You're Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)



You're Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)

Five hundred years ago cartographers believed that California was an island. Doctors believed that slicing a person's arm open (or causing bleeding anywhere) could cure disease. Scientists believed that fire was made out Of something called phlogiston. Women believed that rubbing dog urine on their face had anti-aging benefits. Astronomers believed that the Sun revolved around the earth.

When I was a little boy, I used to think "mediocre" was a kind of vegetable that I didn't want to eat. I thought my brother had found a secret passageway in my grandmother 's house because he could get outside without having to leave the bathroom (spoiler alert: there was a window). I also thought that when my friend and his family visited "Washington, B.C„" they had somehow traveled back in time to when the dinosaurs lived, because after all, "B.C." was a long time ago.

As a teenager, I told everybody that I didn't care about anything, when the truth was I cared about way too much. Other people ruled my world without my even knowing. I thought happiness was a destiny and not a choice. I thought love was something that just happened, not something that you worked for. I thought being "cool" had to be practiced and learned from others, rather than invented for oneself.

When I was with my first girlfriend, I thought we would be together forever. And then, when that relationship ended, I thought I'd never feel the same way about a woman again. And then when I felt the same way about a woman again, I thought that love sometimes just wasn't enough. And then I realized that each individual gets to decide what is "enough," and that love can be whatever we let it be.

Every Step Of the way I was wrong. About everything. Throughout my life, I've been flat-out wrong about myself, others, society, culture, the world, the universe—everything.

And I hope that will continue to be the case for the rest Of my life.

Just as Present Mark can look back on Past Mark's every flaw and mistake, one day Future Mark will 100k back on Present Mark's assumptions (including the contents Of this book) and notice similar flaws. And that will be a good thing. Because that will mean I have grown.

There's a famous Michael Jordan quote about him failing over and over and over again, and that's why he succeeded. Well, I'm always wrong about everything, over and over and over again, and that's why my life improves.

Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don't go from "wrong" to "right." Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth Or perfection.
We shouldn't seek to find the ultimate "right" answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways that we're wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.
When viewed from this perspective, personal growth can actually be quite scientific. Our values are our hypotheses: this behavior is good and important; that other behavior is not. Our actions are the experiments; the resulting emotions and thought patterns are our data.
There is no correct dogma or ideology. There is only what your experience has shown you to right for you—and even then, that experience is probably somewhat wrong too. And because you and I and everybody else all have differing needs and personal histories and life circumstances, we will all inevitably come to differing "correct" answers about what our lives mean and how they should be lived. My correct answer involves traveling alone for years on end, living in obscure places, and laughing at my own farts. Or at least that was the correct answer up until recently. That answer will change and evolve, because I change and evolve; and as I grow older and more experienced, I chip away at how wrong I am, less and less wrong every day.
Many become so obsessed with being "right" about their life that they never end up actually living it.
A certain woman is single and lonely and wants a partner, but she never gets out of the house and does anything about it. A certain man works his ass Off and believes he deserves a promotion, but he never explicitly says that to his boss.
They're told that they're afraid Of failure, Of rejection, Of someone saying no.
But that's not it. Sure, rejection hurts. Failure sucks. But there are particular certainties that we hold on to—certainties that we're afraid to question or let go of, values that have given our lives meaning over the years. That woman doesn't get Out there and date because she would be forced to confront her beliefs about her own desirability. That man doesn't ask for the promotion because he would have to confront his beliefs about what his skills are actually worth.
It's easier to sit in a painful certainty that nobody would find you attractive, that nobody appreciates your talents, than to actually test those beliefs and find out for sure.

