You wouldn’t believe how seriously I took life until a few years ago. When I look back, it makes me laugh.
I remember getting upset about the smallest things.
A few years ago, when I started doing okay as a marketing consultant, I took myself way too seriously. I literally spent ALL my money on externals. I wore tailored suits, bought a big ass SUV with a V10 engine, and I had a Don Draper haircut. I was trying way too hard to be someone I’m not.
One time, I had lunch with a prospective client. He was a marketing director at a big company, and I wanted to work with them for a long time. I can’t remember what we had for starters, but I DO remember that I spilled it badly on my suit jacket.
It was pretty bad. Like, really bad. A big oil stain on my light gray suit jacket. Normally, you would say, “no big deal.”
But no — I HAD to obsess about that stain. The meeting went wrong because I stopped listening to the challenges that the client was sharing. I only had that stain on my mind, and how bad it looked. I screwed up the whole meeting.
All because I took the way I looked way too seriously. And I have dozens of stories like that. We often do things just for appearances.
“What do you do?”
The funny thing is that we do all kinds of things to get the approval of people we don’t even like.
The cars we drive, houses we live in, the jobs we have, the brands we buy, the things we say, the books we read.
We do all those things just to talk about it with other people. We love to have a good answer to, “what do you do?”
Parents push their kids not for the kids, but for their friends. Because when they ask, “what does your kid do?” Your parents need a good answer. Saying that your kid is just experimenting with life is not good enough.
We have this urge to show other people that we’ve got it all figured out. That we have life “under control.”
Why do people care about these external things? It’s a question that has been on the minds of many philosophers. Michel de Montaigne once said:
“Why do people respect the package rather than the man?”
I guess it’s a timeless issue. But does that mean you have to play the game many others play? No way.
Just live your life the way you want. And laugh as much as you can while you’re at it. Especially about yourself.
“How can I stop taking life seriously?”
The number one skill that helps you to live a merry life is to learn the art of self-banter. I.e learn how to make fun of yourself.
People who take life seriously always think they are different. They think they are cooler, smarter, better-looking, or whatever that separates them from the rest.
C’mon it’s just life. Don’t be so pretentious. And if you’re pretentious, you can’t make fun of yourself.
William James, my favorite American philosopher of all time, put it best:
“Success plus self-esteem equals pretensions.”
When people become more successful, they become more serious. But pretensions are the enemy of living a joyful life.
Get over your bravado, ego, pretensions, and understand that you’re only human.
Taking life easy is a difficult skill to learn, but it’s still something you can learn. Even if you’re the most uptight person in the world who gets upset if I don’t use a coaster on your table, you can still learn to loosen up.
Here’s one thing we just have to remind ourselves of:
Everything in life is borrowed. You don’t own anything. Technically, not even your body.
“I guess that we’re all the same, trying to do the same things. There’s some irony in that, I guess.” Yes, there you go! Give yourself a break and stop taking everything so serious. Because it’s not.
Another idea: Stop being self-conscious.
Recently I was listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast. I can’t remember which episode it was, but Tim talked about how he deliberately practices not to take himself seriously.
He spoke of an exercise that he puts himself through. Now and then, he wears the most outrageous outfits to parties. And that makes most people frown. But that (unwanted) attention makes Tim less self-conscious.
I think that’s an excellent way to say, “screw it, I don’t care what people think.”
We’re collectively obsessed with our self-image. It’s ridiculous how vain most people are. I’m also talking about myself. Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s bad if vanity means EVERYTHING to you.
Who cares if your hair looks weird today, or that your stomach shows a little bit? Only YOU care. People with bad hair still get to live a good life. And so do people with a belly. It’s not that big of a deal.
If something upsets you, do something about it. Don’t feel bad about it.
And that, to me, is the essence of not taking life seriously. There’s honestly NOTHING that makes me feel bad, ashamed, or stupid about myself. I don’t care. Why would I? In a few decades, we’ll all be gone anyway.
So you might as well make it a few GREAT decades.