“Humility is a strange thing. The minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” – Sir Edward Hulse
Sir Edward Hulse once said, “Humility is a strange thing. The minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” Staying humble is hard, especially when things are going right, and staying calm is extremely tough when things are not going right. Microsoft Founder Bill Gates quipped, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”. The key is never to let success get into your heart and not letting failure get into your heart. Staying humble can be hard, but it is a great way to live.
You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself. -Galileo
Most of the time, we try to cajole, persuade, inspire or influence people, so we argue with them to convince them to see things from our perspective. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion.” The key is to understand a basic truth; you cannot win an argument; people change when they are ready to change. The best you can do is to help them make what was unconscious to them become conscious. As Carl Jung once quipped, ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.’ And as Author John C. Maxwell noted:
People change when they….Hurt enough they have to
Learn enough that they want to and
Receive enough that they are able to
In his classic book, How to win friends and influence people, Author Dale Carnegie writes:
Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.
You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And –
A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still.
As wise old Ben Franklin used to say:
If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.
So figure it out for yourself. Which would you rather have, an academic, theatrical victory or a person’s good will? You can seldom have both.
Be wiser than other people if you can;but do not tell them so. – Lord Chesterfield
Pushing, telling, or just encouraging people to do something often makes them less likely to do it.
When pushed, people push back. Just like a missile defense system protects against incoming projectiles, people have an innate anti-persuasion system. Radar that kicks in when they sense someone is trying to convince them. To lower this barrier, catalysts encourage people to persuade themselves.
Restriction generates a psychological phenomenon called reactance. An unpleasant state that occurs when people feel their freedom is lost or threatened.
Change is hard
We persuade and cajole and pressure and push, but even after all that work, often nothing moves. Things change at a glacial pace if they change at all. People like to feel they have control over their choices and actions. That they have the freedom to drive their own behavior.
When others threaten or restrict that freedom, people get upset. When told they can’t or shouldn’t do something, it interferes with their autonomy. Their ability to see their actions as driven by themselves. So they push back: Who are you to tell me I can’t text while driving or walk my dog on that pristine patch of grass? I can do whatever I want!
While texting while driving might not have even been that attractive originally, threatening to restrict it makes it more desirable.
Berger proposed some solutions to reduce reactance to your ideas and suggestions:
Allow for Agency
“To avoid reactance and the persuasion radar, then, catalysts allow for agency. They stop trying to persuade and instead get people to persuade themselves.” To reduce reactance, catalysts allow for agency—not by telling people what to do or by being completely hands-off, but by finding the middle ground. By guiding their path.
Four key ways to do that are:
(1) Provide a menu,
Try to convince people to do something, and they spend a lot of time counterarguing. Thinking about all the various reasons why it’s a bad idea or why something else would be better. Why they don’t want to do what was suggested.”
But give people multiple options, and suddenly things shift.
(2) ask, don’t tell,
Questions encourage listeners to commit to the conclusion. To behave consistently with whatever answer they gave.
Rather than taking a predetermined plan and pushing it on people, catalysts do the opposite. They start by asking questions. Visiting with stakeholders, getting their perspectives, and engaging them in the planning process.
(3) highlight a gap,
People strive for internal consistency. They want their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to align. Someone who says they care about the environment tries to reduce their carbon footprint. Someone who preaches the virtues of honesty tries not to tell lies.
Consequently, when attitudes and behaviors conflict, people get uncomfortable. And to reduce this discomfort, or what scientists call cognitive dissonance, people take steps to bring things back in line.
Highlighting such dissonance, and bringing it to the fore, encourages people not only to see the discord but also to work to resolve it.
(4) start with understanding.
Before people will change, they have to be willing to listen. They have to trust the person they’re communicating with. And until that happens, no amount of persuasion is going to work.
Seasoned negotiators don’t start with what they want; they start with whom they want to change. Working to gain insight into where that person is coming from. Comprehending and appreciating that person’s situation, feelings, and motives, and showing them that someone else understands.
