How to Live Your Life in a No-Bullshit Zone

Julien Smith’s Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck is recommended reading for anyone who’s afraid to live the life they want to live.  So is watching Marwencol, a documentary about a guy who survived a brutal assault, lost his memory, and retrained himself on how to live — and how to decide who he is — by creating a fictional world that he photographs with stunning results.  (Saw this last night; brilliant.)

Living a worthwhile life is something most of us aspire to but rarely act on (beyond setting all those New Year’s Resolutions, which are usually sad memories by March).

I’m not going to tell you how to live a meaningful life, because I’m still figuring that part out myself.  But I can suggest making a sweeping change that’ll help you do a lot less of what’s currently holding you back:

Stop Hiding Behind Bullshit

Bullshit is anything that distracts you from what really matters.  It’s all the excuses, lies, self-deception, lethargy, self-invented obstacles, other people who want to take advantage of your time, money or kindness, and everything else that diverts your energy.

Let’s say you’re dying.  (Because you are.  Every day.)  When you reach the end, will you be proud of all the time you spent not getting things done, not living up to your own expectations, and not achieving your goals?  (Actually, if you just enjoy living for the sake of living, you may not care either way.  Goals might not be your thing.  But if you’re the kind of person who sets them, you’re probably the kind of person who wants to achieve them, right?)

So here are 9 tips to help you not create more drama, distractions and disappointment in your own life.  Think of it as a bath for your brain.

1. Never lie. I shouldn’t have to explain this.

2. Pay on time. I’m still working on this one myself, but trust me: paying cash, on time, is a great feeling that negates an endless spiral of loose ends that comes from paying on credit (or not being able to pay at all).

3. Make sure everyone knows your priorities — especially you. When no one knows what you want, every request for your time and attention seems reasonable.  When everyone knows what you stand for and what you want, they have to consciously decide whether they want to help you or get in your way.  And when you know what you need, you can decide according to your own internal hierarchy of needs.  Otherwise, you’re just guessing.

4. Settle all arguments immediately. Don’t drag it out.  Don’t avoid it.  Don’t sleep on it.  Don’t hope it goes away.  Grab it head-on, state your case, give them the chance to state theirs, and then decide if your opinion has changed.  Either way, you win because you don’t lose time worrying about what other people think, or trying to prove your point.  If someone else won’t let an argument drop, walk away.  No single argument is worth losing a relationship over, but every argument is worth walking away from when it’s clear there’s no end in sight.

5. Confront it or ignore it. People will talk shit about you.  Complications will arise.  In the immortal words of someone, “there’s always something.”  If you know your priorities (see #3), you’ll know which wrinkles need to be ironed out and which ones you don’t need to care about.  Stick to those priorities; otherwise, you’ll lose sleep over things that matter to absolutely no one.

6. Ignore time sucks and downers. The world is filled with people who want something from you.  Advice, help, a shoulder to cry on, external validation, a person who won’t turn them away.  Again, refer to your priorities.  “Cleaning up someone else’s mess” is almost never going to be your top priority; in fact, if it is, you’re probably someone who expects someone else to clean up your mess.  That’s not a recipe for dying with a lot of crossed-off to-dos on your bucket list; that’s a recipe for an early grave that’s been dug by other people’s bullshit because you can’t establish boundaries.  Life is short; have one, and stop coddling all the people who are hiding from theirs.

7. No politics. Unless you can afford to buy every vote from your local congressperson, or unless your elected representatives want to kill or deport you, you have no business caring about politics.  Politics is business; you already have your own.

8. One set of rules. Don’t have a special roll call of people who are allowed to wreak havoc on your life because they’re your family / kids / boss / elders / coworkers / old army buddies / attractive / richer than you are.  Treat everyone the same.  Exceptions make rules meaningless.

9. Don’t be afraid to be alone. If you want to live a life without bullshit, you’re going to piss off a lot of people because a lot of people are afraid to live their lives without bullshit.  Some of them aren’t ready to give up their own lies, self-deceptions and other corrosive behavior, and they’ll resent being forced to make their own self-evaluations when your priorities conflict with theirs.  They’ll think you’re being a bad friend / child / lover / employee / person when you don’t waver from your own compass and allow them to unload their bullshit on you.


What you’re actually being is the best friend / child / lover / employee / person you possibly could be, because you’re giving them an opportunity to stop burdening you with bullshit in the first place.  And if they stop seeing you as a fellow bullshit-lover, maybe they’ll stop loving it so much themselves.

And if not?


You have better things to do.

(Yes, you. You have better things to do.  Don’t forget that.)

