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How The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck Can Help You Be Successful

Nirbhay Kanoria

February 16, 2018

We all chase success and many books promise to show you the ‘path to success’ but rarely deliver. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck – A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life does deliver, in the best possible way.

Fair warning: There is a lot of use of the word ‘fuck’ (as the title may suggest), and a few other ‘offensive’ words have been thrown in. Having said that, the brilliance of the content far outweighs the crudeness of the language, so don’t not read the book because of the swearing.

This is the real story of Bukowski’s success: his comfort with himself as a failure. Bukowski didn’t give a fuck about success.

Manson begins his book with Charles Bukowski’s story – the author of the popular books Post Office and Pulp. Bukowski spent his life as a deadbeat alcoholic, and suffered rejection for well over 30 years. Surprisingly, even after getting his first book deal and meeting with success, Bukowski continued to drink uncontrollably and even went to the extent of poking fun at and abusing his audience during his book readings.

How then, does Manson call Bukowski a success? He does so not only because Bukowski’s books sales were good, but more so because Bukowski accepted that he is a ‘loser’. His lifestyle was, at best, questionable, but he knew that and didn’t care. He knew what he was doing, and was comfortable doing it, not giving a fuck about achieving success. This acceptance is what led him to becoming successful.

Reserve your fucks for what truly matters. Friends. Family. Purpose. Burritos.

This is another point that Manson stresses on. He doesn’t believe that one should live life not caring about anything or anyone. Instead, he believes that one should be concentrate on only a few things or people that matter. According to him, we are always choosing what we want to ‘fight for’ and we often end up either choosing the wrong thing or simply choosing too many things – so many that we end up leading severely depressed lives.

Accept that you cannot be good at everything, that there are times you will fail, and there are times that someone will take advantage of you – don’t get perturbed by all those things, but instead keep focusing on the few things that truly matter to you.

(Image credit: Mark Manson)

We’re Apes. We think we’re all sophisticated with our toaster ovens and designer footwear, but we’re just a bunch of finely ornamented apes. And because we are apes, we instinctually measure ourselves against others and vie for status. The question is not whether we evaluate ourselves against others; rather, the question is by what standard do we measure ourselves?

The story of Dave Mustaine – the lead guitarist and singer of famous heavy metal band Megadeth illustrates this point beautifully. Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica and his sole purpose of forming Megadeth was to outshine Metallica. It didn’t matter that ultimately Megadeth sold over 25 million albums, but because it didn’t do as well as Metallica (which sold over 180 million albums), he remained unhappy. Now, had Mustaine simply redefined what he gave a fuck about – the absolute and not relative success of Megadeth, he would probably be living a happier life, much like ex-Beatles drummer Pete Best (for that story definitely pick up this book).

Hence to consider yourself successful, your definition of success is very important. Manson theorises that you should measure your success by using metrics that are controlled by you, not by external factors like comparing yourself to others or defining success based on others’ understanding.

Our own pain and misery aren’t a bug of human evolution; they’re a feature. Pain, in all its of its forms, is our body’s most effective means of spurring action.

For Manson, it is important to fail, to be upset, to be unhappy, and face problems we feel we can’t solve. This is the only way to improve ourselves and get better. Pain and suffering encourage us to take action to stop feeling them; it is the very stimulus our minds need. To explain this point, Manson creates his own superhero – ‘Disappointed Panda’ – whose sole job is to tell you that your achievements suck. And he does this not because he is sadistic, but because he wants you to achieve more – using the feeling of failure as stimulus.

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Manson puts a spin on today’s culture of positivity and positive thinking when it comes to defining success. He clearly calls happiness a ‘problem’ and links it to complacency. For him, our obsession with looking at everything positively prevents us from stepping up our game and getting what we could have, by focusing on what we have. Allowing for ‘negative experiences’ will spur us on to work harder to achieve those ‘positive experiences’ we all desire so deeply.

According to The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, to begin your journey to success, you need to follow a three-step process – first, accept that you don’t ‘have it all’; second, don’t ‘give a fuck’ or get depressed because of that; and third, work better and more intelligently to ‘get it all’, the only caveat being to sensibly define what ‘it all’ means to you).

Have you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck? What do you think of his approach to success? Share your thoughts with us.

Deepika Asthana

Deepika Asthana

Writer, investor, crypto enthusiast, nomad, mother of twins and founder of ARNA Write Strategy (a content writing agency). Deepika is a heady mix of all of that and more.