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Home / Success & Failure  /
The Fine Art Of Not Giving A Shit
not giving a shit

If only shrugging everything off were so easy


If there is one consistency in life which applies to us all, it's not getting what we want when we want it.  A lot of us probably think this "rule" doesn't apply to the rich, famous, or well connected who seem to have it all.  Yet if you were to poll even this privileged minority, you would see that not even they get whatever they want whenever they want it.  

Because not everything, despite what disillusioned skeptics say, can be assigned a dollar value.   Some things cannot be purchased.   Rupert Murdoch, current net worth $12.5bn, is in the process of getting his third divorce.  While his multibillion dollar fortune can certainly buy him an inexhaustible supply of women willing to marry him, harems, and S & M orgies, it cannot buy him a stable partner he's happy with - if he even values that.  Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, was the richest man in the United States when he died of blood cancer at age 74.  His vast mother lode couldn't buy him more time.  Ross Perot was worth over $3bn when he ran in the presidential election of 1992 as an independent.   Yes, presidential elections are bought and sold, and huge sums are always involved, but the winner isn't necessarily the guy with the biggest wallet.   How likeable you appear to be plays a huge role.  Those in the political arena call this the "beer test" - who would a typical voter prefer to have a beer with?

It is said that money just makes you more of what you already are.  If you're an egomaniac with a net worth of $5m, you'll be an even bigger a-hole when your net worth is $50m.  If you're generous with $1m, you'll be that much more so with $100m.   Money can't make you what you're not or buy you what can't be bought.  

So I don't consider it a radical statement to state, as truth, that none of us get what we want when we want it all the time.  And, in fact, we're better off that we don't.  Most of us value something by how hard we have to work for it  or how much we have to sacrifice to attain it.  Who isn't familiar with the spoiled rich kid who, gifted whatever he pleases, treats luxuries as playthings?   He'll crash his Ferrari on Friday and show up with the Lamborghini on Monday.  When it's handed to us like a coin we pick up off the street, we can toss it away as easily as we found it.  

A good share of the time, we don't really want to get whatever we want whenever we want it.  Good leaders have teams of subordinates aid them in their delegation of power.  Is it in the leader's best interest to always have his subordinates agree with him?  This does happen in Mafioso type situations, where the leader uses intimidation and peer pressure to sway naysayers from doing anything but tow the party line.  But in the corporate world, the better leaders value opposing opinions as long as they can be backed up.  The leader may ultimately discard these differing opinions, but his final decision could still be shaped or altered by the different opinions he was willing to listen to.

My wife and I don't always agree on everything.   Where to go for dinner tonight?  She'll want Korean, I'll want Indian.  Usually, I'll defer to her.  Would I be happier if she always decided whatever I wanted whenever I wanted?  I've been with women like that before.  There's an old saying that if two bosses in a company always agree, you've got one boss too many.  You don't want everyone to agree with you all of the time or even most of the time.  

Sound crazy?  Well, how does it feel to engage in a hopefully constructive discussion with someone and just have him or her agree with you after you've advanced but a minute of your first argument?  I've been there, and it's not very fulfilling to gain another's agreement because s/he wants to get you to shut up or because his or her mind can't be troubled to think about a topic long enough to see that the points you're advancing have some validity.  What you really want is to convince the other person of your viewpoint, through elicited Q & A, not get them to adopt it wholesale because you said so.  Getting agreement handed to us on a platter isn't what most of us are looking for.    We think we want it whenever we want it, but life would lose its flare if everyone always fell into line after a minute or two of conversation.  Few people are that convincing.

What would actually please us is to get a good share of the things we want within a reasonable amount of time of expressing the desire.  Reasonable, of course, varies by the thing desired and how patient a disposition we have.  

This involves a tremendous balancing act.  If the ‘reasonable' amount of time is too short and the desired thing winds up in our lap almost with no effort or struggle, we devalue it.   But if it never appears to get any closer, we get discouraged and depressed and possibly give up, which doesn't make us feel any better.  

Indeed, it's a hard one to call, and if you go on the internet looking for advice on how to achieve your desires, you'll receive what look like conflicting accounts.   "Be focused on what you want.  Think about it all the time.  Always be closing in on the distance between you and what you want."   And on the other side:  "Don't obsess over the thing desired.  Be infinitely patient.  Know it's coming, but be detached from the outcome."  The two seemingly contradictory pieces of advice can be reconciled if you can manage to master the fine art of not giving a shit.  

I'm not going to recite to you a long list of new age aphorisms I've borrowed from other authors or self proclaimed internet sages.  I'd feel like a hypocrite doing that.  I haven't obtained most of the items on my own list.  So by what authority do I have to advise you on how to obtain for yourself the items on yours?  

This isn't to say that I've achieved nothing and gone absolutely nowhere.  Some things in my life have worked, and they only worked out because I didn't give a shit.  

Now, not giving a shit doesn't mean not caring.  It means not obsessing over an outcome when there's nothing more in your power you can do to favorably alter it.  If you buy a lottery ticket for a drawing next week, how do you make yourself better off by worrying whether you really picked the right numbers in all the days leading up to the big event?  

The lottery is an extreme example.  A lottery outcome remains completely outside one's control.  Better real life examples would be ones in which your actions can impact the final result -- like the search for a significant other.  

