How to Avoid How to Articles and Other Forms of Pragmatic Literature
In the western world, self improvement is the universal, lifelong doctrine. Every single day we bludgeon our minds with new goals and checklists, trying to evince better, thinner, more accomplished and productive selves. We tell ourselves we will read more books, go to the gym more often and cut our indulgences and then we will be happy. But we are wrong. We spend our entire lives trying to climb this mountain of personal betterment that we miss the view on the way up. We miss our lives.
So- this is the anti “how to” article — the rebellion against all of the pragmatic books you read to alleviate your anxieties of feeling under accomplished. This is your calling to get back to taking in experiences, making great relationships, avoiding the bulls**t and living a life that is true to you, not what others expect of you.
Taking In Experiences
As a result of social media, we have created characters of ourselves. What will most likely be referred to in the future as the greatest social experiment the world has ever known, social media has given us the tools to shape our outward identities. I have literally had people I don’t know come up to me and say, “I know you, I follow you on Instagram. You’re this liberal girl that likes to travel and post about social injustices.” Although at first taken back by this, I started to think about it seriously. Am I purposely crafting my Instagram / Facebook posts to convince my “audience” I am this one dimensional archetype? Have I carved an image of myself so hollow that I forego my true individuality to “stay in character”?
Sometimes we lie to ourselves so frequently that we start to accept it as truth. I realized that I had spent nearly my entire life playing different “roles” (admittedly my most embarrassing was my “gangster phase” in high school) to please an audience, at the cost of being untrue to myself.
Break the character you have created for yourself. Forego your ego and do the things you love or have always wanted to try even when your friends say that’s “so not you”. Travel to soak in a new surroundings and meet people who have lived life through different languages, histories and traditions. Stop “doing it for the Insta” and do it for you. Don’t craft the perfect caption- craft the perfect experience. Seek new understanding of yourself and take in your unique and beautiful life.
Making Great Relationships
One of my favorite pieces of writing is an essay written by Hunter S. Thompson called Security (see below). Borrowed from it is this concept he calls “living life second-hand”. In 2017 this translates to Netflix binges and social media feeds. We spend our days as onlookers to lives we aspire to have, watching our dreams of great romance, monetary success and #bodygoals being fulfilled by other people. While all well and good that we take joy or inspiration from the accomplishments of others, we need to be weary of our time in front of the screen.
For example, I am a firm believer that watching too many romantic comedies commoditizes love in a way that is dangerous to someone who is seeking actual intimacy (I will write another article about this someday). These films invoke emotion that start as touching and whimsical, but then, as the “realization” that these types of love are unattainable sets in, turn into envy and sadness. By convincing ourselves that these depictions (whether they are Instagram models or romantic comedies) are unrealistic, we omit personal responsibility and settle for what we think is attainable.
Finding true love and creating meaningful relationships starts with valuing genuine connection. Period. To do this we must be willing to step outside of our comfort zones, be vulnerable and share ourselves. Our greatest loves and friendships will only come when we accept the risk that comes with exposing our fears, insecurities, dreams and ambitions and the responsibility of being a caretaker for someone else’s.
Avoiding the Bulls**t
Working in advertising and marketing, it is my job to be fluent in bulls**t. It is the marketer’s sole duty to “create demand” by pulling at the heartstrings of an impressionable society who are feverishly trying to self improve every single day. Buy these Nikes! What’s the small cost of $150 to the lifetime of newfound athleticism these overpriced shoes will inspire in you? This concept of “keeping up with the Jones’” and needing to showcase your identity based on material things is what owns the western world and it has an incredibly tight grasp.
If there is anything you gather from my incoherent rambling in this article (if anyone is still reading… hello?) it is that all of it is a fallacy. No one is living the perfect life no matter how many Cartier watches they own, Instagram followers they have or books they write on tips for success. Stop trying to reach up into the higher echelons of society because you will not find happiness there. When the glitter comes off and the “oohs and ahhs” are silenced- it is still you alone you have to face in the mirror at night.
It is your values, not your goals that will make you the person you want to be. Value yourself wholly in all of your unique ways and embrace your individual journey in getting there. Draw your focus away from being the next Evan Spiegel or Jen Selter or Kylie Jenner because no matter how hard you try, you cannot be them. Instead, hold yourself accountable to doing right by you and making conscious efforts to celebrate your life as often as possible. Abandon the narrative that others have drafted for you and write your own story.
“Security … what does this word mean in relation to life as we know it today? For the most part, it means safety and freedom from worry. It is said to be the end that all men strive for; but is security a utopian goal or is it another word for rut?
Let us visualize the secure man; and by this term, I mean a man who has settled for financial and personal security for his goal in life. In general, he is a man who has pushed ambition and initiative aside and settled down, so to speak, in a boring, but safe and comfortable rut for the rest of his life. His future is but an extension of his present, and he accepts it as such with a complacent shrug of his shoulders. His ideas and ideals are those of society in general and he is accepted as a respectable, but average and prosaic man. But is he a man? has he any self-respect or pride in himself? How could he, when he has risked nothing and gained nothing? What does he think when he sees his youthful dreams of adventure, accomplishment, travel and romance buried under the cloak of conformity? How does he feel when he realizes that he has barely tasted the meal of life; when he sees the prison he has made for himself in pursuit of the almighty dollar? If he thinks this is all well and good, fine, but think of the tragedy of a man who has sacrificed his freedom on the altar of security, and wishes he could turn back the hands of time. A man is to be pitied who lacked the courage to accept the challenge of freedom and depart from the cushion of security and see life as it is instead of living it second-hand. Life has by-passed this man and he has watched from a secure place, afraid to seek anything better What has he done except to sit and wait for the tomorrow which never comes?
Turn back the pages of history and see the men who have shaped the destiny of the world. Security was never theirs, but they lived rather than existed. Where would the world be if all men had sought security and not taken risks or gambled with their lives on the chance that, if they won, life would be different and richer? It is from the bystanders (who are in the vast majority) that we receive the propaganda that life is not worth living, that life is drudgery, that the ambitions of youth must he laid aside for a life which is but a painful wait for death. These are the ones who squeeze what excitement they can from life out of the imaginations and experiences of others through books and movies. These are the insignificant and forgotten men who preach conformity because it is all they know. These are the men who dream at night of what could have been, but who wake at dawn to take their places at the now-familiar rut and to merely exist through another day. For them, the romance of life is long dead and they are forced to go through the years on a treadmill, cursing their existence, yet afraid to die because of the unknown which faces them after death. They lacked the only true courage: the kind which enables men to face the unknown regardless of the consequences.
As an afterthought, it seems hardly proper to write of life without once mentioning happiness; so we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” — Security, Hunter S. Thompson (1955)