[Source: The Telegraph.]
An article appeared on my Facebook feed today that I think it worthy of comment. In ‘6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person‘ Cracked.com writer David Wong hypothesises that a person’s value to the world is found not in soft characteristics they may possess (funny, kindly, smart), or in the things that they are not (selfish, slovenly, dishonest) but in what they actually do. Wong says that it is only marketable and/or desirable skills that will make the world beat a path to your door. He applies this to employment (no one cares that you are a nice person if you can’t do your job properly) and to relationships (stop whining women/men don’t want to date you and make yourself datable).
In fact, Wong says this simple philosophy can be applied to every aspect of our lives…and that it ought to be. He suggest that anyone dissatisfied with themselves in any respect should stop whining, stop making excuses, stop hating on anyone who is managing to achieve success and just get the hell on with constructing a version of you that you – and the world – can value.
Wong’s post spoke to me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is this: one thing I’ve learned about myself is that inside me exists a swirling vortex of rationalisations and excuses, self-loathing and doubt always tugging at my ankles, inviting me to give up completely and be sucked to a nice, comfortable oblivion. I’ve done a lot of hard things in the past few years, and done many of them well, but I always approach these things with fear. A large part of this is that deep in my heart I think that if I don’t try too hard, no one can laugh when I fall on my little pink arse. I learned to think like this as a child and it’s not an easy habit to throw off. I am lucky to have friends who try to help me. Recently, when I was asked to do a radio interview, my fall-back position was to gasp, ‘Oh, no! I could never do that!’ So I refused. But when I mentioned this to my friend Chrys, she faced me up, pursed her lips and said sternly, ‘Jane, we never say no to opportunities.’ She was right, of course. I called the journalist back and did the interview. And the next time I was asked the same question I said, ‘Sure. Love to.’ There. Growth.
Anyway, thanks David Wong for reminding me that fear should not be the factor that defines my life or determines my destiny. It’s good advice and useful to hear from time to time. I can see a dozen ways I can apply this…not least as a prompt to start blogging regularly again. I have a dozen rationalisations and excuses to explain that, some of which are close to valid, but the truth is, they are keeping me from what I want to do, so they have to go.
The second reason I liked Wong’s article is that it happens to line up nicely with my own little list of Rules for Living. This is an actual list that I’ve been jotting as I flee from one messy, miserable life and attempt to construct a new and better one. Christianity, at least the fundamentalist brand that I subscribed to, supplies adherents with a tidy, plug-and-play template for living. As a messed up 19 year old, that appealed to me. I wanted a well-worn path to walk and gleefully ripped off the bubble wrap and erected my newly-purchased, guaranteed-effective religious scaffolding and set about constructing an identity and a life inside that apparently nice, safe space. When the building collapsed with a whump and I found myself suddenly without a belief in a deity and watching the backs of the believers who had once been my family receding at speed, I was forced to make some choices. I looked around at the rubble at my feet, kicked a few broken bricks, picked up one or two fragments, put them down again, and decided that very little was worth salvaging. I determined to start construction at the foundations.
This is where my list of Rules for Living comes in. Well, more sort of guidelines really. As time passed and things arose that seemed important enough to keep, at least for now, I wrote them down. Here’s how the list looks so far:
Rule #1: Live the fuck in reality.
Rule #2: Don’t hang with assholes.
Rule #3: Own your own shit.
Rule #4: You cannot be a better [________] than you are a human being.
Rule #5: Know thyself.
Rule #6: Integrity: It’s all you’ve got.
Rule #7: Call bullshit bullshit.
Rule #8: Never, ever settle.
Rule #9: Boundaries. Have them.
Rule #10: Treasure the right things. Nurture the right relationships.
Rule #11: Fuck ‘ought’.
It’s a work in progress.
If you read David Wong’s piece, you might have recognised that Rule #4 is the one that applies here. I discovered this rule while watching someone close to me attend parenting courses, devour parenting books and still come out a royal screw up in the parenting stakes. He would frequently ask me how it ought to be done. ‘The thing,’ I ended saying, ‘Is this: You cannot be a better parent than you are a human being. Life isn’t a trick to be learned. There is no magic formula. You can’t demand respect with shouting, or wheedle it with whining, or buy it with gifts. Your kids will respect you if you actually are a person worth respecting. There are no shortcuts and you can’t fake it.’
It seemed true to me at the time. And I’ve discovered that you can fill that blank in Rule #4 in with just about anything and it will remain true. You cannot be a better teacher than you are a human being. You cannot be a better doctor than you are a human being. You cannot be a better partner, sister, writer, neighbour, lover, employee…than you are a human being. It’s about authenticity.
We get a bundle of stuff handed to us when we are born – personality, privilege or the lack of it, varying physical and mental abilities – but then it’s up to us to construct something that approximates a decent human being with it. I’m for doing the best job at that that I possibly can. I only get one crack at it. Soon enough my turn will be over for good. I’d like to finish my days having done the best I can with myself, and having made a positive difference to my little corner of the universe, naff as that may sound.
So there you have it. It’s nice to be blogging again. I might just come back and elaborate on the rest of the list. In any case, I’m determined to press through the self-loathing, rationalisations and doubt and write here again. Thanks for reading, sweeties!
I love this! I have a rule 12 which I’d add to my version of your rules-for-living, which has stood me in good stead It’s really very simple: “Do.” To flesh it out. “Do something, say yes, make decisions. Be the active player in your life”
Thanks Jane. You’ve been my “Jiminy Cricket” lately and I see quite a few rules there that I’m trying to live by under difficult circumstances.
Beautifully articulated as always. I love reading your stuff. Please don’t stop and thanks!
I’d be interested in reading more about your other rules – some of them are a bit ambiguous to me in the absence of context…
Your rules are almost identical to mine! My ‘motto’ is “Think carefully before asking a question you don’t to know the answer to.”
Very inspiring. I will print out these rules and hang them on my wall. Thank you.
I have another one too. Not so much a rule, as a mindset. Once when things went pear shaped – conflict, trouble, failure – I used to think it was a terrible sign of my life heading for disaster. Like everything going smoothly is the norm (I have no idea why). Then it occurred to me that things going wrong is really quite normal and shouldn’t be a shock. So my approach now is: Hmm I wonder what I will do to handle this well? Realising that the only real control you have over a great deal of life is how you handle it really helped. At least it didn’t make situations worse.
Not that I still don’t go OMFG, daily. I just have to remind myself: Pear shaped is the shape of reality.