Adult life is hard. Gone are the simple days of youth. And while it’s easy to miss the stressors of childhood—recess not being long enough, the popular girl at school disliking us, not knowing the motions of the skipping games everyone plays—the fact that those stressors even existed illuminates a reality we like to ignore: we’re constantly upset or concerned about something, and we always have been.
That might sound negative, but it’s true, and it’s the first thing I learned while reading Mark Manson’s best-selling novel, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
The book was gifted to me by my very well-meaning boyfriend. I was stressed and as far as he was concerned I was putting way too much energy (giving way too many f*cks) towards people and things that didn’t deserve it. Feeling powerless and unsure how to help, he bought me this book. And honestly? When I first saw it I was upset. Upset at the insinuation that I was caring too much about things, and a bit offended at the thought that a “self-help” book would solve this problem. But it turns out he was right. I definitely did care too much about every single teeny thing that happened to me. Every upsetting email or misstep at work or in my personal life, I took as a slight, and that is the very definition of giving too many f*cks as defined by Manson.
So I read the book, and lo and behold it actually got me thinking. Not about how to stop caring, but about how to care less about things that don’t matter, care more about the things that do, and accept that discomfort and worry in life are inevitable but there are productive, healthy ways to deal with those feelings. That brings us to lesson one.
Remember that not every misstep is the end of the world (seriously, you’ve survived worse), in fact, it’s a learning experience.
It is very easy to feel like a failure when you work in public relations (I’m an Account Executive on the PR team here at Eighty-Eight). Sometimes a client announcement doesn’t land as well with media as you hoped, sometimes you have to come up with an entirely new strategy and even then things might not land, and sometimes a reporter emails you back after you send them what you think is a great, interesting pitch and tells you to take them off your email outreach list forever. It happens, and it sucks.
But in both public relations and elsewhere in life, these missteps are unavoidable. Think about all the times you’ve failed and survived in the past. It happens near constantly. You’ve survived it before, you’ll survive it again, and (because this is how the brain works) you’ll learn from it. To quote Manson, “just like stubbing our toe teaches us to walk into fewer tables, the emotional pain of rejection or failure teaches us how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future”.
Take responsibility for everything that happens to you.
In Manson’s chapter about personal responsibility, he tells a sweet story about a man named William James. James was born with a number of physical ailments that made his life very difficult. Mostly confined to his room and in a near constant depressive state, he had few friends, did poorly in school, and well into his early adult life lacked any real achievements (in both his eyes and the eyes of his family). His brother, by comparison was Henry James, the world-renowned novelist. After a particularly rough bout of depression, James began contemplating the end of his life but decided that before making any rash decisions he would conduct a little experiment: for a year he would take full responsibility for everything that happened to him, no matter what, and would try his damndest to change his circumstances. He ended up becoming the father of American Psychology.
All this to say that, of course, many of the things that happen to us are outside of our control. They are not our fault. But we are responsible for how we react to everything that happens to us, whether it’s our fault or not. And accepting that responsibility, rather than placing the blame on others and waiting for them to fix a problem that they perhaps thrust upon us, is essentially not giving a f*ck about your negative circumstances, not letting them control you, and instead taking control of them.
Understand that not giving any f*cks is actually impossible.
You have to care about something (even caring about nothing is caring about something). But you don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) care about everything. Apathy is not admirable, but placing value on doing good work, being honest and making the world a better place, is. And to value those things, you have to care. You can choose what you care about though—and while I realize that’s easier said than done, as it can require a lot of self reflection, many of us are already doing it unconsciously—and in doing so, you limit the number of f*cks you give about useless, petty things and can focus your energy on caring about the things that add meaning to your life.