The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

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Recently, I’ve been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, upon the Twitter recommendation of Leo Polovets.

It’s a modern paean to Stoicism, written with irreverence and very contemporary examples.

Still, I’m partial to the argument because I’m partial to Stoic philosophy. Some of the key things it’s reminded me of include:

  • You shouldn’t tie your sense of identity // values to things you don’t control, i.e. how smart people think you are.
  • You shouldn’t link fault and responsibility (you can be responsible for the outcome without having credit/fault. See: management).
  • You should focus yourself on the things you can control.
  • Don’t spend mental and emotional energy on things outside of your control.

My own (limited) of Stoic thought includes that kind of list. The essential idea (that I keep in my head) is that your happiness is a result of a fraction — what you have, divided by what you spend your life worrying about. You can’t control the numerator (what happens) but you can control the denominator (where you spend your mental and emotional energy).

One nice thing that Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, takes pains to point out is that avoiding possible bad outcomes is a backwards way of thinking about things. Bad things happen: you should be ready to deal with them, not go out of your way to avoid them.

As a corollary, spending time being afraid of what other people think/do does more damage by inhibiting your actions (and your sense of freedom/control) than you get back by protecting yourself. Some people want to be respected as an artist: that can lead them to not share their art. OK, but why are (hypothetical) you worried about other people not liking your art?

There’s a real flipside, of course. The amount of fear you have is also a function of your privilege (// power). If you have very little power, then it might be best for you to avoid risk. In that sense, the author’s specific scriptures probably apply best to moderately well-earning white men.

Still, I think it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what you spend your energy on and what you want to value.

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