a fuck about the rude gas station attendant who gave us too many nickels. We give a fuck when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give a fuck when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend. We give a fuck when it’s raining and we were supposed to go jogging in the morning.
Fucks given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-fucking spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? Convenience? Easy comforts? A pat on the fucking back maybe?
This is the problem, my friend.
Because when we give too many fucks, when we choose to give a fuck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times, that’s when life fucks us.
I always thought if you didn’t care and were indifferent to things, you could simply float through it all unconcerned and unaffected. Projecting indifference made me feel “too cool for school.” I was “above it all,” and I think, in retrospect, I came across as a giant douchebag. A know-it-all. An asshole. I was selfish.
So, I turned my energy into caring about things. I gave a shit about everything. My passions ruled my emotional state at any one time. Now, I’ve found I care far too much about everything and will spiral into depression and self-pity when outcomes are not to my liking. I was entitled to my happiness… dammit.
Not caring doesn’t work. Caring too much doesn’t work. Is there a balance?
Manson describes balance by explaining how those “who don’t give a fuck” think, “They say ‘Fuck it,’ not to everything in life, but rather they say ‘Fuck it’ to everything unimportant in life. They reserve their fucks for what truly fucking matters. Friends. Family. Purpose.” So, step one for me is to define what’s important in my life and spend my time, energy, and “fucks” there.
There’s an old saying about not crying over spilled milk. It means not focusing on the little problems. Manson addresses this as well:
If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you — your ex-girlfriend’s new Facebook picture, how quickly the batteries die in the TV remote, missing out on yet another 2-for-1 sale on hand sanitizer — chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem. Not the hand sanitizer.
I need to spend my time, energy, and “fucks” on the things that matter. It means finding what that actually is and pursuing it. What should I legitimately give a fuck about?
So, what is going on in my life?
I have a beautiful wife, great kids, a nice house, a good job, an awesome family, and a few close friends. I’m never going to write the “Great American Novel,” and that’s OK. I’m never going to run like I did in high school and college, and I’m OK with that. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write a novel or get into better shape. I absolutely should, but my priorities need to be set, and family comes first.
With the new year fast approaching, my focus is going to shift. I spent far too much time worrying about the wrong things and making myself miserable. My road map for 2017 is to focus on my family, my creativity, and the things that bring joy to my life.
It means I need to look for experiences that bring me happiness. I’m going to finish my short story and essay collection. I’m going to market Goodnight Princess to more than friends, family, and acquaintances. I’m going to go on a real Honeymoon with my wife. Maybe I will write that novel and get into better shape too.
Politics, sports, and pop culture will still be a part of my entertainment diet, but I’m going to pull back from letting them take over my entire life. It’s unhealthy. I need a change of perspective and a new road to travel down.
These are the things that matter:
I’m going to plant my tree here and quit chasing happiness externally. The things that matter bring me untold joy, and I will remember where I should focus my time, energy, and “fucks.”