Beliefs of this sort—that I'm not attractive enough, so why bother; or that my boss is an asshole, so why bother—are designed to give us moderate comfort now by mortgaging greater happiness and success later on. They're terrible long-term strategies, yet we cling to them because we assume we're right, because we assume we already know what's supposed to happen. In Other words, we assume we know how the story ends.
Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing is for certain until it has already happened—and even then, it's still debatable. That's why accepting the inevitable imperfections of our values is necessary for any growth to take place.
Instead of striving for certainty, we should be in constant search of doubt: doubt about our own doubt about our own feelings, doubt about what the future may hold for us unless we get out there and create it for Ourselves. Instead of looking to be right all the time, we should be looking for how we're wrong all the time. Because we are.
Being wrong opens us up to the possibility of change. Being wrong brings the opportunity for growth. It means not cutting your arm open to cure a cold or splashing dog piss on your face to look young again. It means not thinking "mediocre" is a vegetable, and not being afraid to care about things.
Because here's something that's weird but true: we don't actually know what a positive or negative experience is. Some Of the most difficult and stressful moments Of our lives also end up being the most formative and motivating. Some Of the best and most gratifying experiences Of Our lives are also the most distracting and demotivating. Don't trust your conception of positive/negative experiences. All that we know for certain is what hurts in the moment and what doesn't. And that's not worth much.
Just as we look back in horror at the lives of people five hundred years ago, I imagine people five hundred years from now will laugh at us and Our certainties today. They will laugh at how we let our money and our jobs define our lives. They will laugh at how we were afraid to show appreciation for those who matter to us most, yet heaped praise on public figures who didn't deserve anything. They will laugh at our rituals and our worries and our wars; they will gawk at our cruelty. They will study our art and argue over our history. They will understand truths about us Of which none of us are yet aware.
And they, too, will be wrong. Just less wrong than we were.
Architects of Our Own Beliefs
Try this. Take a random person and put them in a room with some buttons to push. Then tell them that if they do something specific—some undefined something that they have to figure out—a light will flash on indicating that they've won a point. Then tell them to see how many points they can earn within a thirty-minute period.
When psychologists have done this, what happens is what you might expect. People sit down and tart mashing buttons at random until eventually the light comes on to tell them they got a point. Logically, they then try repeating whatever they were doing to get more points. Except now the light's not coming on. So they start experimenting with more complicated sequences—press this button three times, then this button once, then wait five seconds, and—ding! Another point. But eventually that stops working. Perhaps it doesn't have to do with buttons at all, they think. Perhaps it has to do with how I'm sitting. Or what I'm touching. it has to do with my feet. Ding! Another point. Yeah, maybe it's my feet and then I press another button. Ding!
Generally, within ten to fifteen minutes each person has figured out the specific sequence Of behaviors required to net more points. It's usually something weird like standing on one foot or memorizing a long sequence of buttons pressed in a specific amount of time while facing a certain direction.
But here's the funny part: the points really are random. There's no sequence; there's no pattern. Just a light that keeps coming on with a ding, and people doing cartwheels thinking that what they're doing is giving them points.
Sadism aside, the point Of the experiment is to show how quickly the human mind is capable Of coming up with and believing in a bunch of bullshit that isn't real. And it turns out, we're all really good at it. Every person leaves that room convinced that he Or she nailed the experiment and won the game. They all believe that they discovered the "perfect" sequence of buttons that earned them their points. But the methods they come up with are as unique as the individuals themselves. One man came up with a long sequence of button-pushing that made no sense to anyone but himself. One girl came to believe that she had to tap the ceiling a certain number Of times to get points. When she left the room she was exhausted from jumping up and down.
Our brains are meaning machines. What we understand as "meaning" is generated by the associations our brain makes between two or more experiences. We press a button, then we see a light go on; we assume the button caused the light to go on. This, at its core, is the basis Of meaning. Button, light; light, button. We see a chair. We note that it's gray. Our brain then draws the association Imareen the color (gray) and the object (chair) and forms meaning: "The chair is gray."
Our minds are constantly whirring, generating more and more associations to help us understand and control the environment around us. Everything about Our experiences, both external and internal, generates new associations and connections within our minds. Everything from the words on this page, to the grammatical concepts you use to decipher them, to the dirty thoughts your mind wanders into when my writing becomes boring or repetitive—each of these thoughts, impulses, and is composed of thousands upon thousands of neural connections, firing in conjunction, alighting your mind in a blaze of knowledge and understanding.
But there are two problems. First, the brain is imperfect. We mistake things we see and hear. We forget things or misinterpret events quite easily.
Second, once we create meaning for ourselves, our brains are designed to hold on to that meaning. We are biased toward the meaning our mind has made, and we don't want to let go Of it. Even if we see evidence that contradicts the meaning we created, we Often ignore it and keep on believing anyway.
The comedian Emo Philips once said, "I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." The unfortunate fact is, most of what we come to "know" and believe is the product Of the innate inaccuracies and biases present in our brains. Many or even most Of our values are products Of events that are not representative Of the world at large, or are the result Of a totally misconceived past.

