This book’s subtitle is “A counterintuitive approach to living a good life” and it is littered with profanities, not least in the title. The book references, elements of the things that we think about every day, what’s important and what isn’t. What do we care about and what do we not.
It opens by discussing the impact “trying” has on success, how it can actually creates a negative feedback loop which the author describes as “from hell”. The book encouraged us to think about why we want to read the book. It questions what it is about our lifestyles and our behaviours and our ways of working that we’re not entirely happy with.
Later in the book. Mark Manson highlights that if we want to change something then we already know that, in some measure, we’re failing in some way. We recognise that we are failing to hit the standards, the measures of success, or expectations that we set for ourselves. Whatever that “failure” is it is the driver for change.
Once we accept that the reason that we’re seeking to change is because there is something less than perfect then we are on the way to fixing it. We’re also identifying what we really care about, and if we can reflect on that we will also motivate that change. Yet, if we don’t reflect on what it is then we may find ourselves caring about things that are fundamentally unimportant.
Manson also identifies how happiness can be a problem, rather than a solution. He talks about the disappointment Panda, a wonderful construct that enables us to see our own disappointment personified in a fluffy, sadly disappointed bear. He highlights that emotions, affect our behaviour almost every moment of the day. He invites us to choose the struggles that we want to fight. By the end of the book the point being made is that whilst most people aren’t that extraordinary. Anyone can be special or extraordinary, but only if they don’t try to be. Manson helps us to peel back the onion of our self awareness so that you look at which values that we set for ourselves are good and which bad.
Everything is a choice. Things happen to us, or around us so in the world over which we have no control. We’re not responsible for what’s happened, but we are responsible for how we react to what’s happened. When we play with that responsibility, we can start to recognise that many of the things that we’ve taken as normal actually constrain us. We are architects of our own belief. In so many ways we create the environment in which we exist through our thoughts, our deeds and our actions.
So how possible would it be to create an environment in which we could not just exist, but be happy, and deliver the things that we need to do? I concluded that in many ways the book is describing a paradox, that we chase success, and in doing so fail. How to avoid that? Manson, counter intuitively invites us to fail in order to achieve success.
For me, the closing two chapters were the ones that had the most impact for me. The penultimate chapter looks at the importance of creating the right boundaries. That rejecting the things that affect us poorly can improve our lives enormously. He also highlighted how saying “no” can help to build trust and build it quickly. In general, others respect the recognition we have of our own boundaries, and they see great strength in the ability to say no. Possibly, that comes about because of their reluctance to do the same.
I am minded of a book that we read recently by Chris Voss “Never meet in the middle” about negotiation. One of the things that he advocated in that book was seeking “No” as an answer to the question that you pose in order to find the boundaries. The result is that in the conversations and the negotiations that you have, you can be certain you’re on common ground. The point Manson is making in the Subtle Art, however, is that by saying no we identify where we are prepared to make commitments, the boundaries make it clear. Within those boundaries, our commitments have much more power. That’s why we build trust quickly.
The final chapter reflects on the reality that our lives end in our deaths, it highlight that really the only thing that we should give a f*ck about is that our lives are meaningful to ourselves. He talks about standing on the edge of a high cliff and feeling the wind blowing him in a way that could easily tip him over the edge. In the knowledge that life could end in a moment he never felt more alive. That was a sense that I could relate to.
I think in summary, what this book does is give you the framework in which to reflect on our own situation, our own capabilities and our own choices, and to ask ourselves whether you are caring about the right people, the right things. Are you living the right life? I was left feeling great hope for my aspirations in the knowledge that the changes that I will make as a result of reading this book will help me succeed and make me feel much more alive.
I think too there’s an element here that points to the way that we choose to run, and to build, businesses. Too often in business, we’re focused on doing “the right thing” care more about elements that others care about. I think if we are going to be Building Better Business. We need to make sure that we’re caring about the right things, and shared values with our clients. When we know those things with clarity, when we communicate them with certainty, we build the trust that we need with our clients. That way we are able to be truly Building Better Business for them. Whilst we shouldn’t give too much thought to what they care about, because that is outside our ability to influence. We should care deeply about shared areas where our input, our knowledge, skill, and experience can lift them.
When we do that, we change much more than what they do. We make them who they are.