Starting with understanding diffuses anti-persuasion radar by making sure the other side gets a chance to say their piece.
Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People:
In an article in Bits and Pieces, some suggestions are made on how to keep a disagreement from becoming an argument:
Welcome the disagreement. Remember the slogan, ‘When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.’ If there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful if it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.
Distrust your first instinctive impression. Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction. It may be you at your worst, not your best.
Control your temper. Remember, you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry.
Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Don’t build higher barriers of misunderstanding.”
Look for areas of agreement. When you have heard your opponents out, dwell first on the points and areas on which you agree.
Be honest. Look for areas where you can admit error and say so. Apologize for your mistakes. It will help disarm your opponents and reduce defensiveness.
Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully. And mean it. Your opponents may be right. It is a lot easier at this stage to agree to think about their points than to move rapidly ahead and find yourself in a position where your opponents can say: ‘We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.’
Thank your opponents sincerely for their interest. Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents into friends.”
Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem. Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear. In preparation for this meeting, ask yourself some hard questions:
Could my opponents be right? Partly right? Is there truth or merit in their position or argument? Is my reaction one that will relieve the problem, or will it just relieve any frustration? Will my reaction drive my opponents further away or draw them closer to me? Will my reaction elevate the estimation good people have of me? Will I win or lose? What price will I have to pay if I win? If I am quiet about it, will the disagreement blow over? Is this difficult situation an opportunity for me?
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.
“Keep the company of those who seek the truth- run from those who have found it.” – Vaclav Havel
Everyone recognizes as myths the idea that Columbus was the first to discover America or the story that George Washington admitted cutting down a cherry tree. But very few people realize how much of what we think we know about American history is also mythical and mistaken. As historians often emphasize, many popular beliefs about history in general—and about U.S. history in particular—are myths, either totally false or, at best, only half true.
Professor Mark A. Stoler is Professor Emeritus of History at The University of Vermont, where he specialized for almost 40 years in U.S. diplomatic and military history. He received his B.A. from The City College of New York and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
In his thought-provoking book, The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness, Author and Partner at Collaborative Fund Morgan Housel writes about why understanding the psychology of money is more important than finance itself. The book is based on a report he wrote in 2018: “The Psychology of Money,” where he shared the most important flaws, biases, and causes of bad behavior towards money.
“Every investor should pick a strategy that has the highest odds of successfully meeting their goals. And I think for most investors, dollar-cost averaging into a low-cost index fund will provide the highest odds of long-term success.” – Morgan Housel
In the book, he made the following recommendation on how to make better decisions with money:
A genius who loses control of their emotions can be a financial disaster. The opposite is also true. Ordinary folks with no financial education can be wealthy if they have a handful of behavioral skills that have nothing to do with formal measures of intelligence.
Author and Partner at Collaborative Fund Morgan Housel shares 19 short stories exploring the strange ways people think about money; the book’s major theme is that we can better understand money through psychology and history than finance. In 2018, Morgan wrote a report outlining 20 of the most important flaws, biases, and causes of bad behavior towards money titled The Psychology of Money; the report went viral; the book is an expanded version of the report.
In investing you must identify the price of success—volatility and loss amid the long backdrop of growth—and be willing to pay it.
The Book’s premise is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people. A genius who loses control of their emotions can be a financial disaster. The opposite is also true. Ordinary folks with no financial education can be wealthy if they have a handful of behavioral skills that have nothing to do with formal measures of intelligence.
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” – Bill Gates
“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom. Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.” – Rabindranath Tagore, Fruit-Gathering
Grief is the response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or loss of something to which a deep bond or affection was formed. We also grieve in connection to job loss, ill health, infertility, end of a relationship, disappointment, failure etc. We all grief differently depending on our upbringing, culture, religion, societal norms, experiences, and relationship to the dead.
Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. – Vicki Harrison
I have gone through some grief in the past 8 years, from losing my closest cousin (2013), diagnosis of mum’s cancer (2018), losing my mum at 55 to cancer (2019), getting laid off (2020). Grief is tough, deeply personal, and can be overwhelming. During grief, you might feel fear, shame, guilt, regret, varying emotions, the unsaid goodbyes, survivor’s guilt (a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not), among other emotions.
When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.- Dalai Lama
It can feel very lonely when you are bereaved as people act strange around you, say hurtful things unintentionally. I probably had said and acted strange around friends and family members when they were dealing with their grief too. Society and our culture do not prepare us well for handling grief and caring for people grieving; emotional intelligence is not a skillset taught in our schools; hence, we wing our interaction with people grieving.
When you lose someone, lose a job or deal with something hard & personal like infertility, you hear hurtful things from people like “It is GODs will”, “I thought you’d be over it by now”, “Men don’t cry”, “You have to be strong”, “At least she lived to be 90” “Are you guys having enough sex?” Really! Most of the time, our family and friends mean well and are probably well-intentioned with their comments, but the challenge is that the loss has shattered the bereaved world. A barrage of emotions sweeps them, they feel judged, shamed, and those of us at the other end of the spectrum jump to conclude that we know what they are going through.
The insensitive comments become less hurtful with time as the bereaved heals, gains perspective, and continue to learn from the vicissitudes of life. Grief reshapes our address book, you begin to know who your real friends are, as people will show you their real character and color during trying times. The most painful part of grief in my experience is not the insensitive and not well-thought-out comments but the silence of our so-called friends and family.
As Martin Luther King Jr. Once said ” In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Friends would not reach out when you lose someone, they hide on the often-used phrase “I did not know what to say”, your closest friends would not visit you in the hospital, when they hear you are sick, people would give you a silent treatment for a long time when you grieving and would reach out later just because they feel you should have moved on.
People act funny when you are down and going through challenges in life, I guess it is tricky for them too, but that is what friends are for, be there for each other during trying times. Instead of saying “I did not know what to say,” try sending a text message and say, ” I am sorry for your loss. It would go a long way than not saying anything at all.
For starters, grief usually comes with some kind of tangible primary loss. It can be loss of mobility, energy, or appearance if dealing with health. It can be loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a marriage. Even in depression, there is loss of the ability to feel just about anything. Caregivers of people who are ill lose companionship they counted on. People who experience miscarriage and infertility experience the loss of a dream of the future.
These are the key primary losses a person may experience during grief:
LOSS OF IDENTITY
We often underestimate how much we rely on easy narratives about who we are in the world until we’re blindsided by a primary loss that strips us bare of them.
LOSS OF COMPANIONSHIP
Our most difficult times often, at their core, are about a significant loss of companionship. Losing someone really close to us to death or significant illness or divorce can radically shift the make-up of our interior, intimate lives and our days. When the person we talk to the most, confide in, get opinions from, and love the deepest is gone, the hole that is left behind is vast and aching beyond measure.
LOSS OF COMMUNITY
Loss and transition affect not only our most intimate relationships; they change our community as well, and that change usually feels really lonely. We may lose the friends and family of our loved one that is gone. We may lose people we thought we were close to because they don’t know what to do or say. We can also isolate ourselves because we fear what our community might do or say, or because we don’t have the emotional or physical energy to engage.
LOSS OF CONFIDENCE
People who’ve been fired, who are dealing with a new illness, who are getting divorced, you name it—loss can create some of the most demanding responsibilities in our lives about our well-being, medical and legal options, our finances, where we’ll live, or how we’ll raise our children, exactly at a time when we have the fewest emotional reserves to learn and cope.
LOSS OF ECONOMIC SECURITY
Loss can create economic stress—like increased health-care costs, the cost of divorce attorneys, loss of income, child-care costs, and a host of other expenses.