The result Of all this? Most Of Our beliefs are wrong. Or, to be more exact, all beliefs are wrong —some are just less wrong than others. The human mind is a jumble of inaccuracy. And while this may make you uncomfortable, it's an incredibly important concept to accept, as we'll see.

Be Careful What You Believe
In 1988, while in therapy, the journalist and feminist author Meredith Maran came to a startling realization: her father had sexually abused her as a child. It was a shock to her, a repressed memory she had spent most of her adult life oblivious to. But at the age of thirty-seven, she confronted her father and also told her family what had happened.
Meredith's news horrified her entire family. Her father immediately denied having done anything. Some family members sided with Meredith. Others sided with her father. The family tree was split in two. And the pain that had defined Meredith's relationship with her father since long before her accusation now spread like a mold across its branches. It tore everyone apart.
Then, in 1996, Meredith came to another startling realization: her father actually hadn't sexually abused her. (I know: oops.) She, with the help of a well-intentioned therapist, had actually invented the memory. Consumed by guilt, she spent the rest Of her father 's life attempting to reconcile with him and other family members through constant apologizing and explaining. But it was too late. Her father passed away and her family would never be the same.
It turned out Meredith wasn't alone. As she describes in her autobiography, My Lie: A True Story Of False Memory, throughout the 1980s, many women accused male family Of sexual abuse only to turn around and recant years later. Similarly, there was a whole swath of people who claimed during that same decade that there were satanic cults abusing children, yet despite police investigations in dozens of cities, never found any evidence of the crazy practices described.
Why were people suddenly inventing memories Of horrible abuse in families and cults? And why was it all happening then, in the 1980s?
Ever play the telephone game as a kid? You know, you say something in one person's ear and it gets passed through like ten people, and what the last person hears is completely unrelated to what you started with? That's basically how our memories work.
We experience something. Then we remember it slightly differently a few days later, as if it had been whispered and misheard. Then we tell somebody about it and have to fill in a couple Of the plot holes with our own embellishments to make sure everything makes sense and we're not crazy. And then we come to believe those little filled-in mental gaps, and so we tell those the next time too. Except they're not real, so we get them a little bit wrong. And we're drunk one night a year later when we tell the story, so we embellish it a little bit more—okay, let's be honest, we completely make up about one-third of it. But when we're sober the next week, we don't want to admit that we're a big fat liar, so we go along with the revised and newly expanded drunkard version Of our Story. And five years later, Our absolutely, swear-to-god, swear-on-my-mother's-grave, truer-than-true Story is at most 50 percent true.
We all do this. You do. I do. No matter how honest and well-intentioned we are, we're in a perpetual state of misleading ourselves and others for no other reason than that our brain is designed to be efficient, not accurate.
Not only does our memory suck—suck to the point that eyewitness testimony isn't necessarily taken seriously in court cases—but Our brain functions in a horribly biased way.
How so? Well, our brain is always trying to make sense Of our current situation based on what we already believe and have already experienced. Every new piece Of information is measured against the values and conclusions we already have. As a result, our brain is always biased toward what we feel to be true in that moment. so when we have a great relationship with Our sister, we'll interpret most of our memories about her in a positive light. But when the relationship sours, we'll often come to See those exact same memories differently, reinventing them in such a way as to explain our present-day anger toward her. That sweet gift she gave us last Christmas is now remembered as patronizing and condescending. That time she forgot to invite us to her lake house is now seen not as an innocent mistake but as horrible negligence.

Meredith's fake abuse Story makes far more sense when we understand the values in which her beliefs arose. First of all, Meredith had had a strained and difficult relationship with her father throughout most Of her life. Second, Meredith had had a series Of failed intimate relationships with men, including a failed marriage. So already, in terms Of her values, "close relationships with men" weren't doing so hot.
Then, in the early 1980s, Meredith became a radical feminist and began doing research into child abuse. She was confronted with horrific Story after horrific Story Of abuse, and she dealt with incest survivors—usually little girls—for years on end. She also reported extensively on a number of inaccurate studies that came out around that time—studies that it later turned out grossly overestimated the prevalence Of child molestation. (The most famous study reported that a third of adult women had been sexually molested as children, a number that has since been shown to be false.)
And on top of all of this, Meredith fell in love and began a relationship with another woman, an incest survivor. Meredith developed a codependent and toxic relationship with her partner, one in which Meredith continually tried to "save" the other woman from her traumatic past. Her partner also used her traumatic past as a weapon of guilt to earn Meredith's affection (more on this and boundaries in chapter 8). Meanwhile, Meredith's relationship with her father deteriorated even further (he wasn't exactly thrilled that she was now in a lesbian relationship), and she was attending therapy at an almost compulsive rate. Her therapists, who had their own values and beliefs driving their behavior, regularly insisted that it couldn't simply be Meredith's highly stressful reporting job or her poor relationships that were making her so unhappy; it must be something else, something deeper.

