Somehow life has gotten easier and more difficult the older I get. I’m very comfortable with myself, but constantly battling with questions of the future. Where’s my “career” going? What about my personal life? On top of that I’m living in an America that’s in decline, and a tech-driven world that’s oftentimes difficult to navigate. These are modern problems that we’re all dealing with, and it’s complicated and messy and weird.
Never take anything personally
I’m only partway through Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, but this book has already had an influence on how I try to exist in and move about this complex world. It’s a valuable read for anyone who’s open to it, but I do think being “open” is key. Ruiz calls everything into question – who we are, what we are, why we are – so it requires a willingness to listen and reflect. All four of the agreements that Ruiz presents are revelatory, but the one that’s stuck with me the most is “Don’t take anything personally.”
Wow. How can something so simple be so powerful? Don’t take anything personally. I grew up reminding myself that the way people act towards you is a reflection on them, not you, but I would still end up feeling bad about myself somehow. Now I’ve taken the action into my own hands – I can’t take anything personally – it’s my new personal rule and it’s been transformative.
Trying not to take things personally takes constant effort. I tend to be very self-aware and notice the little things people do and say. This can become destructive, as I wonder why that acquaintance didn’t make eye contact when they were talking to me, or what made a friend describe me as being shy, or why a family member questioned my decision to go to grad school. All the little things we put up with from others can build and become unbearable, but when we work to not take these things personally we can liberate ourselves from unnecessary pain. Why waste my energy on worrying about the rude thing someone said to me, when it actually has nothing to do with me? What someone says is a reflection of themselves, so you shouldn’t take it personally. And there comes a point where you can’t take it personally if you want to preserve your emotional energy and health.
I can only speak for myself and how the stress of minor insults or acts of sexism and misogyny impact me. I don’t know what it’s like to be a part of a marginalized group and be the victim of micro and macro-aggressions based on my race, ability, sexual orientation, etc. In those cases, I can imagine that “not taking things personally” isn’t always do-able or constructive. But again, for the little things that can cause us massive stress over time, this personal agreement is truly freeing.
Don’t be afraid of anyone
I encountered this rule for life in a very modern way! I was watching journalist and all around badass Ann Friedman’s Instagram story, and a clip from a talk with artist Laurie Anderson came up. In the clip Anderson says that one of her rules for life is to never be afraid of anyone. Again, wow! I’ve always been afraid of lots of people. As a kid I was very afraid of teens, and as a teen I was still afraid of teens. I’m intimidated by people I’ve deemed smarter or cooler, and even just folks who happen to be older than me. I’ve been working on this in recent years and have gotten much better, but even when I’m outwardly confident or have convinced myself not to be afraid of someone there’s still a part of me that is.
Imagine existing in the world and not being afraid of anyone. I know I’d have a much different life – likely a more prosperous one. I probably would have pursued creative endeavors with more ferocity, and wouldn’t second-guess myself nearly as often as I do. I think this issue is especially true for young women, since we’re socialized to feel this way, but I’m lucky to know many fearless ones too. Most of these women I imagine have grown to be fearless, and I hope to grow fearless too.
What are the rules you try to live by? Let me know in the comment section below!