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Where “being yourself” fails

Seen in a meme:

“Embrace who you are and don’t make any apologies for being yourself.”

I’d like to add a major caveat to that:

First, we are *all* works in progress, we all make mistakes, we all have blind spots in our level of awareness (particularly with regard to ourselves), and we all have room for improvement.

But some more than others.

While I am all for people being authentic and real, I’d much prefer not to encourage the assclowns, douchebags, and dirtbags to just “be themselves” and never apologize for it.

“Yeah, I cut you off in traffic. So what?”
“Yeah, I double parked. Just being myself, man.”
“Yeah, I litter. Big deal.”

Sure, if you’re kind, compassionate, and authentic, if you strive for progress and improvement in your life and your self, if you aim to make a positive difference with what you have to offer, then by all means continue. Even if you occasionally make mistakes, as we all do.

But if you’re someone who goes through life making things more difficult, painful, or inconvenient for others, then perhaps it’s better you don’t just “be yourself”.

Perhaps it’s better if you aim to be the kind of person you and others can actually be proud of rather than just accept who you are with no intention to change.

“Be yourself. Unless you suck.” — Joss Whedon

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Related:

It’s OK not to be happy.

Seen in a meme:

“Nothing is worth it if you aren’t happy.”

While being happy is something to celebrate, there are some who promote happiness as if any other option isn’t acceptable. As if, if you aren’t happy, there’s something wrong with you. And that simply isn’t true.

The ability to feel a full range of emotions and different states of being is an important part of the human experience.

It’s ok not to be happy. And in many cases, a large part of personal growth is dependent on recognizing when one is not happy and then actively working through it.

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.” — Oscar Wilde

While it is said that,Inner Peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.” — and it is a skill and state of being everyone is capable of — it is much easier to talk about inner peace than it is to achieve it.

It takes a tremendous amount of mental discipline to achieve a state of mind in which we are unaffected by the negative events around us. And, like having a fit body is a choice and it’s something everyone is capable of, it’s not something most people have. Mental discipline takes practice.

Unless one is a Zen master, creating the expectation that being happy at all times is a simple matter of choice, is to set one’s self up for what will likely be a difficult task. Because the moment something almost inevitably disturbs your state of being — and you suddenly find that you’re not happy — you’ll feel as if there’s something wrong with you.

But it’s ok to feel sadness. It’s ok to feel pain. It’s ok to feel frustration and anger. Again, these feelings are a part of the human experience.

[*While feeling anger, frustration, unhappiness is ok, it’s important to deal with such states in a healthy and productive fashion. And that is beyond the scope of this post. Adopting behaviors that put you or others in harm’s way is not healthy — and if you are inclined to do such things, it is important to seek help.]

Telling someone who has just suffered a tremendous loss to “just be happy”, “happiness is a choice”, and “it’s always darkest before dawn” generally isn’t helpful (at all).

And while it’s ok to want to help people — and it shows you care, it’s also ok to let people work through their issues and to just let them know you are there to support them if they need you.

In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges writes, “All transitions are composed of (1) an ending, (2) a neutral zone, and (3) a new beginning.” and “The neutral zone provides access to an angle of vision on life that one can get nowhere else. And it is a succession of such views over a lifetime that produces wisdom.”

Feeling things other than happiness are an important part of growth. They lead to changes where we often transition from one level of awareness to another.

So it’s OK not to be happy. Not being in a constant state of happiness is not unhealthy. But it’s important to remember to channel that energy effectively and to not simply dwell on it. Acknowledge it and move on, transitioning to your new beginning.

And as you transition from one level of awareness to another, if you make a conscious effort to practice mental discipline and choose where to focus your mental energy, you may just find the inner peace so many wish they had, but never put in the effort to achieve.

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” — Carl Jung

Refuse to emotionally succumb to the negative events around you and tap your mental toughness to thrive in any environment. The good guy doesn’t always win and justice doesn’t always prevail, but where you direct your mental energy will always determine your attitude and it will always be controlled by you.” — Steve Siebold

Related:

 

From the comments:

Eric: Very good piece. Whole books could be written about what the word ‘happiness’ even means. Probably there already are such books.

