A startling outlook for a New Year
By Nancy Norman
I’ve been reading this book which has given me a somewhat awakened outlook for the New Year. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the title because it would offend many readers. But the subtitle is, “A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.”
It’s a best seller by Mark Manson, blogger turned author, whose wisdom is not necessarily new but his gutsy rendition is. He writes with “profane, ruthless humor.” It’s startling, even shocking, but oh so real.
Manson talks about living a “radical form of responsibility: taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault” (my emphasis). It means we are always choosing—not the problems that come our way but which ones to address, the meaning we make of them and our reactions to them. When we face our problems and choose which ones to deal with, we feel empowered.
The goal isn’t to feel better temporarily by finding ways to minimize our challenges through positive thinking or addictive highs. It’s to face them and get on with solving them using our values such as honesty, dependability, kindness, compassion, determination, etc.
Example. My cousin Carol had a beautiful daughter who, at 21, was killed in a car wreck. The choice was obviously not the accident. But what Carol did with it was her choice. The meaning she made of it was her choice. She chose to believe that she can’t know why this happened but the God she believes in had His reasons for taking her daughter. And though the loss is always with her, Carol now goes on to recall the events of her daughter’s life, enjoy her own sisters and friendships, take care of her house and her husband who’s recently had a brain stem bleed. She doesn’t allow her grief to dominate most days. Her solution is to live as fully as possible, never escaping the heartaches.
“Our brains are meaning machines,” Manson says. And the meanings we make out of our experiences aren’t always helpful. One rock star who was kicked out of a band decided it was because he was a failure. So he decided to create a new band and become successful. The problem was his yardstick for measuring success. He believed he had to sell more records than the band he left—then he’d be a success. He went on to sell millions of records, do several world tours, but he didn’t sell more records than his former band. And today, he still considers himself a failure.
Manson stresses evaluating our beliefs to see what needs changing, the willingness to discover our own flaws and mistakes so they can be improved upon, the ability to hear and say NO so as to define what we want in our lives, and contemplating our own mortality to “keep all our other values in proper perspective.”
The full title of this book sounds cynical. It is not. It’s about finding out what really matters in our lives and what’s worthy of our energy and commitment—a New Year’s responsibility.
Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.