If you’re anything like me, you may have spent a large portion of your life as a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist has its benefits (for one, you don’t just aim to get stuff done, you aim to get it done well, and more often than not, you do get it done well).
But perfectionism also has its downsides. Perfectionists are risk averse and hate making mistakes. And so they are less inclined to try things. To experiment. To learn. Because learning takes place in a context of mistakes.
Perfectionists also feel like frauds because they know they aren’t perfect. But they falsely believe that other people expect them to be (probably because they had parents who instilled a certain set of achievement oriented values). Perfectionists also live their lives mistakenly perceiving judgement from other people, even though other people aren’t really judging them.
The fact is… the world is fault tolerant. Very, very fault tolerant. And so are most others.
Understanding this should free you up to be fully expressive. To live a vibrant, non-fearful life. To experience all that the world has to offer. To develop skills. To enjoy relationships without fear of screwing up. To soak up the world in all its amazing glory.
Maxim #19: Do your homework
Explanation: Life goes a lot more smoothly if you prepare in advance for things you can anticipate. For example, let’s say you’re going into the city to see a band and want to grab dinner beforehand. Thinking about this in advance would give you the opportunity to have authentic Indian or Thai rather than TGI Friday’s or some other restaurant chain. It also helps if you print directions out beforehand or remember your GPS device. Otherwise you’ll be driving around like a blind man. Here’s another example: let’s say you have some social anxiety and you’re planning to go to a party. If you prepare in advance, by thinking of conversation starters, then you’ll have the confidence to get right into the social atmosphere. But if you show up without preparing, your social anxiety might cause you to withdraw and have a miserable evening.
Maxim #18: Having the right tool makes all the difference
Explanation: Yesterday I skinned a rabbit for the first time. I started off with a fairly dull knife, and for a few moments was getting frustrated. Then I looked around and found a sharper knife. And from there it was a really smooth process. The key to skinning a rabbit is having a good knife. This reminded me of some old advice my dad gave to me throughout the years: “Micah, one of the most important things I’ve learned in life is that having the right tool makes all the difference.” And it’s so true. You can’t haul wood without a truck. You can’t learn to play on a guitar with unforgiving frets. You can’t screw in a flathead screw with a Phillips head screwdriver. And you can’t skin a rabbit with a dull knife. Often times, a job that would take days to complete without the right tool only takes a few minutes or hours with the right tool.
Advice: Spend the extra time and money to seek out and acquire high quality tools.
“Never be tamed.” It’s the confident advice I gave to a man in front of his wife as we were talking over lunch. I had just met them. He was a Packers fan from Wisconsin. As an Eagles fan, I could have hated his guts just for knocking us out of the playoffs this year and ending the Michael Vick turn-around story. But I chose to look past that for the sake of a higher good.
The wife had just said, in a joking tone, to the friend they were visiting “What have I done wrong? I still need to teach him a thing or two.” What she meant was “I still haven’t tamed him.”
Enjoying a Pale Ale at the finest eating establishment in Sewanee, Tennessee I looked at him calmly, this guy I had met only 20 minutes earlier, a confident smile on my face, and spoke these words: “Never be tamed.”
The guy proceeded to give me a powerful high-five as the two ladies at the table raised their voice in protest. I didn’t hear a thing they said. There was no need. I had spoken ancient, primal wisdom. I knew it. They knew it. And that was that.
Afterwards, it occurred to me just how important these words are to the human spirit. Never. Be. Tamed.
Those who live good, beautiful, quiet, caring, hard-working, joyful lives: do not be tamed by a raucous society that insidiously conforms everyone towards the bad. Towards busyness, towards scandal, towards selfishness, towards greed and profit and notoriety. You are better than them. You do not need their approval.
Don’t be tamed by a news media that operates on profit and exploits human weaknesses while reporting news that titillates and draws an audience.
Don’t be tamed by a fear of mistakes. Take smart risks, give it your best shot. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Don’t be tamed by a society that tries to define your life by which school you went to for college or which corporation you work for or how much money you have in your 401k.
Christians, don’t be tamed by the plastic homogeneous moralisms of the social conservatives or the reductive animalisms of the progressives. Simply learn to love. To really care. Deeply. For God. For neighbor.
Agnostics, don’t be tamed by the fanatics on either side who entice you to take a side, to become combative, to enter the war. There is no greater wisdom than to know how little you really know.
Atheists, don’t be tamed by the ideologues and the socio-cultural war mongers amongst you.
Don’t be tamed by the homogeneity of Western culture nor the emptiness of popular culture.
Don’t be tamed by substances that take control of your life and leave you powerless.
Don’t be tamed by parents, like the so-called Tiger Moms, who expect nothing but perfection.
Don’t be tamed by parents who expect nothing. You can be better.
Don’t be tamed by mediocrity and the status quo. Fight for justice, peace and all that is good.
Citizens of the world, don’t be tamed by the big agricultural businesses that would have you eat poison (grains) as your staple crop because they are cheap, convenient and profitable.
Little boys, don’t be tamed by school teachers that tell you to sit still all day nor doctors who give you medications to “calm you down” nor a society that teaches you that the opposite gender is the more valuable gender. Play. Explore. Discover.