But in short, for me, I try to draw a distinction nowadays between being happy and being ‘at peace’ or ‘contented’. I am much more at peace nowadays, but I’m not always ‘happy’. I value peace much more than happiness (although peace is for me often the conduit to happiness).

Zero: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that’s a great distinction. I used to think I knew what happiness was — I had a mental picture of it. But it’s changed. It looks more like contentment and “inner peace”…

Just because you don’t have a smile on your face, doesn’t mean you’re not happy. But just because someone is smiling, doesn’t mean they’re happy.

There’s a sort of congruency and balance that needs to be in place… and that creates a sort of “emotional calm” or satisfaction (I’m not sure what to call it).

Kitt: (twitter) Similar words in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, by Burkeman

A cycle of cynical

“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.”

Another false meme.

This one is a quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s book, Invisible Monsters.

I’m not sure of the context within the book. I don’t know if it’s a character saying it or the author, but it’s being shared on the Web in meme form as if it’s an insightful piece of self-contained wisdom.

At best, it’s a very cynical view of the world.

cyn·i·cal
1. believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
2. concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted or appropriate standards in order to achieve them.

It should go without saying that there are numerous valid reasons why someone might ask you how your weekend was, not least of which being they are genuinely interested.

Not everyone has a personal agenda. Not everyone is superficial, self-centered, or selfish. Not everyone provides a courtesy or kindness with the expectation of reward.

Some people are actually interested in what others have to say or offer. And it has nothing to do with having a hidden agenda. It has to do with being a supportive friend, a good listener, or even just a curious person.

It’s not about manipulation or acting under false pretense.

Sometimes communication is one-sided, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you talk. Sometimes you listen. That’s just how it works.

But true friendship and connection involves sharing an experience — without an agenda.

And there are far more people in the world happy to do that than this cynical quote would lead you to believe.

Related:

Confusing anger with passion

Probably the worst, patently false meme I’ve seen in a while:

“Listen to people when they are angry, because that is when the real truth comes out.”

People are much more likely to say intentionally hurtful things when they’re angry — and many times, these things are not at all a reflection of the truth.

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” — Ambrose Bierce

Anger is often referred to as a “secondary emotion” because it’s most often the result of feeling something else: hurt, rejected, scared, grief, or vulnerable.

When people are in this state is not a time others should rely on them to communicate clearly, or rationally. Nor is it a time when one should take special care to listen for the “real truth”.

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” — Aristotle

Anyone who has ever been a teenager can probably remember saying something intentional hurtful to their friends or parents (such as, “I hate you!”) — because they were angry and wanted to inflict damage, not because they were expressing the truth.

The time to listen for the truth is not when people are angry. The time to listen for the truth is when they’re emotionally stable, clearly aware of what they’re saying, and capable of expressing it effectively.

“One of the greatest lessons we can learn in life is how to keep mute when the boiling ring of anger is dropped within us.” — Ikechukwu Izuakor

This meme is confusing anger with the positive aspects of passion.

You want to know what someone’s personal truth is?

Listen to people when they’re excited. Listen to the ideas they love to talk about. Listen when they speak with enthusiasm. Listen to what they speak about with passion.

Because the fire that lights people’s passions is a far more reliable source of truth than whatever it is they say when they are angry.

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” — William Arthur Ward

Afterword: I should point out I’m separating passion (positive) from anger (negative), but according to the dictionary definition of “passion”, it can involve any intense emotion (including anger). But passion doesn’t necessarily involve anger — and anger doesn’t necessarily involve passion.

Passion, as I refer to it, is enthusiasm.

From the comments:

Mike: I think this flows out of a saying:

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”. (This is attributed most often to Gloria Steinem, but other people are occasionally credited with it, too.)

And there is something there. Sometimes people are angry when they discover they’ve been deceived and use that anger to set the record straight.

The problem is in assuming that anger is a reliable indicator of truth, when it clearly isn’t.

Zero: Also:

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.” — Oscar Wilde

Like discontent, anger can sometimes have value as a trigger for change, but anger, as it is most often expressed, is negative. As a positive tool, anger is unreliable, at best.

Related:

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“Real men”

I see it frequently on social media…

Real men wear…”
Real men drink [brand]…”
Real men know how to…”
Real men drive [brand]…”
Real men like…”

No.

