Just like every other human on the planet, I have epically awesome days and days when life just shits on my face. And while I can’t stand most self-help (see: tired quotes over stock photography on Instagram), sometimes I need a little pick-me-up. And most of the time, in order to get out of a slump (because my brain leans more into math/science than anything else), I need to drop a logic bomb on my ass.
Yes, this is a long article. But here’s the thing — if you’re reading this in your inbox and are already like, “fuck this!” delete it. No hard feelings. If you’re reading this in a browser on a website, and you see how tiny the scroll-bar is because of how far you still have to scroll to get to the bottom, close this tab and go back to 140-character tidbits of advice.
Still with me? Phew. Just had to weed out all the folks from points: #1, #4 and #8. Welcome friends, onward we go.
This guide works when anything shitty happens. Someone criticizes you online? Read this. Someone wants a refund on something that took you five years to build, and they’re mean about it? Read this. You got fired from a job or by a client? Read this. Zombie apocalypse? Well… in that case, what’s probably more important is non-perishable provisions and zombie-smashing devices (but maybe afterwards, read this).
1. Everyone is offended all of the time.
We’re all set in our ways. As much as we tout how open-minded we all are, we all have little nit picks about everyone else. Slow drivers (who speed up when the road goes from one to two lanes), 17-year-old yoga teachers who talk about the meaning of life for the first 45 minutes of a 60-minute yoga class, people who write op-ed pieces on the Internet (like me…), people who swear, people who use social media in a way that we don’t.
Assume whatever it is you’re doing, someone else can — and will — be offended by it. This shouldn’t stop you from doing what you’re doing, but it also shouldn’t come as a surprise when someone tries to tell you how offended they are by what you just did.
2. If someone is offended by you, that’s because they’ve noticed you.
Before you get bent out of shape about someone dumping their shit on you, realize that they’ve taken time out of their day to call you out. They noticed you, paid attention, and consumed what you made. Sure, they hated it, but now you’re wasting even more of their time because they’re telling you how much or why they hated it.
Even if you don’t respond (and you probably shouldn’t), you’ve won because you’re on their radar and they don’t want you to be. Plus, even if someone is offended by you, them telling you about it is basically the worst case scenario. Life will continue, the planet will keep fucking spinning, and no one but you will be the wiser that someone was offended.
Worst-er case scenario: someone complains about you publicly. Reality: it’s not that bad, because people have the attention span of a gnat when it doesn’t relate to them, so it fades quickly from the collective radar (or Twitter stream).
We’re all paranoid that everyone will hate us. Especially when we make things for other people, and especially when we put those things online. Go into everything assuming that even if a few people do hate you or what you’ve made, there are more people silently consuming what you made (or even better, buying what you made).
3. Not being noticed sucks more, but it’s a universal pain.
If no one hates you, no one is paying attention. If attention is what you want for vanity, confidence, or, hell — to make a decent living — then know that it’s not instantaneous. Every single person that you’re currently paying attention to, at some point in their lives, was in your exact position. They kept at it and worked enough so that others started listening.
Also know that if no one is watching, you can experience true freedom. Dance in your underwear. Write entirely for yourself. Swear like there’s a going-out-of-business sale on “fucks” and “shits.” Find yourself — not in some coming-of-age hippie way involving pasta and ashrams— but in a way that helps you draw your own line in the sand for what matters and what doesn’t. Do what you want to do, just because you want to do that thing. This will build confidence that will come in handy later.
4. People will judge you, regardless of what you do, because everyone’s “judgy.”
Fear can make us afraid of what others will think. It’s not a question of if people will judge you, because they definitely will judge you. People are judgy and that judgement is scary.