Around this time, a new form Of treatment called repressed memory therapy was becoming hugely popular. This therapy involved a therapist putting a client into a trancelike state where she was encouraged to root out and reexperience forgotten childhood memories. These memories were Often benign, but the idea was that at least a few of them would be traumatic as well.
So there you have poor Meredith, miserable and researching incest and child molestation every day, angry at her father, having endured an entire lifetime of failed relationships with men, and the only person who seems to understand her or love her is another woman who is a survivor Of incest.
Oh, and she's lying on a couch crying every other day with a therapist demanding over and over that she remember something she can't remember. And voilå, you have a perfect recipe for an invented memory of sexual abuse that never happened.
Our mind's biggest priority when processing experiences is to interpret them in such a way that they will cohere with all of our previous experiences, feelings, and beliefs. But often we run into life situations where past and present dont cohere: on such occasions, what we're experiencing in the moment flies in the face of everything we've accepted as true and reasonable about our past. In an effort to achieve coherence, our mind will sometimes, in cases like that, invent false memories. By linking Our present experiences with that imagined past, Our mind allows us to maintain whatever meaning we already established.
As noted earlier, Meredith's Story is not unique. In fact, in the 1980s and early 1990s, hundreds Of innocent people were wrongly accused of sexual violence under similar circumstances. Many of them went to prison for it.
For people who were dissatisfied with their lives, these suggestive explanations, combined with the sensationalizing media—there were veritable epidemics of sexual abuse and satanic violence going on, and you could be a victim too—gave people's unconscious minds the incentive to fudge their memories a bit and explain their current suffering in a way that allowed them to be victims and avoid responsibility. Repressed memory therapy then acted as a means to pull these unconscious desires Out and put them into a seemingly tangible form Of a memory.
This process, and the state of mind it resulted in, became so common that a name was introduced for it: false memory syndrome. It changed the way courtrooms operate. Thousands Of therapists were sued and lost their licenses. Repressed memory therapy fell out of practice and was replaced by more practical methods. Recent research has only reinforced the painful lesson Of that era: our beliefs are
malleable, and our memories are horribly unreliable.
There's a lot Of conventional wisdom out there telling you to "trust yourself," to "go with your gut," and all sorts of other pleasant-sounding clichés.
But perhaps the answer is to trust yourself less. After all, if our hearts and minds are so unreliable, maybe we should be questioning Our Own intentions and motivations more. If we're all wrong, all the time, then isn't self-skepticism and the rigorous challenging Of our own beliefs and assumptions the only logical route to progress? This may sound scary and self-destructive. But it's actually quite the opposite. It's not only the safer option, but it's liberating as well.

The Dangers of Pure Certainty
Erin sits across from me at the sushi restaurant and tries to explain why she doesn't believe in death. It's been almost three hours, and she's eaten exactly four cucumber rolls and drunk an entire bottle Of sake by herself. (In fact, she's about halfway through number two now.) It's four o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon.

I didn't invite her here. She found out where I was via the Internet and flew out to come find me.