Real men. Real women. Real people like whatever they want to like and do whatever they want to do. Their preferences are not dictated by fads, popularity, or the social norm. They don’t like things in order to appear more appealing to others.

Real people act with authenticity. And authentic people listen to their inner voice and make their own decisions based on their personal preferences and experience.

So to say “Real men like…” is practically meaningless.

A “real” person is going to maintain their integrity regardless of the influence of outside forces — regardless of your desire that they like whatever it is you think they should like in order to be a “real” person.

To suggest otherwise is to suggest that you judge people based on whether they like or don’t like exactly the same things you do. And if they don’t, they’re not a “real” person.

To be real is to be authentic. To be real is to have a strong sense of self. To be real is to have a positive moral character. And above all, to be real is to have integrity.

Because…

A real person is going to like beer or mixed drinks or not drink at all.
A real person is going to eat meat or not.
A real person is going to like cats or dogs or none of the above.
A real person is going to be religious or not.
A real person is going to like watching sports or root for the same team as you or not.
A real person is going to drive an American made car or a foreign car or none at all.

The thing about “real” people is that you can’t tell them what to be — or who or what to like — and expect them to cater to you simply because you want them to. Real people are going to be real and make their own decisions and do what they want whether you approve of it or not.

Real people don’t exist to confine themselves to other people’s expectations. They’re not content with being labeled. They have no desire to fit within a box. They don’t cave in to peer pressure. And they don’t act with the intention of pleasing everyone.

And this is far more rare than it should be — and should be of far more value and far more desirable than a person who simply likes the exact same things you like, shares your exact point of view, or is easily influenced by the social majority or the flavor of the week.

Consider this the next time someone suggests “Real people…” do or like anything.

Related:

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People change. Memories do, too.

Seen in a meme:

“People change. Memories don’t.”

Actually, this is false. Memories are very susceptible to change (whether you want them to or not).

This is partly because any time you remember something, you are remembering the last time you remembered it and not the actual event — and our playback isn’t perfect.

As such memories get distorted based on how you feel and what you choose to focus on when you recall a past event.

This can happen in a more “localized” way when one feels depressed. When we are feeling down about ourselves, we are often quick to dismiss our positive memories or achievements.

Disqualifying the positive is one of the most destructive forms of cognitive distortion.” — David D. Burns M.D.

When we choose to focus on a particular memory in a particular way often enough, we effectively change that memory.

This is one of the reasons why two people who witness or experience an event together may eventually remember it entirely differently. It isn’t that either is lying, it’s that their memories of an event are susceptible to change.

Related:

Being “awesome” doesn’t mean simply existing.

It appears that “being awesome” is all the rage these days. Social networks are full of “just be awesome” related posts.

  • Don’t forget to be awesome!
  • Wake up. Be awesome. Go to sleep.
  • Keep calm and be awesome!

This is great — except that no one seems to really draw attention to what “being awesome” actually means. As if the simple act of existing is “being awesome”.

It isn’t.

The people who leave fast food trash in the parking lot next to their car are not being awesome. People who put others in danger by texting and driving? Not being awesome.

Rudeness? Arrogance? Selfishness? Judging people? Not awesome.

The majority of Youtube comments? Not awesome.

Being “awesome” doesn’t mean simply existing.

Being awesome involves acting in a way that contributes something of value to the people, places, and things that you connect with throughout your day.

Unless your mission is to be so annoying that people will feel relieved when you are not around, if your presence doesn’t add value, your absence won’t make a difference. And if you’re not making some kind of positive difference, that’s not “being awesome”. That’s not putting in any amount of effort. That’s simply existing.

So if you truly want to be awesome, always strive to contribute in such a way that you’re adding something of value wherever you may be and to whoever you come in contact with by doing more of what you’d like to see in the world.

This can be as simple as going out of your way to be kind to people.

It is in this way of adding value wherever you go that you will not only make a positive difference in the world at large, but also in your relationships, your work affairs, and any systems in which you play a role.

And that is awesome.

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Be not simply good; be good for something.”

Related:

Being awesome doesn't mean simply existing
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‘If Plan A doesn’t work out…’

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If “Plan A” doesn’t work, don’t worry, you still have 25 letters left.