True story: I just got invited to an event, read the invite online, and judged the hell out of the event. I actually said, out loud, to myself, “Fucking hippies!” It’s a party that features fires and dancing, wild-harvested local food, rosehip mead and gratuitous photos of people with dreads and body paint hugging each other. Is their party happening regardless of whether not I attend? Heck yes, it is. Will the party be awful because I think they’re a bunch of hippies? Heck no, hippies don’t give a shit about me. They’re going to drink their rose hip wine (probably out of chalices they whittled while chanting to fairies) and dance into the night having a blast.
Don’t be me in that situation, be the hippies. Not literally of course (unless that’s your thing), but you get what I mean.
Look at it this way — whatever you do, whenever you do it, you’ll be judged for it. Even by letting fear kick your ass and doing absolutely nothing, you will be judged. So, since you’re going to be judged any way, why not actually take action? That way, at least when you judge yourself, you’ll be able to sleep well at night (you’ll be tired from the figurative mead and dread-locked dancing). Everyone else who judges you can politely fuck off.
We all care what others have to say. But it becomes dangerous when we value their opinions more than our own. The list goes, in order of importance: 1) our opinion of ourselves, 2) (which is a distant second) everyone else’s opinion of us.
5. Luckily, judgement & respect are different things
Being judged and being respected are not the same thing. People can think you’re an asshole and still hold you in high regard. People can totally disagree with you, but still understand your values.
Conversely, if someone judges you as a nice person or a decent human being, it doesn’t mean they respect you. People walk all over nice and decent human beings all the time. It sucks, but it happens. On the other hand, people don’t tend to walk all over people they respect.
6. Self-respect leads to others respecting you.
Self-respect, in a world where everyone is constantly offended and judging you, is fucking tough. But it’s necessary.
You need to figure out what makes you respect yourself first, before anyone else will respect you. That’s because people are sheep. They see one person doing something, and they do it, too. Like fucking lemmings and cliffs. Or that Derek Sivers TED talk where that one guy started dancing and everyone followed (he was probably drunk on rosehip mead). So if you’re respecting yourself — publicly and proudly — chances are, others will follow. And even if they don’t follow, hey, you’ve got yourself a nice big bowl of self-respect and there’s nothing wrong with that.
7. Self-respect & entitlement are very, very different things.
Self-respect means you know what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do. It’s honour and dignity that makes you, you. It’s your line in the sand to help you feel good about who you are and what you’ve done.
This doesn’t mean that you have special privileges or rights to anything, though. Whoa there, pardner!
Entitlement means you think you deserve something. You deserve your own self-respect and to be treated decently by others. Anything past that — you’ve got to fucking work for it. And even then, even if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted, that’s just the way the cards fall sometimes.
Feeling entitled is the quickest way to lose respect from others. The world doesn’t revolve around you. You don’t deserve anything that you didn’t earn. You need to start small and build up; paying some dues. You can’t just do whatever the fuck you feel like and make a shit-load of money or get famous doing it. The world doesn’t work like that. I’m glad it doesn’t. That’s not healthy.
Ashton Kutcher had it right when he said, “working hard and being generous and thoughtful and smart is a path to a better life. The only thing that can be below you is to not have a job.”
(See Ashton Kutcher’s speech to YCombinator’s startup school to learn more about his views on entrepreneurship)
Self-respect doesn’t mean you deserve something. It doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to venture into the unknown, like the rest of us, and see what happens when you do.
8. If you don’t have their respect, you don’t need them.
So, say you’ve got your own self-respect dialled in. You know that entitlement is bullshit. Yet, some people are still not going to respect you.
The good thing about people not respecting you is that unless they’re actually causing you some sort of harm, you can be like, “fuck ‘em.” They’ll never support your work or make you better as a human being, so you drop them as quickly and silently as possible. They’re dead weight to your path to winning.
Unless you’re into pain and anguish, people who don’t respect you shouldn’t be in or even near your life. They’re not your audience, your rat people, your customers. You don’t need them for anything.
9. You really only need the people who respect and value you.
With the disrespectful assholes and trolls out of the way, the people that are left fall into two categories: People who don’t know who you are, and people who respect and value you.
