Don't Write Yourself Off
What has taken me 34 years of rather unfulfilling existence to finally understand is that it's VERY IMPORTANT for you to stop writing yourself off. If you have been, stop. If you haven't been, why haven't you people done a better job of getting this message out there?
If you had gotten through to me with this 16 years ago, 12 years ago, hell - even 3 years ago, my life would have been so much different. And, since I'm not writing myself off anymore - not only would my life have been so much different, I think the world would have been better off. That's right - the WORLD would have been a better place if I had figured this out even just 3 years ago. It makes THAT much difference.
At this point, you might be writing me off. You might be saying to yourself, "what kind of egomaniac thinks the whole world would have been a better place if he had figured this out 3 years ago?" You know what, that's fine. In fact, if I were reading this rather than writing it, I might be doing the same thing. I am completely okay with you writing me off and dismissing these words as rubbish. Just don't do it to yourself.
I won't be doing it to myself, not anymore, and you shouldn't either. You probably have been for years, and it's time to stop.
- What took so long?
I don't know why it is or how it came to pass that this fundamental thing was not apparent to me sooner. It doesn't make sense to me that people who understand this haven't spread the message to every one they know. Their friends, their children - how have they not spread this message to them? - and by six degrees of Kevin Bacon, shouldn't it therefore have spread to me sooner? Shouldn't someone have pounded this into my head by now?
Once you realize that you've been writing yourself off for your whole life and then stop, you can't help but see the people around you writing themselves off every day. The waitress that wants to be painter, the office drone who wants to start his own business, the secretary that wants to open a no-kill animal rescue, that transcriptionist who wants to be a writer.... they're all writing themselves off.
The only reason they wish they had a different life is because they've been writing themselves off. The only reason you wish you had a different life is because you've been writing yourself off. It's bullshit. Stop it.
- Soccer Trophies
Maybe they came close. Maybe they all most got the message out. You know those trophy-kids? The ones that played in the soccer matches where everyone got a trophy, even the losing team? I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think maybe this is the message they were trying to get out. They just didn't understand it well enough, or they got the message slightly confused. They thought this meant "Everyone is a Winner," but the actual message is "Everyone can do a hell of a lot better if they get out of their own way."
If a kid loses, he's not a winner. That's giving him a terribly false impression of how the world works and he's going to be torn apart by the way the world really works. This is a world where you can be a gazelle just getting a morning drink when some lion can come along and rip your throat out. Human society is NO DIFFERENT. The only reason anyone thinks human society isn't rip-your-throat-out deadly is because the lions prefer calm gazelles, sedated with a false sense of security.
If a kid loses, he's a loser. Don't give him a trophy. However, if you ever hear your child say "I'll never win a trophy. I'm not good enough." I want you to immediately slap him in the face hard enough that he'll remember it for the rest of his life. I don't care if you're in church, slap that little ...
If he's talking like that, he's learning to write himself off - sell himself short - mentally sabotage himself and maim his entire life. Don't let him learn how to do that. Don't allow him to talk himself out of trying.
You see, that's the mistake I made - and I paid the piper on that mistake for at least 21 years. Twenty-one years that I'll never get back. Sometimes it feels like I was in a wheelchair that whole time and I just needed someone to tell me I could stand up. No - that's not quite right. I just needed to quit telling myself I couldn't stand up. I'm still integrating that fact into my thinking. You might have to take baby steps to get there, but once you know the truth of it, you know you'll get there eventually.
- What do you mean?
Perhaps I should elaborate on what I mean by "writing yourself off." People tend to talk themselves out of things. They grow this little voice in their head - which sounds exactly like their normal thoughts - that tells them that they can't do it something. It says things like:
"It will never work."
"You're not good enough."
"Don't try it, you'll embarrass yourself."
"They're all going to laugh at you!"
What's terribly important is the fact that the things that that little voice says: All COMPLETE BULLSHIT.
Now, you might be thinking: But Grim, the things that voice says isn't bullshit - it's being realistic. If you are, that's the little voice feeding you more bullshit. Keep reading and I'll prove it to you.
It feels like I was on the other side of this understanding for way too long, so I like to think that my little "write myself off" voice was quite the badass at his job. I think the best way for me to prove it to you that when you talk yourself out of things you're not being realistic you're sabotaging yourself is for me to walk you through how I connected the dots and made a bridge to this realization. (Once you believe, feel free to skip to the section: Further Down the Rabbit Hole).
- The Brain
I've read a couple of books - and yes, some of them might have been self-help books - but the "those books are full of shit, this guy is full of shit" that you might be hearing in your head is that little voice trying to stay hidden from you - trying to convince you not to look behind the curtain. Anyway, the books I'm talking about sometimes had either psychology or biology info about how the brain works - and what they said is an important dot to connect the rest to.
