About a year ago several different people recommended a book to me called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.”
It was a not so subtle hint I was, perhaps, giving too many f*cks. The careful distribution of f*cks has never been my forte`. I have always cared too much about what people think with regards to, well… almost everything in my life. And it has taken a negative toll on my mind and my heart. Perhaps it was time to learn this subtle art which somebody had written a not so subtle book about. I bought the audiobook.
But even before I started listening to it, I kept thinking over and over again: how?
How do we, how could I, care less about what other people think? It’s a genuine struggle I have; wondering what others think so I may learn from them, but ultimately putting too much stock in those opinions. Thinking critically about my own ability to think critically is a snake that eats its tail. I trap myself into systems of circuitous thought from which the only escape seems to be the advice of somebody other than myself. Which starts this process over again.
You can see why the book was suggested to me.
So I listened to it. While walking. On the train. At the gym. And while this isn’t unusual for me, I can’t really remember what I learned in the five hours it took me to finish the book. I often read books and don’t retain anything. Sometimes its because the book is bad. Sometimes its because I’m just not present. My desire to finish books often impedes my ability to absorb them.
Whatever the reason, the book came and went in my life. It did not shake me to my core as did Po Bronson’s “What Should I Do With My Life?” or Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection”.
I really wish I was somebody who could read a book like “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and immediately synthesize all I had just learned. Like a software upgrade. Each nonfiction book of habits I come across is a book of potential revelations and catalysts. I need only read these books to be subsequently upgraded.
But I end up remembering only one or two things (if that) from many of the books I have read.
Even as I write this I am reviewing the online notes of prolific book summarizer James Clear to refresh my memory on what advice the book actually gave. I probably wouldn’t be reading those notes, or writing this piece if the book hadn’t shown up in my life again.
A couple of weeks ago, on a flight to the midwest, my colleague pulled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” out of her bag. I understood what she must currently be feeling and yet, I myself had a feeling of blankness. I couldn’t think of what to say except;
I read that. I don’t remember any of it.
Not exactly what somebody who is trying to stop worrying so much wanted to hear. This is not a criticism of the book or the author. If anything, it is a criticism of the way I read books. I also sometimes struggle to fully embrace the self-help books peddling simple mental shifts as easy solutions to our problems. I find they apply pressure on the reader to agree with and ultimately follow the instructions of the author without question.
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Throughout my life, I have believed the answers to life’s greatest questions existed outside of me. The key to fulfillment was addition. More information. More insights from others. I sought a wide breadth of knowledge so I could find the singular answer to whatever it was I was grappling with. At the same time, I tried to force myself to learn about topics I thought were universally important, but which weren’t important to me. More meant bigger and thus better. The frantic speed at which I tried to consume all of these inputs left me mentally out of breath trying to keep up with my own self-imposed timeline.
It has only recently become apparent to me how untenable this approach is. Things needed to change. First I wanted to limit the scope of all I was trying to consume. I have stopped adding things to my life to half-care about and instead pruned away the subjects and pursuits that do not feed me. In doing so I have dramatically increased the attention I devote to, and value I extract from, what is currently in my life. So much of what I used to obsess over now seems extraneous.
Next, while a diversity of insights can be beneficial for making an informed decision, ultimately I am the one who has to decide how I feel and move forward accordingly. I have realized (just barely) not every book I read or listen to will be a sacred text. They need not be life-changing. I may only extract one or two truths beneficial to me. There is no arrival or awakening. Ceasing my anticipation of one is a freeing feeling.
I am in, what I hope, is the very early stages of this process.
I may always be somebody who cares a bit too much. Feeling as I do, just different enough from those around me, it can be hard not to wonder what is going on in other people’s heads. I feel as though I am piloting a 50-foot robot from behind the eyes, with no proficiency and no training except my own clumsy experience.
It sometimes takes me a while to understand what I have learned and why I have learned it. To feel like I actually understand how to move this robot. I listened to this book almost a year ago and I’m just processing some of it now.
And maybe that is why this book came back into my consciousness at a time when I am trying very hard to care less about so many things. I do not always hear the advice I need at the right time, but it is no less valuable. I can target and control the fucks I give to be specific, and worth my time.
I might always care too much, but you know what? It is who I am.
So who gives a f*ck?
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