Author: Mark Manson
Narrator: Roger Wayne
First, I apologize for anyone who is of delicate sensibilities – who believe dirty four letter words are more than just words, and are also in no way useful for emphasizing, punctuating, and/or expressing oneself. This post is not for you. Check out this video for further details on the comprehensive uses of the most prominently featured four letter word in this post and in the book I will be talking about: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
For the rest of us, probably Gen-X and Millennials, take a step back. Look at your world around you; the size and scope that the needs, desires, and schedule of your life have reached. Think about all the stress that you constantly have sitting on your shoulders, base of your neck skull, lower back – basically wherever you carry it. Consider all of that baggage you tote around from your job, your relationships, your family, and ultimately from what society demands that you need in your life. Query what you expect of yourself in modern America – and other countries, but mostly America. Kind of sucks, doesn’t it?
If you are in your twenties, and you feel the anxiety of life as it seemingly collapses around you, probably because you feel like you’re spiraling without direction in the void of space in your post college years. If you’re in your thirties with this anxiety, its possibly because you feel like you haven’t achieved enough in the over three decades that you’ve been on this earth, because you were instead wandering aimlessly in the void of space for your twenties. If you’re a teenager and you feel this anxiety, STOP. This is feeling is normal, hormones suck, and I am so sorry you have to go through it but we all did. Relax and enjoy no real responsibilities, because the aimless spiraling twenties will be here before you know it. For those of us that are there, and beyond, take a moment, and give a listen to Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.
In this wonderful, vulgar, and all too poignant book – that is in part meditative self-help, and in another part a motivational memoir – Manson digs into the problems of unrealistic positive expectations that our culture and other self-meditative books have been pushing on the zeitgeist of society.
“Be perfect and amazing and crap out 12-karot gold nuggets before breakfast each morning, while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two-and-a-half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.”
This is what he suggests we attempt to make of our lives. For me, listening to this audiobook, it’s eerily true. It opened my eyes to just how often I’ve slipped into desiring this fantasy world (Helicopter,12-karot gold crap nugget, and all).
Manson suggests these dreams – these stories we tell ourselves, and others enforce that we should strive to be – are overly fixating on what we lack, and only stand to remind us of what we are not. ‘They’ tell us that we need more in our lives to be truly happy. “Buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more.” In essence, Manson posits that society is encouraging us to “Give a Fuck” about everything, and probably only because its good for business. The thesis of Manson’s whole book (and I will do this without vulgarity, because this article already has an ‘R’ rating) is stop yourself from caring about everything so much, all the time, because it’s bad for your mental health. In his own words “The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more, its giving a fuck about less. Giving a fuck about what is true and immediate and important.”
Now, because we are storytellers here, I want to talk about how this book influenced me. For that I have to get a little introspective and honest. I have never had a difficult life. I’m a male, I’m white, and I grew up in a loving family in the Midwest. Though every person has a mountain to climb, the mountain I’ve had to climb, I was born a mile up (figuratively and literally). I’m lucky and grateful, but it doesn’t mean I struggle any less in my day to day. The point is it doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, life will still be full of struggles. Manson defines life as “essentially an endless series of problems.” The suggestion that there are always going to be struggles at every turn is part of the human condition. This could be depressing, but Manson goes on to say that “our struggle determines our success” and “Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.” And this meditation of life being a constant back and forth of problem solving and problem having, really did make me strongly consider the scope of what I was taking on in my life, and if giving a fuck about all the issues thrown at me, at friends, at society; can be achieved. After looking at it, a manifestation of Zen somewhat washed over me. I realized I was struggling for things that were not important, and unrealistic. I had to change my perspective. I had to expect as soon as I handle the issue of immediate importance that I have chosen, that another will inevitably take its place. Finally though, after years of feeling like I was drowning, I feel like I am treading with my head above water. And that’s all any of us can ask. And that came from me taking responsibility of my actions.
This goes into the other major item I took away from Manson’s book. That of responsibility vs. fault, and how, inevitably you aren’t ever able to only choose your struggles. No matter what, we are always performing actions, even through inaction, and though something may not be our problem, our choice to respond to or ignore that problem always has consequences. Though the problem might not be your fault, you will react and you must take ownership of that choice. His example is that of a baby being abandoned on your doorstep. It is not your fault that baby was abandoned on your doorstep, but you are now responsible for the actions you take in dealing with that. Whether that’s taking it in, ignoring it, or “feeding it to your pitbull.” Its made me come down off my high horse and take accountability, to start taking action towards achievable goals, and be me because when you pair down what you give a fuck about to just the important stuff, you are always defining yourself more sharply with every action.
Ultimately this post isn’t so much a review of Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck,” (its personable, funny, and interesting) but a reflection on the effect it had in my own life. It has helped me through a lot of personal conflict recently, and also allowed me to help others through their problems as well. I’ve been more level-headed, less stressed; and despite the world being a ever heating, ever growing garbage heap, lead by a bunch of irrelevant sociopaths with the ability to launch a bunch of miniature suns at one another, I’ve been happier and more successful in my own life. As with this post, this book might not be for everyone, and you, the reader, should this be for you, will almost certainly get something entirely different out if it than what I have. Isn’t that the point though? Give less fucks; find what is important to you, and your life and struggle on. Be alive. And then you die.