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Review – The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck (#books, #review, #self-help, #philosophy, @IAmMarkManson)

Review – The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck (#books, #review, #self-help, #philosophy, @IAmMarkManson)

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, published 2016

How much deep wisdom can you expect from a recently published book written by a youthful individual who writes a blog about his opinions for a living? Not much, if you’re reasonable, and in that sense this book managed to be both exactly what I expected it would be and enjoyable nonetheless.

My basic gripe with this book is that it doesn’t manage to fully develop or even adhere to its titular theme, the idea of “giving a fuck.” It’s a cheeky way of stating something more profound, and while Manson manages to explore the profundity I don’t think he does it thematically which creates a disconnect between the marketing of the book and its ideas, and the actual philosophy itself. I think this book would’ve been more interesting if it was not called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”, which is a not very subtle way to appeal to a potential audience at the cost of the integrity of the book itself, which is otherwise sound.

But I am “not going to give a fuck” about that, because it’s irrelevant in light of what value I did take away from the book, which is notable. There are many pithy concepts in Manson’s work, I will list some of those that I found myself dwelling upon and try to share why they were meaningful to me.

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience […] The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.

The concept here is not that struggling towards achievements gives achievements their meaning, but rather that it is unavoidable to struggle towards achievements in life. Furthermore, attempting to avoid the struggle is irrational because the avoidance of struggle is a struggle. Instead of one struggle (toward an achievement) you now face two– the avoidance of struggle as struggle, and the struggle towards achievement itself. Or, even worse, you face one struggle with no reward, the avoidance of struggle as struggle.

Embrace the struggle as necessary and vital.

No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.

“The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.” […] hope for a life full of good problems […] Happiness comes from solving problems. Happiness is […] a form of action; it’s an activity. […] Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress […] True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to head a small retail sales organization in need of a turn around. It was hard work, the hardest work I’ve done to date. And I was successful in my work, but most of the time it didn’t feel that way to me because of my inexperience.

The thought I remember having most often was, “Am I doing something wrong?” My problems seemed to multiply without end. Every time I fixed something, something else broke. Every time I thought I had configured the organization, our processes, anything, into some kind of stable equilibrium, it would start tilting in another direction all over again. I became very discouraged because I associated this inability to find stability as some symptom of my incompetence or inadequacy as the man in charge.

I brought this up with more senior people in the organization during several sit downs and the reply I got each time was, “That’s business– there are always more problems to solve.” I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it’s also life, life is a series of challenges and obstacles to overcome. There is no equilibrium, no final resting state besides death. Everything in prelude is constant turmoil and flux. You can accept that and get on with it, or you can invest a lot of time and energy in being bitter and resentful about it (speaking from experience here!) and you will succeed wildly in this failure of imagination if you want to do that.

It took about a year of struggling with that sense of self-doubt before I came to terms with the inescapable nature of recurring problems. At that point, I came to appreciate the concept philosophically– there were always going to be problems to solve, no matter whether you screwed things up or batted it out of the park. And once I had that piece, I realized the next piece was to find problems you like to solve. If you’re going to deal with problems, you might as well have fun with them.

This connects to my theory of investment, as well. I believe the ideal for investment is control, ownership, being in a position to add value by being a change agent. And so from that standpoint I believe the most fundamental investment value, besides price, yield, future prospects, etc., is that you select investment problems you enjoy solving. You be an owner where you can add value with your solutions to the problems the company faces, and where you enjoy providing those solutions.

Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can benchpress a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.

This ties together the ideas of avoiding entitlement by embracing the necessity of struggle, and selecting struggles you enjoy. It provides explanatory value for the outcomes we witness in other people, particularly people who excel in certain fields. It helps us appreciate where their success comes from– their embrace of particular struggles. It helps us to understand that it is unreasonable to expect to enjoy those same rewards without the same affinity for those struggles.

We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.

“With great responsibility comes great power.”

A lot of people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because they believe that to be responsible for your problems is also to be at fault for your problems.

Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense.

Many years ago I became interested in the thinking of the psychologist and philosopher, Nathaniel Branden. One of the books I read which had a big impact in my life was his not-so-subtly titled How To Raise Your Self-Esteem. It is a humongous work inside a small package, a title I can easily recommend to anyone, and there is one sentence in the book that hit me like a person you’ve always respected and admired admitting they can’t stand you: “No one is coming to the rescue.”

