Chris O’Brien gives the best fatherly advice to the audience he isn’t planning on .
I don’t plan on having kids. Not now. Not ever.
And no, I don’t resist the idea of raising kids because “I’m a guy who’s afraid of children because I’m afraid commitment,” or “I’m a man-child who wants my (potential future) spouse to take care of me, not some smaller, messier humans.”
It isn’t that I don’t want kids because I’m afraid; I don’t want kids because I have absolutely no interest in having kids. Of course, all that doesn’t mean I haven’t imagined what it would be like to have kids, or the passions I’d want to share with them and the lessons I’d like to pass on. Maybe someday my sister will have kids that I can take out to dinner now and then and undermine all her years of parenting with a wink, a crisp twenty-dollar bill, and gentle encouragement to make reckless choices every once in a while.
Until then, here’s the best advice I will never give the kids I don’t ever plan on having…
“It’s not about you.”
I learned this lesson as a very young actor back in Warren, Rhode Island. I was 18, I was doing my first paid acting work ever, and I was watching as the director worked with the other actors, rehearsing a scene I wasn’t in. The play was Death Comes to us All, Mary Agnes (a really funny one-act by Christopher Durang, which is one of a rare few plays I’d recommend not just seeing, but reading if you ever have the chance!) and in this particular scene, a young woman has a violent seizure and the butler rushes to her aid.
“It’s not about you! It’s not about you!” the director shouted in the middle of the scene, stopping everything and bringing everyone’s attention to him.
He was unhappy with the butler. The director went on to point out how self-involved the actor playing the butler had been throughout the run of the scene. It’s hard to describe in words, but the director tried to explain how it could be as obvious as which was his body was facing and when, or it could be as tiny as subtle differences of intention. For example, his initial lunge was maybe about “I have to move quickly” rather than “She needs help now,” or his thousand-mile stare at the end was too “I am so traumatized by this” rather than “Is she okay?” The director said again, “It’s not about you.”
The director wanted him and all of us to understand that we were on stage, together to tell one story. It wasn’t about any one of us, it was about working together to serve the whole.
I’ve been able to take this lesson and apply it in many areas of my life. It has often acted as a reminder to be less selfish. Granted, “selfishness” can be an important act of self-care, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I remember it when I’m asked favors by family members, when catering to odd requests from roommates, and above all when I’m in a serious relationship. Really, it’s a good mantra to carry into any relationship—friendship, creative partnership, and especially committed, romantic relationships. Keep telling yourself “it’s not about you,” because it isn’t.
If you’re in any relationship only for what you get out of it, you’re in that relationship for the wrong reasons. Really, it’s not about the other person either. It’s about the relationship. Like actors in a play, you’re there together to tell one story. It’s not about you. So be kind, be generous, be compassionate, be forgiving, and above all, be supportive of the relationship itself, not just the other person in it.
So, when you’re someday in a relationship with someone you love and they inevitably beg you to go to the movies with them some Thursday night at midnight to watch the premiere of some movie you’re just not that into, go. For the love of all things good, just go. Watch the movie, eat some popcorn, drink a little more than your share of that shared soda, and when it’s all over, kiss that person you love. Show genuine gratitude that you are lucky enough to be with someone who wants to spend time with you, sharing something they care about. It’s not about you, it’s not about how much you’re interested in that movie, and it’s not about how much you liked it or not.
It’s not about you: It’s about the relationship.
On the other hand, when people treat you poorly, it’s also good to remember “It’s not about you.” The woman who cut you in line at the coffee shop? Not about you. The rude fast food cashier? Not about you. The friend who accuses you of secretly hating them, the failed relationship with that one person you never seemed to be able to please, the teacher who lashes out at you for no apparent reason? Not about you.
I’m all about introspection and taking responsibility for mistakes and working to do better. However, sometimes people will treat you like you wronged them when you’ve done nothing wrong. Sometimes, people will treat you poorly for no reason at all. It’s easy to take that sort of stuff personally and let it drag you down.
Don’t. It’s not about you.
Most people are going around every day just doing their best. One way or another, we’re all just piles of stress and anxiety trying to put it all together. Some people might wrong you out of pure thoughtlessness because maybe they’re too self-involved. They haven’t learned that it’s not about them yet. Others allow their fears to encourage bad behavior. It can be fascinating to think about the ways people’s insecurities make them act like assholes.
Ultimately, when someone treats you badly, especially someone you don’t know, it’s almost never about you. Usually, it’s about them—their bad morning, their fears, their insecurities, their pain. So let it go. If you can manage it, treat them with way more kindness than they deserve in that moment, because they may not be earning it, but they probably need it.
One last thing: if you’re reading this and you happen to feel like you don’t really agree with the lesson, you’ve done just fine in life doing things your way, you’re taking some of the examples personally because you do (or don’t do) those things but you know yourself to be a good person, or that this all seems a bit silly and simplistic, well, maybe, just maybe…
It’s not about you.