NOTE: I wrote this years ago, but I took it down when I last redesigned my blog. Then a reader told me that this post helped her a lot over the years, and she asked me if I would consider reposting it. So, after a few small updates, I did.
Living a worthwhile life is something most of us aspire to, but we rarely act on it beyond setting some New Year’s Resolutions, which are usually just sad memories by March.
But there are ways to live a life you can be proud of.
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.
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 8 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. Have 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.
8. 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.
You have better things to do.
Don’t forget that.
Photo by Patrick Emerson.