Scientists, don’t be tamed by politics or ideologies… but be filled with wonder and joy as you explore this grand universe and all its mysteries.
Women, never be tamed by a society that tells you that your only value is your beauty. You are no piece of meat, as they say. You can be warm and caring and nurturing and gentle yet firm and strong and tempering. You can make a man feel like he’s a king simply by admiring him. There’s no greater gift.
Men, never be tamed by a woman. Care for her, provide for her, love her. Make her feel attractive. Be a good man. But don’t let her manipulate you or control you. Never be tamed. Never.
Maxim #17: You can’t have it all
Explanation: As any alcoholic knows, you can’t have both the fun of drunkenness and the freedom of sobriety. Our society gives us the fatal idea that not only are we are entitled to everything, but we can have everything too. As they say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Reason makes it clear that there have to be limitations, and that have some things rule out other things. If you eat your cake, you no longer have it. The devastating myth that sets so many people down the wrong path is that you can sustain contradictions over a lifetime. Throughout life we are faced with many decisions that shape who we are, and the longer you don’t face the real world consequences of your decisions, the bigger you’ll fall when the contradictions manifest themselves in reality.
The truth is that the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion but of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted precisely because most things are permitted and only a few things are forbidden.
- GK Chesterton
Maxim #16: Most things are permitted
Explanation: Human beings are meant to be a festive, celebratory bunch. This past weekend I got to have a festive time with a bunch of people I had never met before. It was a joyful, celebratory time. Good times. There is a whole lot of freedom in knowing that on the whole, most things are permitted. Remember Tolkien’s vision of festivity in The Lord of the Rings? People enjoying each other, lighting fireworks, smoking pipes, drinking the wine, playing games, sitting around a bonfire. Life doesn’t get any better than that.
Corollary: Get the fundamentals down, and you’ll be freed up to enjoy life for the long haul.
Felix qui potuit rerum cognóscere causas - Virgil, Georgics, Book II, line 490
Translation: Happy is the one who knows the causes of things.
Now, at first glance, this might seem like Virgil is advocating philosophical enlightenment or empirical science as the key to happiness. And dozens, maybe hundreds, of philosophers and learned individuals have made this assumption.
But go read Georgics and check out the context in which this line is written. It’s right smack dab in the middle of a poem about bee keeping.
I’d suggest that Virgil is telling us that the key to happiness is understanding how things happen so that we can do them for ourselves, or at least so that we can make sure that things are done well when other people do them.
Maxim #15: Moderation Will Make The Fun Last
Explanation: I love kicking my heavy bag with the Muay Thai roundhouse. Well, I love it so much that I bloodied my right shin up yesterday. That’s what you get when you do too much of a good thing. Enjoy alcohol? Moderation will make the fun last. Else you lose control of your life. Enjoy sweet things? Moderation will make the fun last. Else you lose you control of your waist line. Enjoy video games? Moderation will make the fun last. Else your eyes get all twitchy and blurry. Enjoy philosophy? Moderation will make the fun last. Else you become a cynic, a nihlist or die from a brain cramp.
Maxim #14: Learn to think in probabilities not certainties.
Explanation: There are no guarantees in life. None. Well, none that you really care about. But that doesn’t mean you give up aiming for the best. You want to set yourself up with the best hand possible and then play the cards you have. The nice thing about life is that you have lots of chances to stack the deck in your favor. Want a successful marriage with kids? Don’t settle. Set high standards, know what you want, and choose your environment wisely. Want a stable job? Be willing to do the hard work in a major that most people shy away from because it’s too difficult (the engineering fields come to mind – chemical, electrical, mechanical, computer). None of these things guarantee success, but they drastically increase your chances.
Quantity vs Quality: Sometimes you can increase your probability of success through mere brute force. If you’re desperate for a date, you will most certainly increase your chances of getting a date the more people you ask out. That doesn’t mean you increase your chances of a quality date… necessarily. It all comes down to what you’re looking for in a person. Here’s my theory: quantity vs quality is a false dichotomy, situated in truth. For quantity to yield quality, you must first apply a quality filter and then just persevere. It does no good to take lots of guitar lessons from someone who doesn’t know how to play guitar. Your first task is to find a source of good guitar teachers. Then try a few out. Then select the one that seems to fit you best. Then take lots and lots and lots of lessons. You might even have a few good teachers at once. The point is: quality before quantity… but then quantity all the way. Hell, this might as well be my next Maxim.
Maxim #13: Break the rules… sometimes.
Explanation: Moderation and pacing is the key here. Most rules are good rules. Not all rules are meant to be broken. But sometimes it’s important to let yourself go a bit. To free yourself from the burden of all the minor rules and regulations that hover over your existence. For example, I eat in a Paleo/Primal style (minimal wheats, grains, breads, sweeteners, etc.) But yesterday I cooked the best freakin’ bread pudding ever. I’m glad I gave up that Paleo/Primal rule for a day. Now, I was able to give up that rule because I knew that over the long term it wouldn’t affect my healthy habits. In other words, breaking the rule once was not going to turn into a permanent habit of breaking the rule. If I had been unsure of that, I would have been smart not to break the rule even once. The key here is to know yourself and your limits.