The former don’t matter, unless you’re into building an audience, in which case you just need to show them that you exist in some way. They should know about you, but they just don’t know about you… yet.
What’s left is your people. These are the most important people to you on the planet. They’re the ones who not only pay attention, but are interested. Treat these people like royalty, because to you, they should be. Make things for them, be generous towards them, and basically make sure they know how you value them.
10. Confidence is achievable by the timid, introverted, or non-a-types.
I’m an awkward little nerd who’s afraid of everything, dislikes groups of people, and has a penchant for being alone. I’m definitely not type-a or extroverted.
I’m confident, not because of ego (ok maybe a little because of ego) but because I try things, fail at things, and learn things. I’ve spent a lifetime learning how to do a couple things well (and I don’t ever stop learning). You can get confidence like that too — all it involves is action and a willingness to learn.
You don’t need to be loud to be confident. Sometimes the most confident person in the room is the woman who has said three sentences the whole night. And probably, when she spoke, everyone else shut the fuck up to listen to her awesomeness.
You don’t need to be putting it out there how much you know about some shit to be confident, either. Confident people know what they know, and don’t need to share it to build confidence. Confidence comes from within. They share when the time is right or when they’re asked. They also share it in a way that works for them.
So confidence doesn’t look like some idiot on stage shouting platitudes and waving his hands around (I’ll bet you 10 quadrillion dollars that guy isn’t actually very confident). It can be quiet, reserved, and like Kenny fucking Rogers — knowing when to hold’em.
11. Don’t give fucks like fucks are going out of style.
“Giving a fuck” is basically your life’s currency.
If you give a fuck about everything and everyone, you’ll quickly run out of fucks, or even worse, go into fuck debt. Your time will be spread too thin, you’ll stress about tiny things and insignificant people, and external factors will rule your life and run it into the ground.
When you find yourself giving too many fucks about things that don’t matter, it’s a signal that something in your life needs to change. You need to find more people or ideas that are worthy of your limited fucks.
Don’t give your fucks to small things that are out of your control or to people who don’t deserve them. Trolls don’t deserve giving a fuck about. The long line-up at the convenience store doesn’t deserve even a single fuck. Learn to meditate instead.
If you save up your fucks and squirrel them away, you’ll have lots to give when the time is right. Bank those fucks! Save them for a rainy day, like when something or someone really matters.
12. It’s okay to give a fuck about certain things.
When something or someone does really matter, it’s okay to give a fuck. Or several.
Give those fucks then, otherwise you’ll become too cynical and jaded and all your fucks will lose their value and depreciate.
There’s a tiny handful of people and ideas I’m willing to stick my neck out for. In those cases, I give several fucks, and that’s only because I’ve saved my fucks up like a squirrel with nuts in the fall.
13. Not giving a fuck is the opposite of apathy.
Apathy is indifference you feel when something just doesn’t matter. Not giving a fuck means you’ve stopped yourself from making something matter that shouldn’t matter. This is a key point to understand and reflect on.
Not giving a fuck is strength in the form of willpower, whereas apathy is just not feeling anything.
14. Greatness happens when you’re okay with being foolish/stupid.
The truth is that no one knows what the fuck they’re doing.
Experts, thought leaders, those who seem like they have it all — there are too many variables to account for what specifically worked in creating success and what didn’t. The only difference between them and someone who hasn’t seen success is that they tried a whole bunch of shit, and didn’t stop trying until something worked. Then they wrote a best-selling book about the process, like they knew what the fuck they were doing the whole time, and became even more successful. It’s the circle of life or something.
Taking action on the unknown is scary shit. We aren’t guaranteed an outcome like a math problem. We basically have to line things up, do a few stretches and take a big fucking leap. Sometimes we trip, or realize our shoelaces are tied together and face-plant.
