In the quest to pursue our own wild initiative and craft lives that break free from the mundane, Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck serves as an unconventional guide. This book is far from your typical self-help manual; it’s a raw and unapologetic exploration of what it takes to live authentically in a world that often pushes us in the opposite direction.
The Pursuit of Happiness and the Value of Suffering
Manson kicks off with a powerful challenge to the conventional wisdom that happiness should be our constant state of being and that the relentless pursuit of positivity and happiness can often lead to more suffering. He argues that life is, essentially, a series of problems to solve, and true contentment comes from choosing the problems that align with our values and passions. Instead of running from them, we should confront them head-on, accept that they are an inherent part of existence, and choose our struggles wisely. Manson encapsulates this beautifully: “Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.“
When we chase the idealized notion of constant positivity, we often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of discontentment. As Manson puts it, “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” It’s like that buddy who always knows there’s a bigger, better bull over the next ridge but constantly bitches that he hasn’t filled a tag in over a decade.
In our lives and the wild, we understand that discomfort and trials are not hindrances but rather opportunities for self-discovery. We discover our true capabilities and resilience when we embrace life’s inevitable challenges, setbacks, and discomforts as integral to personal growth. As Manson notes, “The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle.“
The Myth of Exceptionalism
Manson’s exploration of the myth of exceptionalism is a vital lesson for anyone, emphasizing that not everyone can be extraordinary in every aspect of life. Just as not everyone can shoot a record-breaking elk, not everyone can excel in every domain. I speak often about choosing your measures of success. It might be shooting a bigger elk than last year or just as simple as getting within bow range for the first time. These small victories matter because they align with your immediate goals and needs. Mason challenges the societal pressure to be exceptional in all areas and encourages us to focus on what genuinely matters to us.
By accepting our limitations and honing in on what brings us fulfillment, we can redefine success on our own terms. Manson’s words, “Not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” remind us that it’s okay to choose where we invest our energy and passion. Our wild initiative becomes a journey not just toward exceptionalism but also toward authenticity and personal fulfillment. It’s about recognizing that being exceptional at what truly matters to us is the true measure of success.
The Five Counterintuitive Values
Manson then breaks down five counterintuitive values that challenge conventional wisdom about happiness and success. These values—responsibility, uncertainty, failure, rejection, and contemplation of mortality—are the pillars upon which Manson builds this unconventional guide to living a more fulfilling life.
1. Responsibility – Owning Your Life
As Mark Manson clarifies, responsibility isn’t about shouldering the blame for every twist of fate. Rather, it’s akin to the concept of Extreme Ownership, as discussed in the iconic book by Jocko Willink. Responsibility refers to the realization that you possess the agency to shape your life by taking responsibility for your response to those twists of fate.
Sometimes, life nails us like a kick straight to the gut. I vividly recall earlier this year, at the end of a long, hard Montana winter, when my house flooded due to a sudden increase in temperature. Massive amounts of accumulated snow melted in a period of hours, and with the ground still frozen, the water had nowhere to go but straight through my house. Watching a literal wave roll through the surrounding farm fields towards my property, at that moment, I realized that I had no control over the weather, just as I had no control over the almost five feet of water that eventually filled up my basement.
Yet, in that challenging situation, I had the opportunity to take responsibility for my reaction. Instead of succumbing to panic or despair, I chose to stand resolute. I couldn’t change the circumstances, but could control how I responded to them. I took steps to address the situation and found humor in the absurdity of it all.
As Manson aptly puts it, “The more you acknowledge that life is about responsibility, the more power you will accrue.” This experience taught me that responsibility isn’t about control but acknowledging your ability to respond to life’s challenges. It means accepting that you have the power to choose how you react to circumstances. In navigating life’s unexpected floods, taking responsibility empowers you to make deliberate choices, adapt to the unforeseen, and forge your own path.
2. Embracing Uncertainty – Cultivating Doubt
Manson’s second counterintuitive value encourages us to embrace uncertainty by cultivating doubt and being aware of our ignorance. Life, much like the wild, is rife with uncertainties. Will your side hustle flourish, allowing you to transition into it full-time? Can you muster the courage to uproot your life and move to a new state, chasing a dream or opportunity? Perhaps you’re contemplating buying that remote property to build your homestead from scratch. There will never be a safe and certain time to make these leaps.
