The other day I was eating my lunch and perusing the latest Facebook updates as I devoured my sandwich. One of my friends made a comment that left me thinking. In it she advised that no matter how great you think you are, or how great people tell you you are don’t be a jerk. Actually, her exact words were: “Don’t be an asshole. Even when everyone starts telling you you’re great, hold on to some doubt about that, because it keeps you humble and there’s someone else better anyway.”
And that’s true. But it also made me think about how one could extrapolate that to other parts of one’s life and I was once again reminded by advice given to me at my first real, grown-up person’s job. One of my bosses saw me stressing over something (the fact I don’t even remember what is telling) and said, “Matt, just remember that no matter how bad you may mess up, no one will lose their life as a result.” Obviously this isn’t applicable to all professions (keep stressing medical community) but for most of us it’s true, and reveals a more important truth and fact about modern life. We all take ourselves far too seriously.
It’s a natural predilection of course. We as humans are inherently selfish, believe that we are the proverbial center of the universe. There’s probably an evolutionary reason for this, enabling our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive. In the modern world though it has created a class of self-involved narcissists that at times can be laughable.
No matter what sphere of interest we exist in, whether it’s our family or professional roles, it’s easy to fall into the trap of praise. In the travel writing and blogging world there are some who are more successful than others and it’s easy to see them as the champions of the industry. But step back and you realize that few other people in the world know who they are. Are they really important then? No, not really. This happens everywhere, and in every profession I’ve been in. Problems occur though when people start to believe in this false hype.
I recently had the chance to chat with some ‘big names’ in another profession and was shocked by what I discovered. Sure, they’re biggish deals in their own sphere of influence, but not at all in the broader context of life, the universe and everything. Yet they acted as if they were as notable a personality as the President or an Oscar winning actor. They had sadly fallen prey to the trap of believing others around them who tell them all day every day that they are the best people in the world.
I worked in politics for 12 years and saw this happen on a more tragic scale. Sometimes when people announce that they are running for President or other high office one wonders why? Don’t they know they don’t have a chance? The sad truth is no, they don’t. They are surrounded all day every day by people who constantly fawn over them, creating a feeling of self-importance that does not reflect reality.
We are all vulnerable to this trap. It’s not just leaders of state or entertainment, in our own lives we always have people telling us that what we’re doing is wonderful, very important and crucial to the efficient running of the universe. The truth is that no matter how successful you get, how important you think you are in the broader context of the world you are not. It’s important to step back, to look at other people around the world and how they live and put yourself into context. Does the person existing on fifty cents a day in Bangladesh care whether or not you have a new product line coming out? No, they don’t. What matters to them is living to see another day.
What truly successful people, not just professionally but personally, have in common is humility and empathy. They constantly reevaluate themselves and their impact on the world and find ways to improve both. At the end of the day that’s all that really matters. Not something you did great at work or how vital you think you are to everyone else, but your positive impact on the world. It can be in the simplest of ways or it can be on a wide scale, but keeping yourself in check will help you lead a happier and much more productive life.
4 thoughts on “Learning Not To Take Things (Including Yourself) Too Seriously”
I was just reading the other day about a study a professor conducted on his own class, where he asked the students to specify whether they knew of certain historical figures or not. The thing is, some of them were fictional, but students still claimed to know them anyway. And at the end of the year, the professor asked the students to rate all the other students as to how knowledgeable they were. Sadly…though not surprisingly…the students rated as most knowledgeable were the same students who pretended to be familiar with fictional historical figures just to appear knowledgeable. Pretending to be cool is, scientifically, mistaken for actually being cool. Sad times.
Couldn’t agree with you more! Thanks for writing this!!! :)
Totally agree Matt. Nicely written and highlighting an important fact – ‘What truly successful people, not just professionally but personally, have in common is humility and empathy.’
If only more people were less self-absorbed and possessed these traits!
Such a good reminder. Our (current) work is politically oriented, so we see this delusion-by-sycophant all too often. Good to have someone smack you down periodically. Thank you for making us appreciate life’s smackdowns. :-)
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