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  • Bridget Forney

    I enjoyed this post, and not just because of the title. If there is one thing I’ll take away from it, that will be #7 – keep one set of rules for everyone. I think this is easier said than done, especially when you’re talking about a “roll call” list of loved ones, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.n

  • Jessica Fenlon

    Love this, Justin! Of course I’m going to add my favorite no bullshit approach.nnMy #9 : “eyes on my own work”. This prevents negative-behavior timewasting and keeps motivation clear.nnJockeying for social position, or selling onesself before the work is done to ‘top’ the other person, (i.e. “i’m better than …”) = a gigantic timesuck. Another phrase for this behavior is ‘writing checks with your mouth that your ass can’t cash’. All that time bullshitting could be spent producing the work. Are you doing the work to top others, to satisfy your own ego? Or to make good work?nnSecond, comparison is the death of self-contentment. There will always be ‘something better than’ or ‘something preferred’ or whatever. What I’m doing is not about that. Discarding the “am I doing it right?” self-doubt that leads me to look for what others are doing and self-compare, I’ll just do my best, instead.nnThird, reacting to what other people are doing is not necessarily creation. I am thinking of the string of knitting shops that opened in Pittsburgh because the customer of one shop thought to herself, “I could do this better than that bitch!” after having a negative customer service experience. While some of the results were lasting, some were not. Observing those dynamics at play in small business were quite informative, to say the least.nnFourth, if I am focused on making my best, I’m not engaged in counterproductive BS like playing enemy games. Instead I can be the best possible {insert whatev’s here} at the moment when it is most needed of me. And I won’t be that douchey bitch that can get it done, but is untrustworthy because I backstab my competitors to you. n

  • Justin Kownacki

    When you think about it, your loved ones should be the ones who causernyou the LEAST stress, right? And yet they’re usually the ones whorntake the most liberty with our time and sanity. There’s a differencernbetween legitimate situations which require actual concern (which yournmay experience a lot of with those who are close to you) and whingingrnto a captive audience that can never escape the family tree.

  • Justin Kownacki

    True. I think there’s a difference between aspiring to be good, in arnway that’s similar to work that you admire, and trying to be betterrnthan someone for arbitrary or selfish reasons. We were all motivatedrnby healthy competition in art school, but not because we necessarilyrnwanted to be *better than* the next person; we just wanted to be *asrngood as the best, in our own way*. The real competition is alwaysrnbetween “how good I wanted to be” and “how good I actually was;” thernrest is just window shopping.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you on most of this stuff, disagree about the politics. Personally, it’s important to me to engage in a few issues I feel strongly about. That’s not for everybody, but that’s how I do it.

  • Justin Kownacki

    My problem with politics is that if I start talking about them, Irnwon’t be able to stop. They’re the Lay’s potato chips of derailing myrnworkday. When push comes to shove, yes, get involved; but otherwise,rnengaging in all the corrosive “look how stupid the people who disagreernwith my beliefs are” commentary isn’t going to solve my problems orrnpay my bills.

  • Anonymous

    I hear that. Makes sense.

  • Karilee

    Not sure about #7 – I think I’d have to rewrite it a bit. There are people I’d go to the wall for, and people I won’t. nnThe rest I like, a lot. I think “Confront it or ignore it” should be taught in high schools, but it never will be, since that’s about the last thing authority wants teens learning. Ever.

  • Justin Kownacki

    What’s wrong with public education can’t be fixed just by institutingrna no-bullshit zone, although that would be a nice start. Butrnsomething tells me defining what everyone’s idea of what “bullshit” isrnwould result in intransigence anyway.

  • Brian Anderson

    Really enjoyed this… although you have two #3s and there should really be a total of 9 haha.

  • Justin Kownacki

    Whoops. You’re right. All fixed now. (Thanks for pointing it out; evidently, when I’m stuck in bullshit, I lose count.)

  • Ara Bedrossian

    I read Julien Smith’s guide. It seems contradicting, but in
    order to start living your life, and get empowered, we must let go of,  not care, and give up control. It makes sense
    to me though, based on my readings and experiences. The first thing to accept
    is that we don’t have control over the big things, firstly, death. And I remind
    myself of this every day. It puts things in perspective when you realize the
    bad stuff you’re worried about and the good stuff you think you really need are
    going to pass, and it’s time to stop being worried about either. When I realize
    this — and I go in and out about it, because I’m not perfect– I can then see
    that everyone else is obsessing just like me, but in different stages. From the
    homeless guy to the CEO, everyone is feeling inadequate and needing something
    to make their life complete at some time in their life or another. I really
    like your list, Justin. On your direction to not address politics, I was going
    to disagree, but then I came to realize that I agree, because politics will
    right itself once we start being good to ourselves and to the people around
    us.  The best way to affect change is
    from the bottom up, from individual to institution. It’s more lasting and moral
    than the other way.

    Also, I can relate to our last one about being
    alone. After my last break-up, I finally reached the point that I realized I didn’t
    need anyone to be happy, and I didn’t rebound to anyone else. What I realized I
    needed was something way more important, at least, as a starting point, and
    that is to feel like I was doing something important at the end of every day.
    Like you put it, we have better things to do. Cheers to finding it.

  • Justin Kownacki

    Avoiding politics in an election year is tough, especially when so much misinformation is out there and I feel compelled to correct or reframe things so what I believe is important doesn’t get misinterpreted by voters. But again, what happens locally is so much more directly impactful than what happens nationally or globally, that I’m still almost definitely better off focusing on the day-to-day instead of the policy possibilities.

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