I made a lot of excuses for myself back then. I don’t know if it was a sense of self-pity or a sense of cosmic divinity (how could I of all people be meant to suffer or be anything but perfect?!), but I was good at sitting around waiting for everyone else to get clued in on how great I was. I spent A LOT of time trying to figure other people out and rationalize why, despite my brilliance and benevolence, they didn’t like me, weren’t attracted to me, didn’t enjoy my company, etc. What I didn’t do much of was think about what I could do differently to get different results in my life. My attitude was, “This is just the way I am, if the world doesn’t appreciate it, then fuck ’em!”

When I read that no one was coming to my rescue, I first thought, who would come to my rescue if someone was coming to my rescue? It wasn’t god, as I didn’t believe in it. It wasn’t my parents– my parents love me, and they didn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to rescue me from my struggles so far, so it seemed safe to assume they weren’t just waiting for the right occasion. It wasn’t my friends, they were struggling with some of the same things I was. And it wasn’t some random stranger, they don’t know me and couldn’t care about my struggles. By process of elimination, it dawned on me that the only person who could come to my rescue, was me, and even I wasn’t getting off my ass to do the deed. So, Branden was right, no one was coming to my rescue.

That’s when I stopped the unsatisfying game of assigning fault, and took up the mantle of responsibility for my own life. It’s been an imperfect practice, and it always will be, but it’s made all the difference in my life since then.

Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway.

“If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.”

Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.

This is a great reminder for me because I am a cerebral person. The thing I struggle with the most is overthinking my problems. This was again something I had to learn on the job while heading the retail operation. I would face a problem and try to find the “perfect” solution for it, which inevitably meant thinking and thinking and thinking again. I received another bit of wisdom in one of those senior manager sitdowns: “You’re never going to have the time or the ability to implement the perfect solution. Consider a couple options and then pick the one you’re most comfortable with and accept that you might make another mess that you can clean up later.”

Again, the lesson applies to life in general. You can think your problems to death, literally (see Buridan’s ass). You’ll get more places by simply doing, and dealing with the consequences. Consequences are unavoidable and there are always more problems to solve whether you get the current one right or wrong. There is also a parallel to investing practice here– facing a sound investment with a 10% return potential, should you hold out and wait for one that could return 20%? No. Invest whenever you can find a safe return and worry about whether you’ll have free resources for the 20% return when you come to it. If you do otherwise, you may give up even the 10% return chasing a phantom 20%.

Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous.

I’ve been kicking this one around a lot with friends recently. During the financial crisis, I was enamored with the idea of living with no flag, traveling around the world as a lifestyle, being a “citizen of the world.” It’s a sexy, exciting dream, but it makes no sense. Part of what makes being a “citizen” of any place enjoyable is the commitment you make to that place which allows you to have deeper connections and experiences than a mere tourist. It can be captured in the metaphor of the traveler who wants to know where the locals eat. You can’t eat like a local when you’re always on the move. You can live the life of a citizen when you’re an uprooted, uncommitted nomad.

This also dovetails with the simplicity mindset of Marie Kondo’s “Life-Changing Magic”. When you live life simply and rid yourself of ill-used possessions, you commit yourself to fuller utilization of the possessions that remain. You commit to a particular use pattern and give up the elusive dream of having and using it all, which is impossible. The things you discard are marginalia, they are not important, frivolous things in your life.

With your limited “fucks to give” in life, you must draw a close bead on the things you’re aiming to achieve.

Death is the only thing we can know with certainty […] it must be the compass by which we orient all of our other values and decisions.

And then there’s that. It’s great that the book tries to wrestle with the issue, because we have an anti-death culture, this diseased belief that “death can’t happen here.”

Yesterday I was re-reading the preface of Phil Fisher’s Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits. The preface is written by Phil’s son Ken, who is also part of the investment industry. At the time Ken was writing, his father was suffering from dementia and slowly dying. Ken reflected on the former vitality of his father which had now diminished, and lamented the fact that he tried to continue the game of investment even in his old age, which Ken argued was a young man’s game.

One example he provided was a time when his then eighty-year-old father told a group of people of some stocks he was picking which he looked to own “for the next thirty years.” The people he was speaking to thought this was cute, but Ken thought it was depressing and nonsensical. It was extremely unlikely his father would be around another thirty years and so his behavior and values were mismatched for what was appropriate to his stage of life. In effect, he was squandering what little time he had left, because he would not be honest about the inevitability of his impending death.

Ken suggested he would’ve been better off visiting with family, traveling or just taking it easy. And I agree. There’s a wisdom here in understanding death and keeping it, in some sense, in the forefront of one’s mind. We should be making the best plans we can with the time we think we have left, but we should never kid ourselves about how much time that is likely to be and what kind of plans are appropriate for the occasion.