“HOPELESS: THE THING ABOUT GRIEF IS THAT IT CAN SEEM LIKEIT WILL NEVER, EVER END.”
“And in a number of ways, it doesn’t. As anyone in the grief world knows, you don’t get over loss. You learn to live with it. But until that happens, the light at the end of the tunnel is not a thing—or if it is, it’s just barely visible on the best days.”
Fear often accompanies loss, illness, divorce, or any kind of transition, because you have no idea what’s ahead of you. You end up worrying about the worst that could happen (and, thanks to the magic of the Internet, worrying is easier than ever before).
If your illness or treatment has caused you to look different, your appearance elicits concern (and questions, and strange looks), turning your rituals of everyday life, like grocery shopping, into a public spectacle. Even if you don’t look different on the outside, news of a change, like divorce or job loss or fertility struggles, invites speculation that can make your life feel like fodder for gossip.
Grief, fear, and our deepest feelings of failure can make us blame ourselves for causing what happened or, at least, failing to cope with it. Shame makes us feel unentitled to our own grief and fears.
Every person has experienced loss in their life, but no one else has experienced this grief. It’s tempting to offer your own experience of grief to let the grieving person know you understand. But you don’t understand. You can’t. Even if your loss is empirically very similar, resist the urge to use your own experience as a point of connection.
Do: Ask questions about their experience.
You can connect with someone by showing curiosity about what this is like for them. If you have had a similar experience, it’s OK to let them know you’re familiar with how bizarre and overwhelming grief can be. Just stick to indications that you know the general territory, not that you know their specific road.
Don’t fact-check, and don’t correct.
Especially in early grief, a person’s timeline and internal data sources are rather confused and wonky. They may get dates wrong, or remember things differently than they actually happened. You may have a different opinion about their relationships, or what happened when and with whom. Resist the urge to challenge or correct them.
Do: Let them own their own experience. It’s not important who’s “more” correct.
Don’t minimize. You might think your friend’s grief is out of proportion to the situation. It’s tempting to correct their point of view to something you feel is more “realistic.”
Do: Remember that grief belongs to the griever.
Your opinions about their grief are irrelevant. They get to decide how bad things feel, just as you get to make such decisions in your own life.
Don’t give compliments.
When someone you love is in pain, they don’t need to be reminded that they’re smart, beautiful, resourceful, or a fantastically good person. Don’t tell them that they’re strong or brave. Grief isn’t typically a failure of confidence.
Do: Remember that all those things you love about the person, all those things you admire, will help them as they move through this experience.
Remind them that you’re there and that they can always lean on you when the load of grief gets too heavy to carry alone. Let them be a right awful mess, without feeling they need to show you a brave, courageous face
Don’t be a cheerleader.
When things are dark, it’s OK to be dark. Not every corner needs the bright light of encouragement. In a similar vein, don’t encourage someone to have gratitude for the good things that still exist. Good things and horrible things occupy the same space; they don’t cancel each other out.
Do: Mirror their reality back to them.
When they say, “This entirely sucks,” say, “Yes, it does.” It’s amazing how much that helps.
Don’t talk about “later.”
When someone you love is in pain, it’s tempting to talk about how great things are going to be for them in the future. Right now, in this present moment, that future is irrelevant.
Do: Stay in the present moment, or, if the person is talking about the past, join them there. Allow them to choose.
Don’t evangelize (part one).
“You should go out dancing; that’s what helped me.” “Have you tried essential oils to cheer you up?” “Melatonin always helps me sleep. You should try it.” When you’ve found something that works for you, it’s tempting to globalize that experience for everyone else. Unfortunately, unless the person specifically asked for a suggestion or information, your enthusiastic plugs are going to feel offensive and—honestly—patronizing.
Do: Trust that the person has intelligence and experience in their own self-care.
If they aren’t sleeping well, they’ve probably talked to a trusted provider, or done a simple Google search themselves. If you see them struggling, it’s OK to ask if they’d like to hear what’s helped you in the past.
