How I’m Learning the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I tend to read a lot of self-help books, which are all helpful in their own ways, but Mark Manson's crudely humorous book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck easily takes the cake.

[Book] The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

I recently finished Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. It’s a funny, yet profound book that provides an honest and detached analysis of a variety of different topics — honesty, motivation, identity, and death. Reading this book helped me understand some of the reasons behind why I choose to act or think the way I do and made me realize that a lot of my previous, and even current views are immature.

Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
Photo Credits to Annie Spratt

One of Manson’s main points is about selectively choosing what to care about. In his words, he says “we have only a limited number of fucks to give, so it’s up to us to choose where we want to allocate these fucks”. Today’s society lauds those who are involved in a myriad of jobs or responsibilities. The more obligations an individual appears to juggle, the more successful and involved they appear to be. This is seen most evidently in the lives of high school students applying to college.

Spreading Myself Too Thin

When I was in the process of applying to different colleges, I remember hearing from my classmates, teachers, and parents that colleges like students who had a wide range of different interests and could handle multiple responsibilities at once. By admitting an eclectic student body, these colleges could brand and market themselves as diverse but somewhat exclusive — only granting entry to those that match their criteria. This, in turn, placed a lot of pressure on many high school students to feel the need to hold leadership positions in several clubs or win competitions and awards, including ones they don’t truly care about. Students collect these accolades and titles with the hope that they will appear more competitive and stand out on paper when applying to top colleges.

A post from a college forum showing an applicant's anxiety
A quick Google search for “How Many Extracurricular Activities Should I Have?” shows this forum post from a high school applicant who shares the same anxiety I had when I applied to college.

When I was in high school, I focused primarily on my musical talents to attempt to stand out to more competitive colleges. I played trombone in the school band, violin in the after-school orchestra, and conducted that same orchestra my senior year. One year, I signed up to play timpani in the pit orchestra for the musical The Drowsy Chaperone. For a history project during my junior year, I even wrote a short orchestral piece (complete with lyrics) that was supposed to demonstrate the struggles and emotions of the oppressed during the Chinese Communist Revolution. Generally speaking, I tried to immerse myself in as many music-related endeavors as I could handle.

Yet, when I look back at all these student clubs I was a part of and concerts I attended, I realize I never actively contemplated why I chose to immerse myself in music. Although I loved music, I also had my ulterior motives for doing so. High school was a rough period of time for me, and being an outcast meant finding something that would differentiate me from others. Becoming a multifaceted musician was a façade I created for myself, allowing me to hide my insecurities and internal struggles from others. I wanted others to view me as knowledgeable about many different aspects of music rather than purely learning and improving for my own enjoyment. As a result, I never got the chance to pursue and exceed at any one specific instrument. In other words, I was the jack of all trades, but master of none.

Jack of all trades versus masters of one
A dearth of expertise in several fields usually leads people to become frustrated and stressed when working on a project alone. When multiple specialists work together, collective depth of knowledge leads to open collaboration and more innovative answers. Photo from Shai Aharony

This mindset followed me into college. After I graduated high school, I was unsure of what I wanted to study at Boston University. I entered BU as a math major because I was good with numbers and had a significant amount of math credits coming in. When I found out that so many of my freshman floormates started attending programming and computer science clubs, I tacked on a computer science major, not wanting to feel left out. By the time I graduated, I ended up with three majors — a degree in math & computer science from the College of Arts and Sciences and a general business administration degree from the School of Business.

When it came time to apply for internships and jobs, I realized how difficult it was to brand myself as a generalist. I knew a bit about a bunch of different matters but struggled when it came to understanding the intricacies of any one specific topic because I had to split my time up between three different majors in college. Now that I’m working full time, I realize that pursuing three different majors is both a detriment and a boon. My comprehensive knowledge of so many different topics allows me to understand different systems and business challenges at a deeper level than others who are missing pieces of the puzzle. However, I realize there are people who are more proficient than I am at the individual complexities and responsibilities, whether it be analyzing financial data, computing advanced analytics, or building out the back-end for a web app. Joining the workforce made me realize how important it is to have a specialization or area of expertise, even as a generalist. Less is truly more.

A One-Track Mind

Not giving a fuck about things means not allowing trivial things to phase you. For me, it’s about having a one-track mind to pursue what I want without worrying about what others think. It’s about pursuing the things that excite me and not worrying about the outcome.

Road and sunset
Photo by Peppe Ragusa

After a bit of experimentation and joining different student clubs in college, I now realize that I really enjoy design. Since I was younger, I’ve always had an interest in design, but never considered it a serious career because I was always worried about not being to make enough money as a professional designer. I was fortunate enough to have parents that didn’t restrict my career choices, but would still have to be occasionally be reminded about choosing a secure job that was going to pay the bills. Growing up, I had a very naive outlook on careers in design, believing what others told me about starving artists and lack of job security. But when you love something, you can’t let other things distract you. Today, I know far too many people choosing to major in a particular field or pursue a particular career because of external pressures from others or because it’s a lucrative opportunity.

Instead, I now know that if you get good enough at something you care about, money becomes secondary. There are people out in the world who love what they do and spend time honing their craft each and every single day. Those people aren’t driven by material wealth or status; they’re driven by the desire to challenge and push themselves mentally, fueled by the fire to create and build. Their happiness isn’t defined by their prestige relative to others, nor is it defined by how much money they have in the bank. Happiness should be defined by the interactions you share with others, the non-material goals that drive you to wake up excited every morning, and the ability to express yourself through the pursuits you choose to engross yourself in. With that said, I love design and want to pursue a career in this boundless field. I’ve been held back by inconsequential worries for far too long, but am now excited by the thoughts of what I will be able to accomplish.