One of them said that the key difference between humans and animals is that humans predict the future. Humans can make plans. A dog doesn't plan on sniffing the tree down the road at 3 p.m. tomorrow, but you might plan on going to the doctor's office at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Your brain builds up this store of situations that it uses to anticipate things. You can anticipate that if you don't go in to work tomorrow and don't call in sick that you'll be fired. (I think I got that from Stumbling on Happiness)
This ability to predict the future is a result of our ability to imagine things. This bit I heard on public radio: You can imagine a bird, and you can imagine stripes - and you can combine those two things and imagine a bird with zebra stripes that for all intents and purposes has never and will never exist. I'm not aware of any evidence to indicate any animals have the ability to imagine. It might be unique to humans.
It is important to ALWAYS remember that imagined things at the time they are imagined are inevitably COMPLETE BULLSHIT. Hold on to that - it's one of the dots.
On an evolutionary level, the ability to use our imagination to predict the future has served us very well. (and if you're a creationist, you can read "On an evolutionary level" as "This ability our creator gave us," and keep reading). We could predict that the birds would fly south for the winter again. We could predict it would be getting cold soon when we saw the birds flying south.
- Zen and Confusion
The thing is, our ability to predict things is a double-edged sword. When I discovered this dot, I didn't realize how my imagination and ability to predict was screwing me over. That came later. At the time, I was confused. I had been depressed for quite a long time and was reading things to try to improve my life. Prior to this psychology stuff in the self-help books, I had looked into happiness through Zen. Partly because I had heard about being in the present as a means of happiness through other self-help books. I had become a reader of Zen Habits and such, trying to find a different way to live - a happier way to live.
So, these two principles confused me. What makes humans special is our ability to imagine and predict the future - but the way to be happy was to live in the moment and not think about the future (or the past on which we base our predictions). If I wanted to be happy I had to be less human?
It made sense on a level, but didn't seem quite right. Sure, the dog asleep in the back yard seemed to be less depressed than I was, but it seemed like a bad idea to sacrifice what made me special as a human and try to be more like a dog. I didn't get it. I didn't see how both of those things could be true - how they could coexist. So I carried on, still looking for a way to be happier.
And so it came to pass that while on my search for a way to be happier that I found myself in a relationship. It was a tumultuous relationship, full of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and mistakes. There were great times - and then some of the mis's would show up and there would be terrible times. It was always painful to go from everything being so great to everything being so horrible.
- The Road to Wisdom
All was for the best though, because when the miscommunications and the misunderstandings came to light - it made it possible to forgive the mistakes. While some of them would come to light, new mis's would come along and the roller coaster would go racing back down into the shitty times again.
Over time though, I came to realize my own role in the miscommunications and misunderstandings. She may not have been communicating well, but I was playing my part by misunderstanding. Finally, at one of the deepest dips on the roller coaster, I realized where my misunderstandings were starting. The misunderstandings were starting in my head.
I had been hurt in the past. I had been in relationships that ended poorly, sometimes with infidelity. The painful infidelity too, the infidelity you learn about rather than commit. My marvelous imagination and ability to predict things was using my previous experiences to interpret things in the present as indications for what would come in the future. I would see birds and predict that winter was coming, but the birds were flying north not south. I had predicted the coming cold before finding out which direction the birds were really going. She would say or do things, or worse yet - not say or do things, and this little voice would start making seemingly logical interpretations of what those things meant.
When we got to that low point in our relationship, I finally realized that birds flying just meant that birds were flying. Even if they were flying south, that didn't mean the cold was coming. Just because she didn't get me a birthday present didn't mean she didn't love me. It meant she didn't get me a birthday present. It could have been because she was terribly hurt by something I had done, or that she had thought I had done - so despite loving me she had hurt me in retaliation.
When I finally saw this - finally understood, I realized that no matter what your mind tells you: YOU NEVER KNOW. (that's another dot by the way)
- The Two Dogs
There's a saying floating around often attributed to the Cherokee that goes something like this:
The old man says to the young man: "Within every man, two dogs are fighting. One is good and one is evil."
The young man asks: "Elder, which dog wins?
The old man answers: "The one you feed."
It was this point in my life when I finally really got that saying - what it really meant. The little voice in my head, the one telling me that those birds I saw meant winter was coming - that was one of the dogs barking - and not the good dog. When I would accept what that voice said as true - when I bought-in to the idea that the cold was on its way because I saw the birds - that was me feeding the wrong dog.
Once I had finally seen this, once I had come to this realization, I started paying attention. You see, our marvelous human brains with the imagination and ability to predict outcomes, is very good at what it does. It's so good at it that we over time we start to believe it's right without question. For instance, you already have a prediction for tomorrow and it's probably going to be right. You believe that the sun will rise, the alarm clock will go off, and you'll trudge off to work just like normal. You've accepted your brain's forecast as accurate - or at least accurate enough to base your actions upon.
So this predicting, ever so human, part of your brain has a lot of clout within your decision making process. It's important to note two things though:
1. You never know. A drunk driver could drive through the wall of where you are 5 minutes from now and all of those predictions you've accepted would evaporate as your brain realizes the car crashing through the wall changes things. So, even though it's more right more often than not - you have to accept that your predicting brain could be wrong. You never REALLY know until the future is the present and the prediction comes true or it doesn't.
2. Your fabulous brain and imagination is capable of more than one prediction. You are choosing which one to accept as most likely. You're choosing which dog to feed.
