Nothing is Personal
A man gave me the best advice I’ve ever received when I spent a week in the Amazon over two years ago. Never take anything personally.
There, I met some of the most interesting people I’ve talked to. They knew things about life that it would’ve taken me years to find out on my own. It was by far the most important week of my life yet and I doubt it will be replaced. If I hadn’t decided to turn my life around then, I never would have.
Mike was a middle-aged South African. He became my mentor for the week and I will be thankful for a lifetime. He had a youthful look, but he had a talent of giving wise answers to difficult questions. It was apparent that he had accumulated a ton of experience and he decided to share it with me.
I don’t want to downplay the effect all the others had on me. There, I enjoyed the most stimulating conversations with people having very different perspectives, but I don’t think that anything was as beneficial as my discussions with Mike.
"Nothing is ever personal," he once said.
My immediate reaction was to withdraw into a familiar mental space. That granted me a dangerous sense of protection because I was hiding amongst viewpoints I had built up about the world. I knew my opinions so well and felt so comfortable with them that I felt reluctant to consider anything new. I felt threatened.
I had lived all my life accepting that some people are out to get you and that’s just how it is.
Thankfully, I could sense that my worldview wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I pushed back against my instincts and opened myself up to what he had to say. I was at least going to listen and then make up my mind.
Mike never took anything personally, while I, on the other hand, did. Here’s just one example.
Around that time I was getting really into poker. I was even considering about whether I should do that for a living, since I was playing quite often and getting some very good results. I had won more than a few live tournaments. The problem was that it wasn’t making me very happy.
I have an obsession with winning. My competitive spirit is often too much. Thus, when I feel I’m getting cheated I go crazy mad. The issue with poker, though, is that you are bound to have more than a few bad beats. The cards will turn against you and make your hand from a 95% winner to a loser. I know that it’s normal this would happen once in a while. Still, I felt that every time that it did happen, life was cheating me. It was infuriating. I was taking it very personally.
Why does this always happen to me? Why the heck is my luck so bad? Why do the cards hate me so much???
Imagine that - I thought that the cards were hating on me! Because of this, I couldn’t even appreciate when I was the lucky one. Instead of thinking about how great it was, I would tie it back to a previous misfortune. I would figure it was only fair that I get a payback.. As if the cards owed me something.
I was taking the game so personally that it was sucking all the joy out of it.
That’s no way to play a game.
That’s no way to live a life.
Yet, the funny thing is, that since I’ve become more attuned to other people, I’ve witnessed the behavior repeatedly. People are taking things that are way outside of their control very personally.
Can you not think of one example where you are doing that?
You’ve got to stop. I’ve yet to completely stop. It’s hard to do, especially when you’ve been doing it your entire life.
But I promise you, nothing in this life is ever personal. Whether someone does something that is against your interests or whether life itself seems to be against you, there is a reason for why it is all happening. And it has absolutely nothing to do with you.
Stop being so self-centered. Life doesn’t revolve around you or because of you. Others have their own reasons for doing things, just as we have our own reasons for doing things.
Those reasons are never ’because screw that guy, that’s why’.
If someone actually does something for the sole purpose of hurting you, they are not doing it simply because of who you are. It’s likely some perverse thoughts inside of them that are making them do it.. In those cases, I’d argue those people are due more sympathy than you are.
People simply aren’t like that. People are never born evil and vindictive.
"If someone insults you, don’t get sucked into that, because that is his story, not yours," Mike said. "If you take it personally, if you get offended, it only hurts you, it doesn’t help you. Try to accept every situation you are placed in. Only then, you can affect it positively."
If you get sucked into the story you can’t change the story. You have to respect everything that is happening to you for the value that it can add. There’s always something to be learned.
When you refuse to take a situation personally, you not only strip the power from the person trying to affect you, you also gain the ability to deal with it calmly.
Imagine you are in a restaurant. You are very hungry and decide to order a big, delicious steak. Your mouth is watering just thinking about it. Half an hour later, the waiter comes carrying... a fish. What is your first instinct? To get upset, isn’t it? Your options? To yell at the waiter? To wonder why you are so unlucky as to get the most incompetent server there? To storm out? Sure, you can do all of those. But why are you taking it so personally in the first place? Surely, he didn’t mix up your order because he has something against you.
The best course of action is to accept that this is the situation. No matter how angry you get, or how sucked into the narrative you become, you’re not going to have a steak magically appear for you. You have to accept the reality and then figure out the best way to deal with it. If you can’t view a situation impartially, it’s unlikely that you can make the right decisions.
Just accepting that nothing is ever personal has the power to transform you into the most calm and relaxed individual from all your peers.
If something no longer serves its purpose, just thank it and let it go. You will be so much happier in the process.
Here’s something else about taking things too personally. You lose the power of making yourself happy, because you grant it to others. But if you don’t take things personally, suddenly, you gain all the power to make yourself happy. When someone does anything that makes you unhappy, you realize that they didn’t do it just to spite you. Thus, you strip away their power to affect you. It all up to you to look after your happiness and nobody else has the power or intention of ruining it.
Taking this even a step further, here’s another realization. Don’t attach your happiness to activities, because then activities also gain the power to make you unhappy. If something doesn’t go through as planned, it’s not personal and it definitely shouldn’t cause you to become depressed. That’s not going to help anyone.
Because no one is trying to hurt you. No one is here to spite you. No one is here to make you, personally, unhappy.
You’re alive, aren’t you? You’re breathing, you’re listening, you’re seeing. You can smile, you can be joyful, you can play. You are surrounded by beauty, you’re surrounded by magic. You possess the ability to love all of this. You have the capacity to be thankful.
Express gratitude, not exasperation.
And Mike, if you ever read this, I thank you.