She's done this before. You see, Erin is convinced that she can cure death, but she's also convinced that she needs my help to do it. But not my help in like a business sense. If she just needed some PR advice or something, that would be one thing. No, it's more than that: she needs me to be her boyfriend. Why? After three hours of questioning and a bottle and a half of sake, it still isn't clear.
My fiancée was with us in the restaurant, by the way. Erin thought it important that she be included in the discussion; Erin wanted her to know that she was "willing to share" me and that my girlfriend (now wife) "shouldn't feel threatened" by her.
I met Erin at a self-help seminar in 2008. She seemed like a nice enough person. A little bit on the woo-woo, New Agey side of things, but she was a lawyer and had gone to an Ivy League school, and was clearly smart. And she laughed at my jokes and thought I was cute—so, of course, knowing me, I slept with her.
A month later, she invited me to uproot across the country and move in with her. This struck me as somewhat Of a red flag, and so I tried to break things Off with her. She responded by saying that she would kill herself if I refused to be with her. Okay, so make that two red flags. I promptly blocked her from my email and all my devices.
This would slow her down but not stop her.
Years before I met her, Erin had gotten into a car accident and nearly died. Actually, she had medically "died" for a few moments—all brain activity had stopped—but she had somehow miraculously been revived. When she "came back," she claimed everything had changed. She became a very spiritual person. She became interested in, and started believing in, energy healing and angels and universal consciousness and tarot cards. She also believed that she had become a healer and an empath and that she could see the future. And for whatever reason, upon meeting me, she decided that she and I were destined to save the world together. TO "cure death," as she put it.
After I'd blocked her, she began to create new email addresses, sometimes sending me as many as a dozen angry emails in a single day. She created fake Facebook and Twitter accounts that she used to harass me as well as people close to me. She created a website identical to mine and wrote dozens of articles claiming that I was her ex-boyfriend and that I had lied to her and cheated her, that I had promised to marry her and that she and I together. When I contacted her to take the site
down, she said that she would take it down only if I flew to California to be with her. This was her idea of a compromise.
And through all Of this, her justification was the same: I was destined to be with her, that God had preordained it, that she literally woke up in the middle of the night to the voices of angels commanding that "our special relationship" was to be the harbinger Of a new age Of permanent on earth. (Yes, she really told me this.)
By the time we were sitting in that sushi restaurant together, there had been thousands of emails. Whether I responded or didn't respond, replied respectfully or replied angrily, nothing ever changed. Her mind never changed; her beliefs never budged. This had gone on for over seven years by then (and counting).

And so it was, in that small sushi restaurant, with Erin guzzling sake and babbling for hours about how she'd cured her cat's kidney stones with energy tapping, that something occurred to me:
Erin is a self-improvement junkie. She spends tens of thousands of dollars on books and seminars and courses. And the craziest part Of all this is that Erin embodies all the lessons she's learned to a T. She has her dream. She Stays persistent with it. She visualizes and takes action and weathers the rejections and failures and gets up and tries again. She's relentlessly positive. She thinks pretty damn highly Of herself. I mean, she claims to heal cats the same way Jesus healed Lazarus—come the fuck on.
And yet her values are so fucked that none Of this matters. The fact that she does everything "right" doesn't make her right.
There is a certainty in her that refuses to relinquish itself. She has even told me this in so many words: that she knows her fixation is completely irrational and unhealthy and is making both her and me unhappy. But for some reason it feels so right to her that she can't ignore it and she can't Stop.
In the mid-1990s, psychologist Roy Baumeister began researching the concept of evil. Basically, he looked at people who do bad things and at why they do them.
At the time it was assumed that people did bad things because they felt horrible about themselves—that is, they had low self-esteem. One of Baumeister's first surprising findings was that this was often not true. In fact, it was usually the opposite. Some of the worst criminals felt pretty damn good about themselves. And it was this feeling good about themselves in spite Of the reality around them that gave them the sense Of justification for hurting and disrespecting others.
For individuals to feel justified in doing horrible things to other people, they must feel an unwavering certainty in their own righteousness, in their own beliefs and deservedness. Racists do racist things they're certain about their genetic superiority. Religious fanatics blow themselves up and murder dozens Of people because they're certain Of their place in heaven as martyrs. Men rape and abuse women out of their certainty that they're entitled to women's bodies.
Evil people never believe that they are evil; rather, they that everyone else is evil.
In controversial experiments, now simply known as the Milgram Experiments, named for the psychologist Stanley Milgram, researchers told "normal" that they were to punish Other volunteers for breaking various rules. And punish them they did, sometimes escalating the punishment to the point Of physical abuse. Almost none Of the punishers objected or asked for explanation. On the contrary, many of them seemed to relish the certainty of the moral righteousness bestowed them by the experiments.
The problem here is that not only is certainty unattainable, but the pursuit of certainty often breeds more (and worse) insecurity.
Many people have an unshakable certainty in their ability at their job or in the amount of salary they should making. But that certainty makes them feel worse, not better. They see others getting promoted over them, and they feel slighted. They feel unappreciated and underacknowledged.
Even a behavior as simple as sneaking a peek at your boyfriend's text messages or asking a friend what people are saying about you is driven by insecurity and that aching desire to be certain.
You can check your boyfriend's text messages and find nothing, but that's rarely the end Of it; then you may start wondering if he has a second phone. You can feel slighted and stepped over at work to explain why you missed out on a promotion, but then that causes you to distrust your coworkers and second-guess everything they say to you (and how you think they feel about you), which in turn makes you even less likely to get promoted. You can keep pursuing that special someone you're "supposed" to with, but with each rebuffed advance and each lonely night, you only begin to question more and more what you're doing wrong.
And it's in these moments Of insecurity, Of deep despair, that we become susceptible to an insidious entitlement: believing that we deserve to cheat a little to get our way, that other people deserve to be punished, that we deserve to take what we want, and sometimes violently.
It's the backwards law again: the more you try to be certain atX)ut something, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel.
But the converse is true as well: the more you embrace being uncertain and not knowing, the more comfortable you will feel in knowing what you don't know.
Uncertainty removes our judgments Of others; it preempts the unnecessary stereotyping and biases that we otherwise feel when we see somebody on TV, in the office, or on the street. Uncertainty also relieves us Of our judgment Of ourselves. We don't know if we're lovable or not; we don't know how attractive we are; we don't know how successful we could potentially become. The only way to achieve these things is to remain uncertain Of them and be open to finding them out through experience.
Uncertainty is the root Of all progress and all growth. As the Old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.
Our values are imperfect and incomplete, and to assume that they are perfect and complete is to put us in a dangerously dogmatic mindset that breeds entitlement and avoids responsibility. The only way to solve our problems is to first admit that our actions and beliefs up to this point have been wrong and are not working.
This openness to being wrong must exist for any real change or growth to take place.
Before we can look at our values and prioritizations and change them into better, healthier ones, we must first become uncertain Of Our current values. We must intellectually strip them away, See their faults and biases, see how they don't fit in with much of the rest of the world, to stare our own ignorance in the face and concede, because our Own ignorance is greater than us all.

