There’s a third thing that happened at approximately the same time as starting school and also giving death a little ‘what-up’ wave. It’s not quite as big, but I think it’s also playing a role in how I’m thinking and behaving (or at least how I’m trying to think and behave) lately.
I finished this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
In or around 2012, my next-door fellow JET E-Love and I had a recurring conversation about how achieving nirvana is basically reaching a state of giving no fucks. We also bemoaned how beleaguered we were because we both gave too many, and that left us stressed out when basically we were in the easiest damn situation. I don’t know what JET life is like nowadays, and honestly, it’s probably still really different depending on your placement, but when we lived it, we had a huge amount of freedom in our work lives.
This meant that if we were so inclined, we could just chill all day and do the minimum required (which was super little, like.. super little), and be no worse off for it than maybe having some dirty looks shot at us by our J-coworkers who were busting their asses and hated us for slacking off. Financially we’d be in the same situation, and we’d have more time to plan and execute whatever Asian adventures and shenanigans we wanted. We probably could have shown up to work drunk, if that was our bag.
Not that I’m advocating this, of course, I’m just saying, we had more than a little wiggle room. But we, and probably most JETs (because they do have this screening process and it is competitive), worked harder than we were ‘required to’ because doing stuff well is important to us, and we want our coworkers to like and respect us, and we want to be good citizens, blah blah blah.
Our problem was just that we got so anxious about doing a really good job that it undermined our enjoyment of the time we were spending living there. Not all the time, but during certain seasons, this definitely did occur.
Setting aside that it might be a bit harsh to belittle ourselves for not achieving nirvana in our mid twenties, our conclusion was kind of on point. Trying to let go of your worries, obsessions, anxieties, and attachments does seem to translate into modern crass parlance as giving no fucks. And that’s the basic theme of this book I read a little before but mostly during recovery from the wreck.
If the title appeals to you, and you like the casual cursing of some bloggers (ha) because it lends a tone of conversational familiarity, then you would like the tone of this book as well.
I’ve been trying to apply the basic underlying principle of trying to stop and ask myself what is it I’m giving a fuck about in this situation?
Because the author’s first point is basically that you should only give a fuck about things that are truly important. To you.
Things that are truly important to you. These last two words are a big distinction for me, because I think I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was objectively or universally important. Like there was a right answer about that, some kind of key of importance, some master list in rank order. Like even if I was sometimes unclear, someone else knew. They must know. How could there not be some master or guru who knew?
There are lists, in a way.. unspoken in some cases, and generally prescribed by your culture. But not all of them are sustainable, feasible, healthy, or a fit for me as a specific person.
Right? So the key is figure out what you value, and then as you go through life, re-evaluate your responses to figure out, am I giving a fuck about the things I really think are worth giving a fuck about?
Like, I care what other people think of me. I want everyone to like me. This isn’t a stellar value to have because I have no control over whether other people like me. I can spend a ton of energy trying to be all things to all people and end up being exhausted and miserable and inconsistent. Recipe for happiness, boom.
It’s going to make you happier if you value stuff you can actually control. So I started thinking about this, trying to figure out what are some better values with which I can get.
I decided that curiosity is a good one, and one that comes fairly naturally and easily to me. I really am curious by nature, and I like to learn stuff, so having this as a value is a good fit for me. Funnily enough, trying to be well-liked gets in the way of curiosity, because I will quickly back down from trying to gain information in favor of trying to be ‘polite’ or non-confrontational. I try not to be seen looking. But genuine curiosity is sometimes found acceptable and even preferable to cold politeness — people may actually read curiosity as caring and polite silence as being aloof.
Honesty is harder for me, but I think it’s also a good value that I’m trying to adopt more consciously. It’s hard because of the aforementioned always wanting people to like me — so if there is something I think will cast me in a bad light, or will make someone think less of me, I have a very well practiced tendency to sugarcoat it, or even just omit it entirely, and even to lie (little white lies, of course, right?) to just gloss over some detail or other that really “isn’t important to this matter anyway” and so adds nothing and so it doesn’t matter if I’m not quite truthful about it.
It’s hard for me to even admit that honesty is hard for me because I want to see myself and be seen by others as an honest person. (The irony being that admitting it is actually the honest thing to do.. ha)
I wanted to list generosity but actually it’s more that I just want to see myself as generous, so that I can have that high opinion of myself and stroke my ego. I think related to generosity is cultivation of sense of gratitude, because it’s much harder to be stingy (and all the icky feelings that go with looking back on something and knowing you gave less than you could easily afford — this isn’t just with money, but also time, energy, attention, etc. — to something that eminently deserved it) if you embrace the gratitude.
Apparent opposite conservatism is a value I also espouse. I’m not being political — I mean the actual Latinate core meaning of the word. I have already written about how I hate to waste stuff. If I have the knowledge and ability to conserve something (energy, water, , it’s important to me to do so. When it comes to my own time and energy, discernment becomes key. Things that might seem like wasting time might actually be really good for me and important to do (you’ll hear this in ‘how to be creative’ guides all the time — you need time to play, wander, and for your brain to compost out some ideas). Things that seem like productive work are actually cleverly disguised ways of wasting time impressively. There is no master list of which is which, because it will vary from person to person and even from day to day.