The most successful people I know aren’t afraid to be seen as idiots for trying. They’re more concerned with the “what could happen if I…” than “what will others think if I…”
I’ve also found, much to my wife’s chagrin, that I’m having the most fun when I’m making a massive fool of myself (in public). Little known related fact: “losers” have more fun with life because they know when to give a fuck and more importantly, when not to give a flying fuck about what everyone else thinks because they’re having a blast drinking rosehip mead and dancing by themselves at concerts (or in my case, in the produce aisle at our grocery store).
15. Everyone is awkward, weird, different.
You are, too, so use it to your advantage. The only way to stand out, or stand apart, is to be your real fucking weird self. Otherwise you blend in.
Embrace what makes you different, even though it’s difficult and stressful to do. Everyone you admire or look up to does this. Think about it. They all take the reigns of what makes them different and use it to their advantage. No one that you’ve heard of got there by being like everyone else.
Also, anyone who seems “normal” is faking it or you just don’t know them well enough yet. We all have quirks. We all have oddness. This is what makes life interesting.
16. Refuse the boundaries of other people.
If someone tells you “you shouldn’t do that” or “that can’t be done,” assume they’re talking out their own asses until you’ve proven otherwise for yourself. People are well meaning, but their advice is clouded by their own bullshit, their life experiences and their choices.
Instead, set your own boundaries and only acknowledge those.
If you don’t want to take client calls or emails from your boss at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, don’t fucking do it.
Boundaries are like self-respect, the majority of people will be okay with you setting them, simply because you’ve set them. Letting others know what isn’t okay doesn’t make you an asshole or a bitch — it makes you a strong and respectable person.
Never let someone else draw your line in the sand. That means it’s their line, not yours, and you’ve just been following their lead.
17. Be honest about who you are and who you aren’t.
In having self-respect and setting boundaries, it helps to know a little about yourself, so you can make these decisions. Be clear about who you are and who you aren’t. First with yourself, then with others.
Honesty is a lot easier than you playing a role because you think it’s a role you need to play. Honesty can be pulled off with less work. It’s more enjoyable in the long run, too.
18. You can be honest without being a jerk.
Learn the difference between being very clear about something and being an asshole about it. If you don’t like something or someone, honesty doesn’t mean you have to ream them out. Sometimes honesty means you just shut your damn face and move on.
Being the bigger person doesn’t mean you have to win, it just means you know when to let someone else feel like they’ve won. Sometimes you have to be nice instead of being right.
Being honest isn’t a licence for you to run your mouth with impunity then end things with, “Hey, I was just being honest…” No, you were being a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Not even jerks like other jerks. You’ll die alone with 17 cats who now have no one to feed them (which, by the way, is a big jerk move).
The best way to know if you’re being honest or just being a jerk is to think first, then speak. Otherwise you run the risk of vomiting instead of communicating. A five-second pause can do wonders if you lean towards being a jerk sometimes.
19. The less you expect, the more accomplished you’ll feel.
The Bhagavad Gita, a super smart and fucking old yogic book, talks about how we’re only entitled to the work, not the fruits of that work. That’s deep, and true.
Don’t do anything because you expect something to come from it — do it because you really want to fucking do it in the first place. It’s like writing a book because you really want a best-seller. Well, tough shit. It’s impossible to guarantee that. Write a book because you want to fucking write the book. That way, regardless of what happens next, you’ve already accomplished what you set out to do.
Spend your time focusing on what you give fucks about where the outcome doesn’t matter.
None of the above points can happen without you paying attention. Paying attention to others, paying attention to where you give your fucks, and — most importantly — paying attention to yourself. You’re the one in charge of your life, so take charge of it already.
That’s it. Nineteen super fucking difficult rallying points for winning at life. Now stop reading listicles on the Internet and get back to being awesome.
Confession: I wrote this for myself, but you’re more than welcome to use it if it helps you, too.
This article first appeared on Paul’s weekly newsletter, The Sunday Dispatches