Manson's Law of Avoidance
Chances are you've heard some form of Parkinson's law: "Work expands so as to fill up the time available for its completion."
You've also undoubtedly heard of Murphy's law: "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong."
Well, next time you're at a swanky cocktail party and you want to impress somebody, try dropping Manson's law Of avoidance on them:
The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.
That means the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how successful/unsuccessful you believe yourself to be, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid ever getting around to doing it.
There's a certain comfort that comes with knowing how you fit in the world. Anything that shakes up that comfort—even if it could potentially make your life better—is inherently scary.
Manson's law applies to both good and bad things in life. Making a million dollars could threaten your identity just as much as losing all your money; becoming a famous rock Star could threaten your identity just as much as losing your job. This is why people are often so afraid of success—for the exact same reason they're afraid Of failure: it threatens who they believe themselves to be.
You avoid writing that screenplay you've always dreamed of because doing so would call into question your identity as a practical insurance adjuster. You avoid talking to your husband about being more adventurous in the bedroom because that conversation would challenge your identity as a good, moral woman. You avoid telling your friend that you don't want to see him anymore because ending the friendship would conflict with your identity as a nice, forgiving person.
These are good, important opportunities that we consistently pass up because they threaten to change how we view and feel about ourselves. They threaten the values that we've chosen and have learned to live up to.
I had a friend who, for the longest time, talked about putting his artwork online and trying to make a go of it as a professional (or at least semiprofessional) artist. He talked about it for years; he saved up money; he even built a few different websites and uploaded his portfolio.
But he never launched. There was always some reason: the resolution on his work wasn't good enough, or he had just painted something better, or he wasn't in a position to dedicate enough time to it yet.

