It Isn’t All About You
This post isn’t about making you a “better person.” It isn’t. I don’t care what type of person you choose to be. I don’t know what you value, what laws you hold dear. (I’ve met good people who smoke weed and bad people who obey every law on the books.)
What this post is about is happiness. Or, rather, trying to make it through this life less unhappy. About trying not to feel so let down all the time.
Let me back up.
Thanks to my newfound role as Internet Writer for Thought Catalog, I’ve had a bunch of new people follow me on Tumblr. And some of these people are of the teenage persuasion. So through this, I’ve had a chance to peruse their Tumblrs and get a look into their little online lives, and (at the same time) reconnect with some of the all-caps FEELINGS I had when I was a teenager, way back in like 2005.
First off, man. Teenagers. You guys are FEELING things out there. In a way that I can barely remember feeling things. I don’t know if this means I’m now well-adjusted or if it means I’ve turned into a hardened old bastard… but let me just say first and foremost that I am no longer operating anywhere near your wavelength on the Feelings-O-Meter.
Looking through your posts, though, I kept noticing one feeling that made no sense to me. And that was the persistent feeling out there that “No one really cares about me.” Or “I have friends who don’t care about me.” And the conclusion that was drawn from this feeling was, “I don’t need them.” Or “I can do things on my own.”
Now, I’m not going to do the thing my grandfather would do here, which is to smack you across the face and say “Buck up, for Christ’s sake.” Because I remember feeling things like this back when I was a teenager. And so instead of the whole face-slapping thing, let me tell you some things that helped me get out of the rut of feeling like this all the time. I will present these things in a five step argument.
1. Stop expecting so much of your friends
2. To expect perfect friends is one of the most selfish things you can do
3. To be selfish is to be unhappy
4. Nos. 1-3 do not imply that you should resolve to “Do things on your own”
5. I love you and so do your friends
1. Stop expecting so much of your friends. Why? Because they’re just trying to do their own thing. I remember I used to get furious when my friends would leave me out of things, or “ditch” me, or wouldn’t have my back or some such shit. I got upset because I was under the delusion that these people were conscious of ME, thinking about ME, in everything they did each day… which leads me to number 2.
2. To expect perfect friends is one of the most selfish things you can do. Why? Because a perfect friend is someone who is always there for you, no matter what. For you, above all else. No matter what your friend is going through, you come first. You know what that sounds like a more accurate description of? A butler. Perfect friends don’t exist, because people for the most part are mostly concerned with themselves. Your friends didn’t ditch you on purpose. To be frank, they probably never even thought about including you. And you need to accept that if you’re going to make it in this crazy world. Why? Because you have to remember that those friends of yours, the ones you think left you out on purpose, or ignored you on purpose, are full of all the same fears, worries, self-doubts, and nagging self-examinations that you are. To think that your friends should drop on a dime and do everything for you, to only think about you, is to imagine you that you are the center of the universe. This is selfish.
3. To be selfish is to be unhappy. This one seems obvious, but for a lot of young people, I promise you it isn’t. And I think that this has as much to do with how parents in this country teach their kids about the problems that come with selfishness. What do I mean by that? Well, when parents teach their kids about being selfish in this country, or being self-centered, they do it in one of two ways: One, they teach it as a basic empathy thing, along the lines of “you don’t like it when other people take your toys, so you shouldn’t take their toys, right?” OR they teach it the same way but with a whole Golden Rule religious bent — AKA you should be nice to people because God says so.
What’s so bizarre to me, and something I didn’t realize until I was in my twenties and read a bit of Dostoyevsky and had a good long hard thinking session about the way I wanted to live my life… is that not being selfish is actually a pretty selfish thing to do. What do I mean by that? Well, to be selfish is to think about yourself above all. To think about yourself above all is to imagine that you are number one, the most important thing in the universe. But here’s the thing — if you think you are the center of the universe, you are bound to live a life of disappointment. Why? Because you aren’t the center of the universe. The world doesn’t revolve around you, and if you think it does, you’re going to be disappointed all the time. Thus, if you are selfish, and narcissistic, and solipsistic, well, you’re doomed for a life of being let down.
But no one ever tells you that growing up. No one points out something that has become obvious to me (and led me to not be sad all the time), and that is thinking about other people is actually pretty selfish. Yes. Thinking about other people is selfish, in that it gives you the best chance in life to be happy. To get out of the disappointment that comes with thinking you are the center of the universe. To not be stuck staring in mirrors constantly, wondering how I (ME! ME!) look. To look around at every party wondering what everyone is thinking about ME. ME! ME! To not get let down when my friends forget to invite me to the movies, and I’m stuck at home on a Saturday night. ME!
4. Nos. 1-3 do NOT imply that you should “go it alone.” The most common response I see to people being let down by their friends is to say “I’m just going to take care of myself.” “I don’t need anyone else.” Aside the fact that these are shitty clichés from country music songs, this is the exact OPPOSITE of what I’m talking about above. To be let down by your friends does not mean that you should go it alone. (Unless they’re abusive, in which case fuck ‘em.) Learn to love your friends. Love them truly. With a whole heart. If they forget to invite you somewhere, don’t make a huge deal of it. Love them, and let the small stuff go, and they will love you in return, and they will be there for the big moments, when you actually do need your friends.
5. I love you and so do your friends. We do. Now just try to stop battering around in that head of yours, and join us out in the light. Forgive. Love. Pray. Or don’t pray. Whatever. Go in peace.
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I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”
To begin, I got totally screwed over in the dental genes department. I was born with a pretty severe overbite and a mouth that was too small.