Don’t charge ahead with solutions (evangelizing, part two).
In all things, not just in grief, it’s important to get consent before giving advice or offering strategies. In most cases, the person simply needs to be heard and validated inside their pain or their challenges.
Do: Get consent.
Before you offer solutions or strategies, you might borrow my friend and colleague Kate McCombs’s question: “Are you wanting empathy or a strategy right now?” Respect their answer.
American Author and Educator, Parker Palmer in his Commencement Speech. to the 2015 graduating students of Naropa University, shared some great insights on grief and suffering:
Since suffering as well as joy comes with being human, I urge you to remember this: Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.
Sometimes we aim that violence at ourselves — as in overwork that leads to burnout and worse, or in the many forms of substance abuse. Sometimes we aim that violence at other people — racism, sexism, and homophobia often come from people trying to relieve their suffering by claiming superiority over others.
The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, not death. It happens every day. I know many people who’ve suffered the loss of the dearest person in their lives. At first, they go into deep grief, certain that their lives will never again be worth living. But then they slowly awaken to the fact that — not in spite of their loss but because of it — they’ve become bigger, more compassionate people, with more capacity of heart to take in other people’s sorrows and joys.
These are broken-hearted people — but their hearts have been broken open rather than broken apart. So, every day, exercise your heart by taking in life’s little pains and joys — that kind of exercise will make your heart supple, the way a runner makes a muscle supple, so that when it breaks, (and it surely will,) it will break not into a fragment grenade, but into a greater capacity for love.
Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.
It can be tricky being there for our loved ones when they are hurting, down, and grieving, but with empathy, acknowledgment, presence, and listening, we can help them navigate the roller coaster ahead.
“If you think an awkward response to a friend’s crisis will make them feel bad, then you should know that if you say nothing, they will likely feel worse. ”
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.
“God himself, sir, does not propose to judge man until the end of his days.”
In his great book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Author Dale Carnegie shared a great story about a father and son, which teaches the virtue of patience with other humans and the futility of criticism. The piece originally appeared as an editorial in the People’s Home Journal and was reprinted in the book as condensed in the Reader’s Digest:
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
Remarks by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, B.J. ’77, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, Texas Exes Life Member, and Distinguished Alumnus. Admiral McRaven offered advice for changing the world from his 36 years of experience as a Navy SEAL: Ask for help when you need it, respect everyone, persevere through failures and, perhaps surprisingly, make your bed every day.
Writing is a form of manipulation, and in order to do it effectively, you need to control what happens in the reader’s head. One way of doing this is to use specific details as opposed to generalities
Joanna Penn’s How To Write Non-Fiction is a great book on the art of writing non-fiction. She shared great insights on starting out as a writer, dealing with doubt and fear, the business of writing, writing tools, marketing, and other strategies on turning knowledge into creative work through book writing. The book goes in-depth to writing a great non-fiction book and building a personal brand in the process.
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” – Stephen King, On Writing
Here are my favourite take aways from reading, How To Write Non-Fiction by Joanna Penn:
When it is darkest, we can see the stars. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are three inevitable things we are all going to deal with: Death, Taxes, and Challenges. No one lives a problem-free life, and we are all going to DIE. Life would happen to us all; it is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. You are either going through a storm, entering a new storm, or going to the next storm. We lose a loved one; we get laid off from a job; we deal with infertility; we get diagnosed with a terminal illness; we get disappointed; we get divorced; we get heartbroken. It is tough going through the challenges and vicissitudes of life, and in these trying times, we expect our family and friends to be there for us, but most times, they are not equipped to help us navigate the challenges of grief.
Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry.