- Feeding The Dogs
As I watched this process within myself - as I started paying attention to it, I got better at recognizing that I was choosing which dog to feed. I was choosing which prediction about the future to believe would come true. Once I started seeing the predictions as predictions and started choosing which ones to believe - I would trace the prediction back to its source. I would follow the trail back to the thing that happened in the present that had influenced my predictions. The genesis-incident of the prediction: Me seeing the birds, and choosing whether I believed that meant winter was coming or whether I believed it meant summer was almost here.
More often than not, when things went bad it was because I had believed that winter was coming. The little black dog had sounded the alarm. Pull away from the relationship, run and hide your emotions, you're going to get hurt again!
- The Keystone and the Core Truths
One day, not long after this revelation, I was exploring YouTube for Bill Hicks clips. I had somehow missed out on this comedian, which surprised me a great deal when I learned it was Bill Hicks on the Tool album saying drugs have done some great things. I had always thought it was Maynard. It was watching these clips that I found the next dot to connect: It's Just A Ride
This is the keystone that ties it all together. That's when I realized that the two dogs aren't named Good and Evil. The dogs are named Fear and Love.
Then it all fell into place. That's how I came to learn that all of these things are true:
- What makes humans so special is our imagination, and our ability to use it to predict outcomes.
- Living in the moment, Zen-style, will make you happier.
- Ignoring the past used to build predictions and ignoring the future that our minds predict makes life easier.
- We have two dogs within us that are in opposition - and that the one that you feed wins.
- We can see things through the eyes of fear or the eyes of love.
- It's just a ride - so we have nothing to fear.
- Fear and Love
I started to apply the truth of these things to how I interpreted the world. I watched carefully how my mind would take a situation and interpret the events to make a prediction of how things would turn out. I looked at those interpretations carefully, trying to determine if it was an interpretation based on fear or based on love. I started to feed the other dog, the dog named love.
When my girlfriend would do something that might indicate she doesn't love me - I recognize that the part of me interpreting it that way is based on the fear of emotional pain.
When I was learning how to do that, I made an important discovery. You must not hate the dog named fear. Hate is based on fear - you can tell that most easily when you look at racism. Racism is founded in fear, and that's why it's so terribly illogical. If you hate the dog named fear, you're feeding it. You have to love that dog.
After all, your fear is just trying to protect you. It's trying to keep you from experiencing pain. It sees a situation and predicts the worst possible outcome. It hopes that by doing so it will prepare you and that you won't be hurt as badly. It loves you, it's just misguided. Love it back, but don't feed it. Feeding it does more harm than good.
- This Too Shall Pass
Once I understood these things, my relationship started to settle down. There are less and less misunderstandings and miscommunication these days, and things are getting smoother and better every time I ignore predictions based on fear and choose to believe predictions based on love. I'm happier, more understanding, and I am loved more in return.
Even if those predictions turn out to be wrong - the worst case scenario is that I will be hurt emotionally and eventually die. However, if I choose to believe the predictions based on fear - those fears will keep me at an emotional distance to protect me and I'll eventually die, having missed something great because I was afraid.
I'm going to eventually die either way. It's just a ride, after all. I get to choose how much I enjoy the ride, though. As far as I can tell, this is the only ride we get - and I'm sure as hell not going to spend my only ride being afraid. I don't mind if I get hurt along the way, it's better than being half-ass in a relationship and keeping myself at a distance. I wouldn't want her to be distant from me, so I choose not to be distant from her. I reject predictions of fear so that I can love her as I wish to be loved - and everyone is happier for it.
Further Down The Rabbit Hole
As I got better at rejecting the voice of fear and choosing the voice of love, I noticed something. It wasn't just in relationships that the black dog of fear was barking. It was in everything.
When I'd think about one day making a living as an author, the little black dog would bark. The barks would sound like this:
"You don't have anything worth writing about."
"No one cares what you have to say."
"Your grammar is horrible, no one will be able to stand to read what you write"
"You will fail, and that will crush your spirit."
"Don't do it, you'll get hurt."
The little black dog was trying to protect me again. He was trying to convince me to write my hopes off as impossible so that I wouldn't try. After all, you're less likely to get hurt if you don't try. You can't fail if you don't try.
When you write yourself off and convince yourself not to try, you're listening to your black dog. He's just trying to protect you. Just like the waitress's little black dog doesn't want her to experience the pain of rejection if no one likes her paintings. The office drone's black dog doesn't want him to quit his job and start a business, what if the business fails and he makes no money? What if he loses everything he has and ends up homeless on the street? What if he starves to death?
So what! It's just a ride. Wouldn't it be a funner ride if you didn't listen to the black dog? After all, you never really know what the future holds - unless you write yourself off and never try to make a better life for yourself. Then it's pretty easy to see what the future holds.
It's just a ride though - and it's highly likely that this is the only one you're going to get. You can choose a ride based on fear and spend all your time playing it safe and wishing things were different - or you can give it your best shot. You can make the most of the ride and see what happens. You can quit writing yourself off and chase your dreams.
Who knows, you might make the world a better place...