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The Brief Guide to Sucking at Life

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I will admit, I am not known for being sensitive.

Yet, at the same time, I feel I’m one of the most optimistic people I know.

I have faith in everyone. I don’t believe anyone is a loser. I don’t believe anyone is incapable. It’s born into me. I can’t help it.

Homeless people. Drug addicts. Ex-girlfriends. I believe in every person’s potential, forever. I think people can turn themselves around, even after the hardest falls. I always have. It’s in my nature.

This post is an experiment. It is an attempt to put together a coherent guide, helping us figure out why people are sucking, without any cliches or condescension.

Finding out why you suck is difficult. You might recognize it but don’t know how to fix it. You might not know it and make mistakes unconsciously. But you want to know when you’re sucking because often, no one will actually tell you. They won’t have the balls or know the right words to use. They’ll want to help but they won’t know how.

Even if you don’t need this guide today, you will at one point. So bookmark it. In time, it will become extremely useful.

It’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong when no one else will.

Why you’re an asshole

I start with this one because I fall into this category and I’m trying to figure it out. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

First, everyone has thoughts they shouldn’t express. So being an asshole has nothing to do with what you’re thinking. Unless you’re a total sociopath, what you’re thinking is fine. The problem is execution.

Assholes such as yourself often have a filter that’s broken. They say things that come back to haunt them later on because they don’t realize what they’re saying. They have no social graces. They miss social signals that other people catch, have a weak impression of the rules of the game, or ignore the rules entirely.

Or, another way to be an asshole is simply to be crass with his body language, gestures, and manners. If you never open the door for anyone or offer help in the kitchen, then being an asshole simply coincides with being selfish or not thinking much about what other people are feeling (high self-orientation on the trust equation).

Whatever the case for your assholishness, the solution appears to be to get someone else to call you out on it. Being a bit of an asshole is good, and can be funny– but being a lot is just not good. And there is a strong argument for having manners, too, even if you’re a deep left-leaning anarchist type such as myself. Check out this quote from Glenn O’Brien’s book How To Be a Man:

I believe that the true anarchist, the exponent of freedom and enemy of intrusive government, must see good manners are the inevitable substitute for laws. A healthy society doesn’t need many laws because offensive behaviour “just isn’t done.”

In other words, the freer you’d like to be, the more you need to be a gentleman. Honestly this is a kind of breakthrough for me. Hope it is for you too.

Why you are boring

Fact. Boring people do not exist. What some perceive as boring is in fact one of two things:

Option 1: Boring = Good conversation in wrong context.

Imagine that you’re talking about physics at a dinner party full of Glamor Magazine fans. The problem isn’t that what you’re talking about isn’t interesting– it’s probably very interesting, but not targeted to the people you’re in talking to.

The problem is actually that you’re just not able to relate to their situation. You’re not empathetic enough. It doesn’t actually occur to you that what you’re talking about is out of their context. Talk about writing with writers or food with foodies, and you’ll find it much easier than going against the grain. Ask them questions if they know more. You’ll learn something.

Sub-fact. In most contexts, no one wants to hear about you. In fact, I’ll go even further– how much you talk about you defines not only how you’re perceived, but your actual personality and sometimes your own health. The more you talk about yourself, the less healthy you tend to be. Fact. So start asking about other people.

Option 2: Boring = No idea what to talk about.

This relates to the above, but is also a different problem. You could simply have run out of things to say, or have no stories to tell, or whatever.

Contrary to popular belief, the problem here is not that you are boring, or have a boring life. Boring people aren’t boring because of what they’ve done or not done, they’re boring because they don’t know how to be interesting.

Even the most boring subjects, narrated properly, are super interesting because the people themselves know how to make the subject interesting. They relate it to the people they’re talking to by asking questions or relating them to universal subjects. For example, absolutely any subject can be related to a good 80′s movie. So if you’re having trouble relating to people, bring up 80′s movies. True story.

There are actually a number of ways to find things to talk about. Do you hate small talk? Then you’re probably doing it wrong. It’ll lead to interesting subjects if you ask the right questions. Or, optionally, you could just learn to read more. I’m now reading 60 books per year and, trust me, it helps.

Why you’re depressed

Some people say depression is caused by the brain, other by environment, blah blah. I’m not going to get into that.

For our purposes, being depressed (lower-case, not capital, D) happens when you think what happened in the past is better than what will happen in the future. You think your best years are behind you, so obviously there isn’t much good stuff to look forward to. You become moribund and lifeless. You don’t feel like doing much and don’t see the point to it. Etc.

Positivity is a virtuous/vicious circle. If you’re happy and do cool things, you get happier, but if you’re sad, you get sadder through doing nothing. It’s circular and builds on itself. This is how a blog ends up abandoned and how you end up gaining 10 pounds before you end up doing something about it. Then, you’re further behind than when you started. It sucks.

I can’t pretend to solve your depression problems but I can say that what has helped me the most is the idea of small successes, some of which I picked up from this book, and I guess in a way could also come from What About Bob?

Pick one small thing to do, so small and inconsequential that you will inevitably succeed and that will also make you feel at least 5% better. Do it right when you get up, as your first thing of the day. Then, tomorrow, add something to it. Make it a chain, and it will begin to happen automagically.

Why you’re in a dead-end job

My girlfriend pointed something out to me yesterday. All these people who are being educated by the system, who are buying into it with school, work, etc, and hope to be ok for retirement (and there are tens of millions of them btw)– what happens when this system decides that your purpose is to answer phones for a living? What happens then?

I mean, this is the system that educated everyone and that everyone believes in, whose mythologies are the cults of personality of Kanye West, Oprah, etc. What happens when this thing looks at your hopes and dreams and says “no, for you it’s going to be a convenience store clerk.”

