This past weekend I finished reading Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. A friend recommended it to me a while back, and as I glanced over it at Barnes and Noble recently, I felt compelled to give the book a shot. Boy, was it worth it!
You see, I think Manson's to something. His book isn't about not caring about anything, as some people suspect from his bold and memorable title. Far from it, Manson is arguing for caring about the right things. But the problem is that life and our culture has a way to training us to get all bent out of shape and caring about the wrong things. We all have to deeply care about something. It's how we're wired, but what we care about and value--what we give a fuck about--shapes our experience of life and determines if we are happy or not.
Why did I like the book? Well, it challenged me. A lot, in fact. As someone who has defined themselves as a creative person (specifically as a filmmaker and writer), I have a very hard time looking at what I've managed to accomplish and feel good about it, if I'm being honest with you. Why? Because my perspective and identity have been wrapped up in being a successful filmmaker and writer.
Am I successful? Short answer: no. I don't make a living from my creative work. I earn some income as a freelance videographer when I'm able. But currently, my days are mostly about being a stay-at-home dad. My wife has an awesome job she's great at, so that keeps our house running. I'm incredibly grateful for this and for the unique opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad and invest in my daughter's life.
But for a long time, I have beat myself up over not managing to succeed financially as a creative person. After all, I wanted a career as a filmmaker and writer, not a hobby. And while I am good at a lot of the creative parts of being a filmmaker and writer, I just plain suck at marketing and networking. These days, however, I'm learning to rethink a lot of things. And that's why I'm reading books like Manson's. I'm learning that I've been too rigid in my values and identity as a creative person. I have always been one prone to delusions of grandeur. I want to do great and meaningful and lasting things.
Mark Manson writes, "Once you accept the premise that life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and other."
I relate to this notion way too much. I've longed to do great things. To tell great stories. To inspire people to get deep and examine life more closely. Ironically, I think I've been the one not examining my own life all that closely. After all, how did it take me this long to realize that I've been giving a fuck about all the wrong things? Seriously?!
But, I'm stubborn. I think Manson is right when he writes later in the book that, "We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we've been deriving meaning in our life, and then consider changing course." That's where I'm at now. I think I've been deriving meaning from the wrong things, namely being a successful professional filmmaker/writer.
Now, that's not to say I don't see value in my storytelling. I love storytelling! I actually charge my batteries when I get time to be alone to work on a script or novel. But I'm trying to get far more realistic about the value of my storytelling. Is it really all that important to other people? Does the world really need another movie or novel or short story? Can I do this work for the love of the craft regardless of the success I find? Can I rethink my approach to these things like Jeff Goins' book Real Artists Don't Starve suggests I should (more on that here)?
I've been re-reading Ecclesiastes lately. Yeah, you know that book in the Bible that says everything is meaningless. It's kind of funny. But also refreshing in a very strange way. If everything is meaningless, just a chasing after the wind, then it seems to me that life is less about WHAT I do and more about HOW I do.
Can I learn to give more fucks about the relationships in my life than if I've been "productive" today? Can I be okay with broadening my definition of myself to be more flexible and less fixated on being a "professional creative"? Can I check in on my book sales without feeling devastated at my lack of sales? Can I choose better values to care about in life--better things to give a fuck about?
Well, I'm trying. And already, I feel a little lighter. But I know it will take purposeful and conscience investment everyday. Now back to the daily grind.