I have a friend who sends me inspirational advice on a regular basis because she says I am “too conscientious” and need to toughen up. Her tone suggested sympathy and disdain in equal measure (I’m sure she didn’t mean it to be hurtful, cough).
Recently, she sent me an advice column with a message that resonated with me. The thesis was to remember, in most situations in life, not to take things personally.
According to the piece, if people are jerks, don’t waste your time reacting. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you at all. And get this: even if it does, it still has nothing to do with you. What?
When someone is rude to you (check), if a “friend” dismisses you socially (yep), when you aren’t invited to the party with all the other parents on the team (been there), or someone’s assumptions become fodder for gossip (I am too dull to generate gossip), don’t take it personally.
Sure. Okay. Let’s pretend it’s that easy.
I don’t care who you are, at some point in your life you’ve felt slighted by someone, or a whole group, and it hurt you. Maybe you figured out a way to get over it. Well aren’t you clever? You passed. You can stand over there with the Carpenter, the most Zen person I know. For the rest of us, read on.
The column explained how we often misconstrue other people’s actions. We don’t give them the benefit of the doubt because our ego takes their action or inaction as a personal affront. The author suggested that in order to break this pattern we had to go a full 24 hours noticing our reactions to things. Awareness with detachment: what a concept.
I jumped in. I am often told I am too sensitive, too aware and thus, take things too much to heart (I hold out hope for compliments like, “you’re too sexy, smart, successful,” etc. Sigh). For a full day I caught every nuance that made me want to react: the guy who cut me off in traffic so he could be first to the red light, the “friend” on Facebook who went off about how much they didn’t like someone else in town, but then “friended” them online (high school never ends), or the thoughtless remarks made by a colleague who was having a bad day. How do you not take that stuff personally?
Apparently, the answer is tolerance. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, behind closed doors. You may be a target, but your reaction speaks volumes. My theory? Always be guarded around people who are deeply insecure. They have the most to lose. Avoid those who attempt to stir up trouble.
Remember, everyone lives in their own heads, where their mini-dramas take centre stage. Chances are you are not in their spotlight. And yep, they may not like you. There is no accounting for taste. Life is too short to stress on that. It only diminishes your self worth if you let it.
You know this clarity thing is kind of sexy. You don’t have to agree with me. No, really, you don’t. I can tolerate your opinion. I will ignore it, but I can tolerate it.
Just ask the Carpenter.
Writing has been my passion since I learned how to hold a pencil (which I still cannot do properly). Despite my father’s insistence that I would starve to death in this career, I remain well fed and eager to write more. They say you should do what you love: I love to write.