Oh man, I was getting myself whipped up into a bit of a frenzy the other day. Well, it was more like whipped down into a bit of a darkish and discouraging hole. It wasn’t too bad, but I was finding myself getting caught up in ignoring the good stuff and focusing instead solely on the bad stuff. It started because I reached out to someone for an interview, and her very uppity assistant got back to me with a snide email, full of put-downs and belittling condescension, basically saying, “How dare you worthless peon contact my employer (a very niche-market local ‘celebrity’ that no one outside of her city has heard of)?” She did her best to put me squarely in my place, and even though I knew she was using what she viewed as her lofty position to hold herself up higher by stepping down on me, it still felt like a slap in the face and threw me for a bit of a loop. Over the years I have reached out to many famous people for various reasons, celebrities who were much more famous than this person, and I’ve either gotten a positive response or been ignored, but no one else has ever felt the need to purposefully demean me in this way.
So I was bemoaning my disheartened state to a good friend of mine and he quoted from the book, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Ben Zander, about always remembering Rule Number 6. It goes like this:
Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again, the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously.'” “Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?” “There aren’t any.”
It was such a great and necessary reminder to stop taking myself so seriously. I started thinking about how I sometimes spend too much time focusing on my irritation at a situation, rather than figuring out a way to deal with it, or making the choice to remove myself from it, which I always have the right to do. I was also reminded of how often I take offense to comments directed at me that are intentionally insulting – which I can always choose to ignore, or if that’s not possible, to acknowledge them but then immediately choose to consider the source from which they came and then not take them personally. I realized with real clarity how difficult I can make things for myself when there’s really no reason to.
We recently heard about a friend’s cancer diagnosis, and one of the first things her husband said was, “We decided we’re no longer going to do anything we don’t want to do.” Hmm. That gave me pause. What a wonderfully intentional way to live a life. Now of course this doesn’t mean shirking responsibilities, like cleaning the house and paying the bills and other things that no one really enjoys doing (well maybe some people enjoy cleaning their house) but I took it to mean things like not saying yes to getting together with people they don’t like, not wasting precious time participating in activities that don’t bring them joy, and most importantly, not spending a single moment more worrying about things that are out of their control. If we’re able to set that intention for ourselves every single day, then as things come up, we know where they fit under that overlying parameter, which leads us to making a purposeful choice about how to deal with them.
I don’t believe that the concept of not taking oneself so seriously means that we’re ignoring important issues or not focusing on things we need to do. Choosing happiness and gratitude and appreciation for our lives does not mean that we’re burying our heads in the sand and pretending difficult things aren’t happening. Instead, it is consciously and deliberately keeping those things in perspective and holding them loosely when we’re able to.
We all live inside our own heads, our actions and our opinions are dominated by our thoughts, and we are the center of our own universe. Which is how it needs to be for our own survival. But when we can get out of our minds, even for just a little bit, we can give ourselves a necessary reality check which can hopefully get us out of an an
xiety-ridden state. Nine times out of ten we are thinking about possible circumstances and imagining scenarios that will never happen, or that don’t even really exist. We can get very caught up in conjuring all kinds of nonsense about what people around us may be thinking, (which is usually never true anyway) which can really get in the way of our happiness.
Here’s a great quote to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously:
What will be left of all the fearing and wanting associated with your problematic life situation that every day takes up most of your attention? A dash, one or two inches long, between the date of birth and date of death on your gravestone. – Eckhart Tolle
Not that anyone wants to think about their gravestone but taking a few moments to ruminate on that concept can be really helpful to put things into a healthy perspective for our lives.
Many things that we have to deal with in life ARE serious – a global pandemic anyone? Add to that the many stresses that include dire medical diagnoses, financial problems, losing loved ones, the list goes on and on. So maybe it’s better to save our sorrow, anxiety, fear, and anger for the big stuff, and let go of the minor things like the mistake at work or the disagreement with a friend or the ding in the car fender. And we should never let things like a long line at the grocery store or a missed parking space or someone cutting us off in traffic cause us any more angst than those things deserve, which is usually maybe a second or two, if at all. We need to reframe how we look at these inconveniences and not burden them with more importance than they actually have.
If we’re choosing happiness, that can mean un-choosing unhappiness. And un-choosing stress. And un-choosing fruitless frustration and annoyance. We can make the choice to remember to not take ourselves so seriously and to hold things a little more lightly when we need to. Not every situation is catastrophic, in fact, most things that we deal with on a regular basis are not. We can tend to magnify small things in our minds until they seem overwhelming and that can lead to our worrisome thoughts spinning out of control. In those times it is so important to stop, take some deep breaths, and take a realistic look at the stressor. Is it really worth getting so upset about? Is it truly such a calamitous situation? Can we put this current thing that is making us crazy into perspective with regard to its true severity? Life is short and in those difficult times, we need to remember Rule #6: Don’t take ourselves so seriously.