You can’t always be ready for every shitty thing that life throws your way.
But if you work at it, you can live a pretty unshitty life.
Here’s how I did (and am still trying to do) it.
Start with the most important things – your family.
Cherish your life partner.
But make sure he or she is worthy of your love. Then work every day to make him or her secure in it.
It’s not just about flowers and Valentine’s Day or stuff. It’s really more of the random and daily things. You need both – a solid foundation, but also the special occasions.
Keep the special things special
Speaking of special occasions – learn to differentiate them. A birthday is a special occasion. Working a full year in a job that he or she hates for the sake of the family is a special occasion. Your wedding anniversary is a special occasion.
Valentine’s Day is NOT a special occasion. It’s a shitty marketing ploy made up by marketing people like me to get you to buy stuff.
Hint: if your significant other is upset because you didn’t get him or her stuff on Valentine’s Day, maybe that person is not as significant as you thought.
That doesn’t mean you get a free pass to do nothing at all, forever. Heck no, that would make you a very shitty insignificant other.
Scheme. Plot. Conspire. Surprise your lover with delight and affection. Just do it on your terms, at a time that is truly special for the two of you.
If you have children, love them, prioritize them, but know that sometimes they can be little shits. Of course keep loving them, but it is ok to not like them when they are being shitty.
Children are creatures of nurture and nature. Nature has delayed the development of their prefrontal cortex – the decision-making part of the human brain. If you have done the nurture part right, hopefully that will help with the early childhood years.
Whether the way you nurture them is going to help when they hit teenagehood is another story. We were able to help our oldest navigate it somewhat successfully, and we have two more. Stay tuned.
And for goodness sake do not celebrate mediocrity – for yourself, but also for your kids. The celebration of their achievements should be authentic and worthy.
Your kid learning to walk at 9 months is amazing. Winning 6th place is not. Don’t make them feel like shit about it, but do let the sting of defeat simmer for a bit. Think of it as inoculation.
There is a balance to be struck between encouragement and the celebration of mediocrity.
When you celebrate meh-ness, you teach your kids to expect little of and from themselves, and you deny them the opportunity to excel in those few things they are good at.
One of my favorite thinkers is Sir Ken Robinson. He says something like, pick something and do it really, really well, and let other people pay you for doing that.
That trumps doing everything kinda well, and then find yourself stuck in mediocrity.
Be happy in your own skin
You are not that important – get over yourself. At the same time, know that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you.
Most people are programmed to be self-centered, even the nice ones. That’s perfectly ok, because that means they usually aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are.
Except for a few bona fide assholes, of course, who gain pleasure (or a reduction in their own misery) by tearing you down.
Focus on being happy in your own skin and on having an unshitty life. Live your life in ways that makes you happy. But don’t be a shit, and don’t shit on other people.
Celebrate your victories. But don’t let it get to your head for goodness sake, or you’ll make the same mistakes I did. Like mistaking financial success for intelligence and skill. Then promptly making a series of investments that did not pan out.
My one saving grace was that I was just unstupid enough to stash some of that money aside in enforced saving plans. So while the losses stung like heck, we were able to hang on to enough of it to live happy, if somewhat frugal, lives.
You don’t need THAT much $$$ for an unshitty life
I’m not saying money is unimportant. Of course it is.
But you only need so much of it to have a happy life.
Don’t spend it like an idiot, and don’t spend it to impress idiots.
Don’t use it to show off, or as a benchmark or proxy for happiness. Manage it well, work hard at something you like to earn enough of it. Don’t buy shit you don’t need. Ok, that’s impossible, I know, but at least don’t buy shit that cost so much, you’re still paying for it 5 years later.
Really. Watch the debt, and if you have some, make sure it is “good” debt. Don’t steal from your future to pay for things to pretend at success today.
Use the same filter for college. Make sure you are going for very clear reasons.
Don’t expect a degree to be your ticket to a better life. If you are thoughtful in what you choose to graduate in and how you pay for it, college can be a great idea. But that’s a big “IF”.
Don’t worry about knowing what you want to be when you grow up. I’m way past 40 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
Don’t give your kids money and things to substitute for your presence, care, and love. That would be a shitty trade off.
For your own sake, give something back
Volunteer. Give back to society. I don’t know if karma is really a thing, or if someone you helped will pay it forward.
What I do know is that when I volunteer, I like myself a little better. Sure that’s selfish, but so is this thing called love.
Volunteering is a great way to make a difference, not just to others. You might even learn something about your world, and maybe even about yourself.
So if my selfishness helps the world around me be a little less shitty, that’s a win.
Make the changes that matter
You may not always change the direction of your life, but you can make a change in its trajectory. And that is all the difference. Make the hard decisions early, maintain a solid moral compass, so that you can affect the course of the rest of your existence.
Sometimes people disagree with you because they sincerely see things from a different perspective. Sometimes they do so because they are mean. Or stupid. Learn to discern the difference.
Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. And some people will think yours stink more than theirs. That’s ok. But remember that the older you get, the more you should reexamine both.
Grow a thick skin – and maybe a shield around your heart. Do not be so quick to claim discrimination or that you are disadvantaged or wronged. It is not discrimination if the asshole on the other side is being mean to everyone else.
When you claim discrimination unnecessarily, you are doing two things. You are the boy calling wolf, and you are also saying that you can’t do anything about it.
Righteous outrage is an emotion that should be harnessed and unleash in its full fury for the big ticket items, so be sparing with it.
Be self-aware. It’ll make you a less shitty person
Be aware of yourself. Know what your weaknesses are. And know where you are awesome.
Put yourself in situations that let your greatness thrive. Can’t find the right environment to thrive? Build it. It’ll be harder, but it’ll fit you like a Tee.
Also be aware of your warts. Know they exist, recognize them, and manage them.
But don’t let them rule your life. Put yourself in situations that minimize them but do not bury them. You need them to stay real. It will make you more grounded.
Your weaknesses will help you recognize when you are wrong, and make it easier to patch things up when you inevitably stumble.
Stumbling is OK. So is being sad. And a little depressed. That is the human condition. Staying there is not.
People say stupid shit when they are angry. I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. Some of the things that I regret the most have been the result of the shitty words that have come out of my mouth. Or typed.
In the world of instant messaging and social media, and whatever else comes next, think through the consequences before putting down what you feel in the moment into words for posterity.
It’ll save you a lot of trouble and regret later, and maybe even a relationship or two.
And finally, hit the road. Travel. For a long time, to faraway places. Pick a place that is outside your comfort zone.
You’ll learn plenty. You’ll grow.
And you just might find yourself with a pretty unshitty life worth living.