Embracing uncertainty in these life-changing decisions means acknowledging that we don’t possess all the answers. It’s about being open to learning, questioning our assumptions, and accepting that we can’t predict every twist and turn in our journey. This mindset is profoundly valuable because it equips us to adapt to changing circumstances and glean wisdom from our experiences. Just as a seasoned outdoorsman navigates the complexities of the wilderness, we navigate the uncertain terrain of life’s pivotal moments with resilience, humility, and a willingness to embrace the unknown.
3. Embracing Failure – Discovering Your Flaws
Failure is an intrinsic part of life, and Manson persuasively argues that embracing it is not only essential but enlightening. He aptly states, “Our failures are a direct result of our own poor choices, and our own poor choices are a result of our own limits.“
In the wilderness, every setback becomes a profound lesson. Missing a shot or blowing a stalk may seem like failures, but they’re, in fact, valuable instructors. These wilderness trials illuminate the areas where you need improvement, honing your skills and sharpening your instincts. In much the same way, life’s setbacks are not stumbling blocks but stepping stones to self-improvement.
Think about those countless hunts and stalks that ended in the quiet frustration of an empty freezer. I can’t count the number of times I failed to bring down a deer. Yet, these failures taught me more than my successful hunts ever did. Not just about the technical skills of hunting but, more importantly, about resilience and mental fortitude.
It took me three long, grueling years of spectacular failures, resulting in year after year of an empty freezer, before finally killing my first elk. Those hunts, filled with missteps and disappointments beyond counting, taught me more than my successful hunts ever did. Not just about the technical skills of hunting but, more importantly, about resilience and mental fortitude – how to be relentless in the face of intimidating odds. If I had denied my failures and refused to acknowledge them as vital parts of my journey, I would’ve never learned from them. Instead, they ingrained in me the unwavering determination required for eventual success.
4. Rejection – The Power of No
Manson explores rejection as the fourth counterintuitive value. He emphasizes the significance of asserting and accepting the word “no.” In the context of our daily lives, the power of rejection extends beyond merely saying the word. It’s about establishing clear boundaries and recognizing that not every opportunity or relationship merits pursuit.
Our days on this planet are limited. If you’re anything like me, there’s always a new project, side hustle or grand idea on the horizon. The concept of rejection is profoundly relevant, as it teaches us the art of focus. It encourages us to direct our energies toward endeavors that genuinely resonate with our values and aspirations. It serves as a reminder that setbacks and rejections need not thwart our progress but can instead guide us toward what truly matters.
5. Contemplation of Mortality – Embracing the Inevitable
Manson’s fifth value urges us to contemplate mortality, a concept that might initially sound grim but holds profound wisdom. It serves as a reminder that our time on this planet is limited, and as Manson puts it, “Once you become comfortable with all the challenges that life throws at you, accept them, and even embrace them — no matter what happens — you are still going to die.“
In this philosophy, Manson beautifully intertwines two powerful concepts inspired by the Stoics: Memento Mori, the reminder of our mortality, and Amor Fati, the love of fate. By acknowledging the impermanence of life and embracing every twist and turn of our journey with genuine love, we attain a unique clarity and urgency in our actions. The Stoics believed contemplating one’s mortality leads to a more intentional and meaningful life, a sentiment Manson echoes.
This perspective encourages us to live each day as if it were our last, to seize the present moment, and to cherish every adventure. It transforms the contemplation of death from a morbid thought into a powerful reminder to love and celebrate life, no matter its challenges.
Giving a F*ck About the Right Things
In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson provides a blueprint for those seeking to cultivate the mindset needed to pursue their wild initiative and construct lives that defy convention. He reminds us, “The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less, giving a f*ck about only what is true and immediate and important.” So, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is not about not giving a f*ck; it’s about giving a f*ck about the right things, crafting a life less ordinary, and embracing the wild journey that unfolds along the way.