3/5

Quotes – Machiavelli On The Risks To Innovators (#innovation, #quotes)

Quotes – Machiavelli On The Risks To Innovators (#innovation, #quotes)

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.

~Machiavelli

Quotes – The Connection Between Time And Value (#quotes, #time, #stoic)

Quotes – The Connection Between Time And Value (#quotes, #time, #stoic)

Nothing important comes into being overnight; even grapes and figs need time to ripen. If you say that you want a fig now, I will tell you to be patient. First, you must allow the tree to flower, then put forth fruit; then you have to wait until the fruit is ripe. So if the fruit of a fig tree is not brought to maturity instantly or in an hour, how do you expect the human mind to come to fruition, so quickly and easily?

~Epictetus

Notes – The Philosophy Of The Stoics, From The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius (#stoic, #philosophy)

Notes – The Philosophy Of The Stoics, From The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius (#stoic, #philosophy)

These quotes are derived from The Meditations (buy on Amazon.com, also free on the web) of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

From the Meditations:

  1. Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All of these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.
  2. Since it is possible you may depart from life this very minute, regulate every act and thought accordingly.
  3. A man then must stand erect, not be kept erect by others.
  4. It is in your power whenever you choose to retire into yourself. For there is no retreat which is quieter or freer from trouble than a man’s own soul.
  5. Take away your opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.
  6. How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure.
  7. Look not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from it.
  8. On every occasion a man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? Now a man should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also unnecessary thoughts so that superfluous acts will not follow after.
  9. Time is like a river made up of the events that happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another thing comes in its place, and this will be carried away, too.
  10. Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.
  11. “I am unhappy, because this has happened to me.” Not so: say, “I am happy, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future.”
  12. Remember, too, on every occasion that leads you to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but to bear it nobly is good fortune.
  13. In the morning, when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to the work of a human being.
  14. Do not be disgusted, dissatisfied or discouraged if you do not succeed in doing everything according to right principles; but when you have failed, return again, and be content if the greater part of what you do is consistent with man’s nature, and love this to which you return.
  15. Where a man can live, there also he can live well.
  16. Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear.
  17. Are you angry with him whose armpits stink? Are you angry with him whose mouth smells foul? What good will this anger do you? He has such a mouth, he has such armpits: it is necessary that such an emanation must come from such things.
  18. Consider if you have hitherto behaved to all in such a way that this way be said of you: Never has he wronged a man in deed or word.
  19. The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer.
  20. If it is difficult to accomplish something by yourself, do not think that it is impossible for man: but if anything is possible for man and conformable to his nature, think that this can be attained by you, too.
  21. Let us overlook many things in those who are like antagonists in the gymnasium. For it is in our power, as I said, to get out of the way and to have no suspicion or hatred.
  22. When you wish to delight yourself, think of the virtues of those who live with you; for instance, the activity of one, the modesty of another, the liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth.
  23. It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing and not to be disturbed in our soul; for things themselves have no natural power to form our judgments.
  24. Do not let the future disturb you, for you will arrive there, if you arrive, with the same reason you now apply to the present.
  25. Whatever any one does or says, I must be good, just as if the emerald (or the gold or the purple) were always saying, “Whatever any one does or says, I must be emerald and keep my color.”
  26. Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change?
  27. In a little while you will have forgotten everything; in a little while everything will have forgotten you.
  28. When a man has done you wrong, immediately consider what opinion about good or evil he has. For when you have seen this, you will pity him, and will neither wonder nor be angry.
  29. Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if you will ever dig.
  30. The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s, in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets that are sudden and unexpected.
  31. It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men’s badness, which is impossible.
  32. Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go.
  33. No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.
  34. Practice that also wherein you have no expectation of success. For even the left hand, which is ineffectual for all other things for want of practice, holds the bridle more vigorously than the right hand; for it has been practiced in this.
  35. How ridiculous and what a stranger he is who is surprised at anything that happens in life.
  36. If it is not right, do not do it: if it is not true, do not say it. For let your impulse be in your own power.
  37. Consider that everything is opinion and opinion is in your power. Take away then, when you choose, your opinion, and like a mariner who has rounded the headland, you will find calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay.
  38. Cast away opinion and you are saved. Who then hinders you from casting it away?
  39. How small a part of the boundless and unfathomable time is assigned to every man! On what a small clod of the whole earth you creep! Consider nothing to be great except to act as your nature leads you.