“There is no getting over it, but only getting under it. Loss and grief change our landscape. The terrain is forever different and there is no normal to return to. There is only the inner task of making a new and accurate map”
Grief is tough, draining, and lonely as most people think they understand what you are going through; I have been there a couple of times, from losing my closest cousin, losing my mum, to getting laid off. We handle grief differently, but most grievers have something in common: you get judged, people make assumptions, they say hurtful things unintentionally, some relationships dissolve while others get stronger. Our culture does not prepare a lot of us to handle grief and care for people in grief.
“Grief is already a lonely experience. It rearranges your address book: people you thought would stay beside you through anything have either disappeared or they’ve behaved so badly, you cut them out yourself. Even those who truly love you, who want more than anything to stay beside you, fall short of joining you here. It can feel like you lost the entire world right along with the person who died. Many grieving people feel like they’re on another planet, or wish they could go to one. Somewhere there are others like them. People who understand.”
The book provides a path to rethink our relationship with grief. It encourages readers to see their grief as a natural response to death and loss, rather than an aberrant condition needing transformation. By shifting the focus from grief as a problem to be solved to an experience to be tended, we give the reader what we most want for ourselves: understanding, compassion, validation, and a way through the pain.
In It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Megan Devine offers a profound new approach to both the experience of grief and the way we try to help others who have endured tragedy. Having experienced grief from both sides―as both a therapist and as a woman who witnessed the accidental drowning of her beloved partner―Megan writes with deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing. She debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, “happy” life, replacing it with a far healthier middle path, one that invites us to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking to overcome it.
“Grief is not a problem to be solved; it’s an experience to be carried. The work here is to find—and receive—support and comfort that helps you live with your reality. Companionship, not correction, is the way forward.”
Acknowledgment is one of the few things that actually helps. What you’re living can’t be fixed. It can’t be made better. There are no solutions. That means that our course of action inside grief is simple: helping you gauge what’s “normal” and finding ways to support your devastated heart. This part of the book is about helping you survive the bizarre territory of intense grief. Naming the craziness of this time is powerful: it helps to know what’s normal when nothing feels normal.
Here are my favourite takeaways from reading, It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine:
“Success is getting what you want; Happiness is wanting what you get.”
Happiness is an emotional response to an outcome; if you win, you become happy. If you don’t, you become unhappy. It is an if-then, cause-and-effect proposition that is not sustainable because every time you attain a certain level of happiness, you raise the bar, and it is an endless loop. We also schedule and delay our happiness; we say when this happens, I will become happy. If this then that, Someday I’ll when so and so happens, I would be happy when I get married we change it to when we have kids, then when the kids leave home to when there are grandkids, there is always a reason to postpone. It is a constant moving target.
“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well-lived.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.
Australian Comedian Tim Minchin delivered a thought-provoking, inspiring speech titled: “9 Life Lessons”, in which he implored the graduates to:
1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. 2. Don’t Seek Happiness 3. Remember, It’s All Luck 4. Exercise 5. Be Hard On Your Opinions 6. Be a teacher. 7. Define Yourself By What You Love 8. Respect People With Less Power Than You. 9. Don’t Rush.
Tim Minchin, the former UWA Arts student described as “sublimely talented, witty, smart and unabashedly offensive” in a musical career that has taken the world by storm, is awarded an honorary doctorate by The University of Western Australia.
In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational – it’s confusing.
And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cos he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.
Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.
Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cos… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.
However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now – at the ripe old age of 38 – bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.
You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense.
So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.
Here we go:
1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.
Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up.
I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. This is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.
This is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.
2. Don’t Seek Happiness Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.
Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away.
3. Remember, It’s All Luck You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.
I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.
Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.
Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.
4. Exercise I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.
Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!
But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run.
5. Be Hard On Your Opinions A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.
We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat.
Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.
Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.
By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.
If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.
You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.
Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.
You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.
The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.
6. Be a teacher. Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.
Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.
7. Define Yourself By What You Love I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me”. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.
8. Respect People With Less Power Than You. I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.
9. Don’t Rush. You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.
I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:
You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.
There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.
And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.
It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.