I use the significant other example because it appears on the top of everyone's wish lists again and again.  Few of us dream of ending up alone, so much so that we're willing to settle for something less than our ideal in order to lock somebody in.  

Obtaining a partner isn't all that hard, and if you're wealthy, you can pay agencies hefty fees to find a match for you.  A partner can be bought … literally.  But what about finding someone truly compatible, who loves you for who you are, who makes you a better person, who agrees with you just enough times to not be a hassle but disagrees just enough to challenge you and expose you to other influences?  Billions of dollars are not the most fruitful for making this happen and may make the task harder. Nothing brings out gold diggers quicker than glistening piles of money.  

You have to care enough about influencing the outcome to emerge from your homestead and interact with people.  Locking yourself in your study and cutting yourself off from all humanity doesn't even place you on the playing field.  But once you start doing the interacting, it's very important to start not to give a $)@*@$(.    You care enough to show up and put your best foot forward.  Period.  You don't stress the details after that.    

If you keep pushing too hard, you move into desperation territory, and desperation never works ... in any endeavour.  I wish I could say dogged perseverance always got the job done.   Unfortunately, it doesn't.  I think back to my own past, to girls I liked, questioning how long I should wait before I made the next call, wondering if I said the right things.  In nearly all the cases, even if the girl did respond to my overtures, I handled it poorly.  I gave a shit.  And the result was that I attracted less than optimal females.  

With my own wife, I can proudly say I practiced what I'm preaching.  I met her by chance, in a foreign city I initially didn't intend to stay in for more than one week, but where I eventually made a home for four years and got married.  I was introduced to her by a mutual friend who was NOT trying to set me up.  This mutual friend actually told me and another friend, Bean, that my future wife was attracted to Bean instead.  

This was erroneous information, but I believed it to be true at the time, and so I was inadvertently done a great favor.  I stepped back and assumed the attitude of not giving a shit.   It wasn't an act.  As hard as it was for me to believe she was attracted to Bean over myself - today, it's evident that her ever being attracted to Bean is utterly preposterous - I accepted it as the truth then.  If it were really Bean who tickled her fancies, then my personality wasn't suited for her, and I'd be doing neither of us a favor by desperately trying to force us together.   She went on one disastrous date with Bean and terminated him as an option immediately.  The rest of the steps just fell into place, with me virtually being led down a path to the most fulfilling relationship I'd ever had.   I've never had to do less work to make a relationship happen.  

For the last four months, I've been diligently sending out marketing e-mails to various schools to promote a series of non-fiction guide books I've written.  The results have been less than ecstatic.  A month into the project, I stopped expecting any of the schools to respond to my e-mails directly and instead coded my e-mails to track potential prospects' clicks.  These results were more encouraging.  I could see some prospects return to my site multiple times.  After sending out a few more follow up messages and still not getting any commitments, I decided to take a page out of my own book:  stop giving a shit.    I've offered up all the compelling reasons why the books are worthwhile at the prices I'm charging.  I've invited them to ask me questions.  I've shot down every objection I could think of ahead of time.   Getting more desperate and going down on one knee to beg schools to reconsider isn't going to open the floodgates.   Not giving a shit might.    

Desperation itself doesn't jeopardize an agenda if no one knows you're desperate.  Apparent desperation is the real deal breaker.   Even a desperate woman would be loath to respond to the advances of a desperate bachelor.  Desperate businessmen cut lousy deals that rarely serve them best over the long term.   Businesses desperate for clients repel them.  Desperation is like a massive 360-degree invisible pushing force clearing away anything coming into contact with it.  Anyone sane flees in the face of it.  

Mastering the fine art of not giving a shit is another side of the same coin of mastering the art of perseverance.   Give up too easily and you're a quitter; don't give up at all despite no progress and you're a desperate idiot.   Kate Winslett, of Titanic fame, allegedly sent director James Cameron a bouquet a roses with a note that she was his Rose for the movie.   Is that perseverance or is that desperation?  Everyone calls it perseverance because she got the part and the movie was one of the top ten most successful films of all times.  If she hadn't been cast and had kept soliciting Cameron with notes and gifts, she'd be called a stalker.  

You have to care enough to put yourself there in the first place, but not care so much that your world is torn asunder when the outcome doesn't materialize as desired.  The mystics call this infinite patience.  In reality, we cannot be infinitely patient because none of us has an infinite amount of time.  Infinite patience is more of a thought experiment.  If you had infinite time for anything to happen and you knew everything transpires in its own good time, would you still be giving a shit?  The idea behind infinite patience is another of life's many ironies:  if you're so infinitely patient that you sincerely don't give a shit anymore, whatever it is you're desiring, cleared of desperation, is more likely to land in your lap.  

Not giving a shit is a fine art, like consummate acting.  To the observer, the practitioner looks like he's doing nothing, but he's actually doing just enough of something to convince you he's doing nothing.  That is the art.  You cannot not give a shit to the point where you don't care about the outcome at all, like I might feel about the annual Academy Awards or the latest football game results.  You need to care just enough and no more.  

Prosperity is just around the corner if you're not looking too hard for it.  Stop giving a shit, and you'll make a fortune.    


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