Years passed and he never did give up his "real job." Why? Because despite dreaming about making a living through his art, the real potential of becoming An Artist Nobody Likes was far, far scarier than remaining An Artist Nobody's Heard Of. At least he was comfortable with and used to being An Artist Nobody's Heard Of.
I had another friend who was a party guy, always going out drinking and chasing girls. After years Of living the "high life," he found himself terribly lonely, depressed, and unhealthy. He wanted to give up his party lifestyle. He spoke with a fierce jealousy Of those Of us who were in relationships and more "settled down" than he was. Yet he never changed. For years he went on, empty night after empty night, bottle after bottle. Always some excuse. Always some reason he couldn't slow down.
Giving up that lifestyle threatened his identity too much. The Party Guy was all he knew how to be. To give that up would be like committing psychological hara-kiri.
We all have values for ourselves. We protect these values. We try to live up to them and we justify them and maintain them. Even if we don't mean to, that's how our brain is wired. As noted before, we're unfairly biased toward what we already know, what we believe to certain. If I believe I'm a nice guy, I'll avoid situations that could potentially contradict that belief. If I believe I'm an awesome cook, I'll seek out to prove that to myself over and over again. The belief always takes precedence. Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and are not, we cannot overcome our avoidance and anxiety. We cannot change.
In this way, "knowing yourself" or "finding yourself" can dangerous. It can cement you into a strict role and saddle you with unnecessary expectations. It can close you Off to inner potential and outer opportunities.
I say don't find yourself. I say never know who you are. Because that's what keeps you striving and discovering. And it forces you to remain humble in your judgments and accepting of the differences in others.

Kill Yourself

Buddhism argues that your idea Of who "you" are is an arbitrary mental construction and that you should let go of the idea that "you" exist at all; that the arbitrary metrics by which you define yourself actually trap you, and thus you're Off letting go Of everything. In a sense, you could say that Buddhism encourages you to not give a fuck.
It sounds wonky, but there are some psychological benefits to this approach to life. When we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act (and fail) and grow.
When someone admits to herself, "You know, maybe I'm not good at relationships," then she is suddenly free to act and end her bad marriage. She has no identity to protect by staying in a miserable, crappy marriage just to prove something to herself.
When the student admits to himself, "You know, maybe I'm not a rebel; maybe I'm just scared," then he's free to be ambitious again. He has no reason to feel threatened by pursuing his academic dreams and failing.
When the insurance adjuster admits to himself, "You know, maybe there's nothing unique or special about my dreams or my job," then he's free to give that screenplay an honest go and see what happens.
I have both some good news and some bad news for you: there is little that is unique or special about your problems. That's why letting go is so liberating.
There's a kind Of self-absorption that comes with fear based on an irrational certainty. When you assume that your plane is the one that's going to crash, or that your project idea is the stupid one everyone is going to laugh at, or that you're the one everyone is going to choose to mock or ignore, you're implicitly telling yourself, "I'm the exception; I'm unlike everybody else; I'm different and special."

This is narcissism, pure and simple. You feel as though your problems deserve to be treated differently, that your problems have some unique math to them that doesn't Obey the laws Of the physical universe.
My recommendation: dont be special; dont be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star Or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a Creator.
The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you. For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible.
This often means giving up some grandiose ideas about yourself: that you're uniquely intelligent, or spectacularly talented, or intimidatingly attractive, or especially victimized in ways Other people could never imagine. This means giving up your sense of entitlement and your belief that you're somehow owed something by this world. This means giving up the supply Of emotional highs that you've been sustaining yourself on for years. Like a junkie giving up the needle, you're going to go through withdrawal when you Start giving these things up. But you'll come out the Other side so much better.

How to Be a Little Less Certain of Yourself
Questioning ourselves and doubting our own thoughts and beliefs is one of the hardest skills to develop. But it can be done. Here are some questions that will help you breed a little more uncertainty in your life.
Question #1: What if I'm wrong?
A friend of mine recentlv g0t engaged to be married. The guy who proposed to her is pretty solid. He doesn't drink. He doesn't hit her or mistreat her. He's friendly and has a good job.