Not helpful!

The truth is, you don’t always get a 2nd chance, let alone a 3rd. But every mistake or failure provides valuable lessons to learn from.

  • Re-think where it went wrong
  • Seek help where you need it, and
  • Take everything you learned from the experience and use it to strategize a new plan for success.

If I’m weird around you it’s because…

Seen in a meme:

If I’m weird around you, it’s because I’m comfortable.

No.

If I’m weird around you, it’s because I’m comfortable I don’t change who I am so that people will like me. Because the kind of people I like will like me for being real.

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Related:

What stress is caused by and why you should give a damn

There’s a message being spread all over social networks. It sounds something like this:

“Stress is caused by giving a f*ck.” or “The less you give a damn, the happier you will be.”

These statements are misleading, at best — and, at worst, simply false.

With regard to the first:

Stress is not caused by giving a f*ck. Stress is caused by trying to have power over things that are beyond your control. There’s a difference.

The act of saying “F*ck it, I don’t care!” is simply an acceptance that you are no longer going to try to change something that you couldn’t control anyway.

It’s not the caring that’s the problem, it’s a problem with misdirected focus and an emotional attachment to an outcome you had no power over.

It’s like worrying — the mental process of worrying about something accomplishes nothing.

“We have a saying in Tibet: If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it can’t be solved, worrying will do no good.” — Dalai Lama

It is the same with trying to have power over things you cannot control. If you have no power over something, there is no use trying to control it.

To encourage people to not care about things is a step in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t need more people who don’t give a f*ck — or people who sit by and do nothing when they have a chance to make a positive difference. We already have those in abundance.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” – Steve Maraboli

The fact is that a lack of caring, a lack of focus, a lack of priorities, and a lack of positive role models are reasons why the world is in the state that it’s in.

The world needs more people who do care — and care passionately about the things that matter. But by focusing only on the things that are within our power to change.

This is done, in part, by making a concerted effort to focus on solutions and progress and not in simply sharing problems and leaving them for someone else to take care of.

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” — Kahlil Gibran

To glorify an “I don’t give a f*ck” attitude is, in a way, a declaration that you will stand idly by and not give a damn when something happens in your life — or in the life of someone you care about — and when you have the power to make a positive difference, you will choose not to because, “Hey, [you] don’t give a f*ck!”, remember?

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” — Albert Einstein

“But I don’t mean it that way”, you say. And if you don’t, great.

But I am speaking specifically to these two self-contained statements (being glorified on the Internet) which seem to imply that giving a f*ck or a damn (about anything) is the problem:

  • “Stress is caused by giving a f*ck.”
  • “The less you give a damn, the happier you will be.”

Lessons Learned from The Path Less Traveled by Zero DeanWe should not be encouraging ourselves or others not to care or give a damn.

We should resist becoming hard or bitter or creating the expectation in our children that the world is a cold and hostile one in which to live.

We should be encouraging people to care — and educating people on how to do so effectively — and teaching our children to be the change they wish to see in the world.

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” — L.R. Knost

We must learn to let go of those things we have no control over and focus on what we can do. Remember not let the things you can’t control stand in the way of what you can.

“Let go or be dragged.” — Zen Proverb

With regard to the second statement about not giving a damn:

It would be more accurate to say,

  • The less you fear what people think of you — or let it bother you – the happier you will be.
  • The less you compare yourself to others, the happier you will be.
  • The more you are your authentic self — and don’t seek the approval of others — the happier you will be.
  • The more you focus on the things you can control in your life (such as yourself and your emotions), and not trying to control the things you cannot (such as other people), the happier you will be.

Inner Peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.

To think that happiness comes from not caring about external factors is to confuse where happiness comes from — which is from within. As I’ve said before, don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.

“Happiness comes from within. It is not dependent on external things or on other people. You become vulnerable and can be easily hurt when your feelings of security and happiness depend on the behavior and actions of other people. Never give your power to anyone else.” — Brian L. Weiss

Simply not giving a damn about anything is a very blah and mundane way to live life. You can’t live life to the fullest without passion — and passion is caring.

“Happiness comes from within and is found in the present moment by making peace with the past and looking forward to the future.” — Doe Zantamata

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Related:

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