Fun fact: about 7 years of my life were spent in call centres before I ended up podcasting for a living in 2005. I just kept pushing my way up the ladder, slowly. It never really worked out for me, though. I never felt like I belonged. I imagine you feel the same.

For me, things changed when I quit my last job. I felt like it was suddenly up to me. I was dead broke for a while, but at least I was in control.

I have a blog post I’ve been meaning to write up for a while about something called acts of control; maybe writing about that here will help. An act of control is something performed by someone in order to feel as if they are in control of their own life. A hunger strike is an act of control, and so is skipping work. These things are done to spite those in power. Often they involve a sacrifice, but unfortunately, the acts people choose often serve no purpose.

But I would like you to think about what kinds of acts you can perform, in small ways, to feel like you’re in control of your own life. Refuse extra work or overtime. Show up on time but never early. Don’t do extra if the system does not reward extra. Spend your energy where it matters.

In the long term, the good news is: unemployment allows you time to reinvent yourself. Dead-end jobs do not. So you must inevitably transition out of your job and into something better. This is when the minimalist guys will help you. They will help you focus on what matters. I wish I had their advice when I was living off less than 1000$ a month.

Why you’re a loner

As I’ve mentioned before, loner can sometimes be ok, socially acceptable even, if it’s tagged along with something else (smart, ambitious, or what have you). And if you’re happy being a loner, there’s no problem. But if you’re having trouble finding people to hang out with, if you want to spend time with people but don’t know how, you’re going to have a long, tough life.

Here’s my proposal for you, as someone who often feels like they’re distanced from people in real life due to travel, not having a 9-5, etc.: set up weekly meetings with people you like.

Currently, I have less than 5 of these meetings with people I didn’t see often enough. So I set up weekly meetings that happen automatically without needing to be discussed. Result? I end up seeing Mitch, Greg, Justin and others far more often than I would otherwise. For your social life, it’s honestly the best idea I’ve had in a while.

Who are the people you respect and that challenge you? Who are the people that make you laugh? Offer to cook them dinner once a week. If you don’t have anyone, connect via your interests– I don’t care if it’s World of Warcraft, but find some– and set up a get together. Finally, work on follow-ups. Text people from a long time ago that you have been meaning to talk to and say “we’re due for a hangout!” Especially if you miss them!

Conclusion

There are a million ways your life could suck. I can’t list all of them, but hopefully I’ve lumped a bunch of them together in ways that have helped a little.

Feel free to write your own post about it if you want and send it over, I’ll be glad to link to it. And please subscribe and tweet this out. Thanks. :)

* Filed by Julien at 10:00 am under guide


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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8 Responses to “The Brief Guide to Sucking at Life”

  1. ChosPlace Says:

    Another reason why people think their life sucks is because they think life revolves around other… it’s good to remember what Mother Teresa had to say about this. See my blog post at: http://blog.chosplace.com/post/9628562479/written-on-the-wall-in-mother-teresas-home-for

  2. Gavrev Eugen Says:

    Great post, after reading it yesterday , I called to my “long time no seen” friends and they were very glad to meet me, and I had the best evening for a long time. Thank You for your writer style which is very friendly and motivational in the same time. Since I was subscribed to Your blog, I have already six of your posts set in bookmark. And they are very useful for me in moment when I am despaired or am looking for some answers, each time they said to me “man, you are happy where and who you are now. But if you have an aim and if it worth then fight for it. Don’t wait for a better time do it right now”.

    Thank You for doing such a great job.

  3. Dan Says:

    Lots to chew on here, but nothing so big that it can’t be chewed.

    Thanks, Julien.

  4. Cindi Says:

    Thank you for such a timely and courageous post. I particularly enjoyed “automagically.” Most of the best things in my life occurred automagically and I find I never regret the 5% effort required to improve my life. Thank you again.

  5. Pierre Bastien Says:

    Good to see some old-fashioned anchor text humor, mate. I think I see what you are doing here. Maybe one to add to the list is how to be an airhead. I will see if I can come up with anything interesting or funny to say about it.

  6. John Says:

    Julien,

    You’re description for “Why you’re depressed” hit directly home for me. The definition of “you think what happened in the past is better than what will happen in the future” defines me to a tee, and really has been haunting me in the recent past. I’ve constantly been reflecting on my accomplishments of the past and have thought, “What if I can never match those achievements ever again?” And that scares me. It scares me so much that sometimes I find myself refusing to get out of bed on some days because I ask myself, “What’s the point?” And it makes me feel like SHIT. Just as you said, I get into this cycle of negativity that perpetuates infinitely because the sadness that instigates the listlessness just leads to even more sadness because of that lack of accomplishment that arose from that listlessness!

    Now, I, late in the game, realize that your “current self” can never match the accomplishments of your “past self” because of the huge discrepancy in time between the two forms of your self. One has a lifetime’s worth of time, and the other can’t even really be measured by time because it’s so instantaneous, and it’s this knowledge that will hopefully allow me to break this vicious cycle of negativity…for the sake of my future self!

    I am working slowly to engage myself with different activities so as to have some sense of accomplishment because I firmly believe that we are at our strongest when we are challenged. With these activities, hopefully I will be able to engage completely and enter that oh-so desirable “cycle of positivity.

    Thank you, Julien, for mirroring my feelings in the most eloquent way possible. It’s always nice when people understand what you’re going through, and it is through your words that I am confident to say that I am not alone in this and am certainly not sucking in at least one aspect of my life: being a loner.

  7. Debbie Says:

    Great article ! I can totally relate to the whole the rest of the world is getting degrees and I’m just going to my dead end job as if it were my destiny. And knowing I need to think outside the box on this one being that I don’t agree with societies rules of the getting the education being the way to freedom. Thanks!

  8. Douche the fag Says:

    i suck at life

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