Which means I have to evaluate it and be mindful of it as is comes along. So I guess that means mindfulness is kind of a value, and maybe even the cornerstone of the other ones.
. . .
So when I first started programmer school, like in the two days before the wreck, I kind of was a mental basket case. I was super stressed out because I was starting something new, because I wasn’t sure it was going to be right for me, because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be the best in the class and although I knew I had to accept that, I think I also knew I wasn’t very good at accepting stuff like that, because I had only finished about a third (maybe even only a quarter) of the pre-work that they strongly suggested we do as much as possible of before starting, and the first two days we kind of hit the ground running with all kinds of shit I knew nothing about.
I got really fixated on not having finished the pre-work, though, was a bit peeved at myself for not having done enough, and tried to create a ridiculous timeline for completing it alongside taking the class and doing the class exercises. I didn’t see what else there was to be done. The pre-work should have been done before I started, and I hadn’t done it all, so I needed to get that shit on lockdown ASAP. In the meantime I needed to grip as tightly as possible to the fragments of the craft I had sailed in on in order to stay afloat until I could get that done.
Then I had a wreck on day three and missed the third and fourth day of class. Which in the grand scheme? Not that much. But when there have only been four days of class and you have missed literally half of them? Fuck!
Also, if I was going to be out of class, I should at least be using that time to do that other thing that not having done was stressing me out, right? — So if I’m not able to be there, I need to be jamming as much pre-work into my head as the time would allow, right? But this was concussion time, which meant not only was I not supposed to do stuff that was “physically or mentally challenging,” I also found myself too stupid-ified to pay attention or retain anything I did try to study in that time. (I only tried a little, so don’t worry, I wasn’t haranguing myself the whole time. I was, however, sitting around trying not to stress about being behind. Trying not to stress about something is pretty stressful. It’s a vicious cycle, sort of like trying to fall asleep when you know you’re already going to be running a sleep deficit come morning. Very self-defeating.)
So I ended up in the very counter-intuitive position of trying to catch up by going slower than my normal pace for about a week. If you find yourself in this position, try not to stress about being behind! Hahaha. Good luck!
The teachers at NSS have harped pretty hard on how it’s not really about the work you turn in, or the boxes you check, or how much better you think you are than the guy sitting next to you, but rather are you learning stuff? Can you do stuff today that you could not do three weeks ago, or even last week?
So… not achievement, but progress, right? Curiosity and honesty?
When I find myself getting frustrated that the mini group project we’re working on isn’t what I want to show to everyone, but we’re presenting in an hour, and there’s no way it’s going to be ‘done’ to my desired level by then, I have to step back. When I start to get mad at myself and/or my group members for not knowing enough or working fast enough or giving enough of a fuck about this project — I have to step back.
Like, whoa. What exactly are we trying to give a fuck about, here? Who gives a shit if this project isn’t totally amazing? And why should we? More importantly, did working on it push me to practice the stuff I just learned? Did it make me revisit stuff I had forgotten that I had learned? Isn’t that the thing I am here for? Isn’t that the bigger fuck to give?
It’s incredibly freeing. I am somehow then able to stand up and present the project, warts and all, without embarrassment. I’m even able to accept the experience (at least this one and for now) as highly beneficial because I was able to adjust the fucks given more toward what actually matters. (To me.)
You guys. Adjusting that? It’s incredibly freeing.
So when I say I love being in school again, I actually didn’t love it the first week, because I was a little too busy being stressed and focusing on all the things I hadn’t done or didn’t have.
And it takes a conscious effort to maintain this perspective of not falling into that trap. But that’s the mindfulness thing. I’m trying to slow down. I’m trying to ask myself more, especially when I find myself getting upset and anxious, whoa, like what do I even really want in this situation? What is actually important here?
As a side note, it’s a lot easier to answer that question about a specific moment or situation than it is about Life In General or to try to figure out What Should Be Important to Everyone All The Time. Which is also pretty freeing.
As another side note, it turns out I am still good at school, even when I am not obsessively giving too many fucks about a lot of little things I am not fully aware aren’t even that important to me.
To be honest? I still really want people to like me and think I am smart. But I’m trying to be more careful of not letting that run away with me. (Note.. I used to try really hard to NOT care [and then get mad at myself for not being able to not care], but it turns out it’s way easier to accept that I do care what people think, and then to just care about other stuff more.) To rank those better values higher.
It’s like meditation! You can’t really let go of something if you don’t acknowledge and even accept it. Again with the honesty. Self-honesty. Sometimes the hardest kind.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’ve got this narrative. We’ve all got a narrative, of how we tell the story of ourselves. How we see ourselves in our contexts. And I’m trying to be a bit less judgey in the narration process, to say what a thing is without immediately ascribing good or bad quality to it, but rather to just ask questions about it. To ask, what fucks am I giving here, and why am I giving them?
Of what are you trying to be more mindful in your life? Or, which are the most important of your fucks given?