But since the engagement, my friend's brother has been admonishing her nonstop about her immature life choices, warning her that she's going to hurt herself with this guy, that she's making a mistake, that she's being irresponsible. And whenever my friend asks her brother, "What is your problem? Why does this bother you so much?" he acts as though there is no problem, that nothing about the engagement bothers him, that he's just trying to be helpful and look out for his little sister.
But it's clear that something does bother him. Perhaps it's his own insecurities about getting married. Perhaps it's a sibling rivalry thing. Perhaps it's jealousy. Perhaps he's just so caught up in his own victimhood that he doesn't know how to show happiness for others without trying to make them feel miserable first.
As a general rule, we're all the world's worst observers of ourselves. When we're angry, or jealous, or upset, we're oftentimes the last ones to figure it out. And the only way to figure it out is to put cracks in our armor of certainty by consistently questioning how wrong we might be about ourselves.
"Am I jealous—and if I am, then why?" "Am I angry?" "Is she right, and I'm just protecting my ego?"
Questions like these need to become a mental habit. In many cases, the simple act of asking ourselves such questions generates the humility and compassion needed to resolve a lot of our issues.
But it's important to note that just you ask yourself if you have the wrong idea doesn't necessarily mean that you do. If your husband beats the crap out of you for burning the pot roast and you ask yourself if you're wrong to believe he's mistreating you—well, sometimes you're right. The goal is merely to ask the question and entertain the thought at the moment, not to hate yourself.

It's worth remembering that for any change to happen in your life, you must be wrong about something. If you're sitting there, miserable day after day, then that means you're already wrong about something major in your life, and until you're able to question yourself to find it, nothing will change.
Question #2: What would it mean if I were wrong?
Many people are able to ask themselves if they're wrong, but few are able to go the extra Step and admit what it would mean if they were wrong. That's because the meaning behind our wrongness is Often painful. Not only does it call into question our values, but it forces us to consider what a different, contradictory value could potentially look and feel like.
Aristotle wrote, "It is the mark Of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Being able to look at and evaluate different values without necessarily adopting them is the central skill required in changing one's own life in a meaningful way.
As for my friend's brother, his question to himself should be, "What would it mean if I were wrong about my sister 's wedding?" Often the answer to such a question is pretty straightforward (and some form of "I'm being a selfish/insecure/narcissistic asshole"). If he is wrong, and his sister's engagement is fine and healthy and happy, there's really no way to explain his own behavior other than through his own insecurities and fucked-up values. He assumes that he knows what's best for his sister and that she can't make major life decisions for herself; he assumes that he has the right and responsibility to make decisions for her; he is certain that he's right and everyone else must wrong.
Even once uncovered, whether in my friend's brother or in ourselves, that sort Of entitlement is hard to admit. It hurts. That's why few people ask the difficult questions. But probing questions are necessary in Order to get at the Core problems that are motivating his, and our, dickish behavior.

Question #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
This is the litmus test for determining whether we've got some pretty solid values going on, or we're totally neurotic fuckwads taking our fucks out on everyone, including ourselves.
The goal here is to look at which problem is better. Because after all, as disappointment Panda said, life's problems are endless.
My friend's brother, what are his options?
A. Continue causing drama and friction within the family, complicating what should Otherwise be a happy moment, and damage the trust and respect he has with his sister, all because he has a hunch (some might call it an intuition) that this guy is bad for her.
B. Mistrust his own ability to determine what's right or wrong for his sister's life and remain humble, trust her ability to make her own decisions, and even if he doesn't, live with the results out of his love and respect for her.
Most people choose option A. That's because option A is the easier path. It requires little thought, no second-guessing, and zero tolerance of decisions other people make that you don't like.
It also creates the most misery for everyone involved.
It's option B that sustains healthy and happy relationships built on trust and respect. It's option B that forces people to remain humble and admit ignorance. It's option B that allows people to grow beyond their insecurities and recognize situations where they're being impulsive or unfair or selfish.

But option B is hard and painful, so most people don't choose it.
My friend's brother, in protesting her engagement, entered into an imaginary battle with himself. Sure, he believed he was trying to protect his sister, but as we've seen, beliefs are arbitrary; worse yet, they're Often made up after the fact to justify whatever values and metrics we've chosen for ourselves. The truth is, he would rather fuck up his relationship with his sister than consider that he might wrong—even though the latter could help him to grow out Of the insecurities that made him wrong in the first place.
I try to live with few rules, but one that I've adopted over the years is this: if it's down to me screwed up, or everybody else being screwed up, it is far, far, far more likely that I'm the one who's screwed up. I have learned this from experience. I have been the asshole acting out based on my own insecurities and flawed certainties more times than I can count. It's not pretty.
That's not to say there aren't certain ways in which most people are screwed up. And that's not to say that there aren't times when you'll be more right than most other people.
That's simply reality: if it feels like it's you versus the world, chances are it's really just you versus yourself.





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