It’s taken me a long, long time to master the art of not giving a shit. I used to get furious, desperately frustrated, sad, and anxious over things people said or did, or stuff that happened, when really that stuff and those people had very little real impact on me, my work, or my life. I think it’s the most valuable skill we can learn: to not be affected by things that don’t matter. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it.
But it really is a challenge if you struggle with issues such as anxiety, and a lack or skewed sense of self-worth. The smallest events and words can unhinge you completely and stay with you for ages (perhaps even forever), simply because you overthink them and they chip away at the already thin thread by which your self-confidence hangs.
It took me way too long to realise what’s worth getting angry over or affected by, and what isn’t. There are lots of things about which I care deeply, including my friends, my students, my research, my pets, and the beliefs (political and otherwise) that underpin my actions, my work, and how I relate to others. They’re worth my time, my effort, my physical and emotional energy.
There are many, many more things that aren’t. A rude email. An administrative understanding. An (intentionally or unintentionally) unkind word or action from a colleague. My puppy peeing allover my living room floor during a date. (Ok, that was pretty awkward, but I think everyone involved handled it pretty well. Man has returned for date since, though admittedly I made sure the dogs were out of the house that time.)
The question that has been useful again and again for me is: “Does this have any real effect on my life or my job?” And by real effect I mean beyond the stuff I make up in my head. I mean is this going to get me fired, will it cause trouble for colleagues, or will it have a lasting impact on my career or my work as a member of the department? Does it really matter if this or that person seemingly doesn’t like me anymore because I said something in a meeting (and likelihood is they don’t even remember by now; they like me just as much or little as they did before)? Is there really any point in getting upset or worried over a deadline? There are really very few real emergencies in academia, yet it strikes me that every deadline and every smallest task is often made (often by ourselves) into some sort of code red event.
That’s not to say, of course, that nothing is important, and that no deadline ever matters. But it’s important to be aware of what the real impact on yourself and on others is in order to judge whether something is even close to being worth worrying about. One of the things that has helped with this, too, are mindfulness exercises, and in particular an app called Calm Down Now. I realise this doesn’t work for everyone, but simple, short exercises that ground you and remind you of things to be thankful for can be a great way to put things into perspective.
So, the next time you can feel yourself getting worried, upset, or angry about something, ask yourself if it really matters. Does it change who you? Does it change what you do? Is it worth wasting energy on? If the answer to these is “no”, or if you’re still in doubt, then just look at Barnaby’s best “Who gives a shit” face for inspiration. And then go and do something that matters. Speak to someone who is important in your life. Or give your dog a high five. Focus on the good stuff.