Fearlessness is a severely underrated character trait. Cultivating it is difficult and “throwing caution to the wind” is often easier said than done. From cradle to the grave our entire existence is legitimized by external approval, whether it be from other people or the societal standards that are forced upon us.
You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one. – Don Draper
If you ever want to see a bravura work of art go watch the pilot episode of Mad Men. The character of Don Draper had a profound effect on me for not only being a deeply-flawed protagonist you could actually root for (antihero) but also for having the ability to stare into the void and see the world for how it really is, a true maverick in every sense of the word – free from pretension and neediness, the kind of person you’d follow into hell. He never exhibited acceptance-seeking behavior and that’s part of what made him such an effective leader and revered adman.
So how does one arrive at this higher mindset?
Start Welcoming Rejection
I graduated college in the spring of 2007 with nothing but a liberal arts degree and a Chrysler Concorde.
With the great recession looming, I quickly realized that employers weren’t exactly handing out jobs to English Lit majors. There was a three year period where I interviewed for more than forty jobs and received a total 5 offers. If I was a major league baseball player I’d be batting .125 – not good enough to secure a roster spot with the Akron Rubberducks. I’d whip myself into a frenzy, obsessing over why I wasn’t getting any callbacks. My youthful optimism vanished in the wake of constant rejection.
I wandered around aimlessly, working for several startups as an independent contractor. Every venture fizzled out and I was cut loose more times than I’ like to admit. My general outlook on life really started to take shape at this point:
The world is indifferent to your perceived misery. There is no big lie. Society was built on individually-contributed value and if you’re not providing any don’t be surprised if you’re not asked to be a participant.
Struggle is relative. I realize that I grew up with advantages many don’t have. I’ve never gone without running water or a hot meal. I will never be homeless. None of this is lost on me. But no matter what your background or circumstances are, putting a chip on your shoulder is like having jet fuel in your pocket. Effective motivation comes from a place of pain and insecurity. It’s important to have the humility to recognize these sources and harness them.
And it all starts with accepting rejection. Instead of wallowing around in your self-imposed misery hold a mirror up and objectively seek the root causes of your personal failures. There’s a reason behind the constant denial and eventually you have to face it and ask some hard questions.
Everyone Is Fighting A Battle You Don’t Know About
There are more serious situations than not being able to find your dream job. Many people struggle with physical abuse, mental disorders, drug addiction, and deal with external factors that are often out of their control.
No one has a perfect life. Although we try our darnedest to put out the ideal version of ourselves (*cough cough* – social media) we need to have a collective come-to-jesus moment as a culture and take these projections with a grain of salt. You will not see any FaceBook statuses that outline the personal pain one experiences with getting their heart broken or being fired from their job.
Rejection In The 21st Century
Modern rejection comes in the form of getting little-to-no likes on your social media posts. I cannot imagine the effect this has on the impressionable younger generation, who seem to be perpetually glued to their phone screens – living life through their digital surrogates. It’s a competition playing out on a very large scale, controlled by algorithms designed by companies who employ human behavior experts and UX designers to achieve maximum interaction with their respective apps in order to bolster market value and investor confidence.
I am certainly guilty of falling into this trap as well (partially because I’m a competitive person whose job revolves around “steering” people to consume digital content – I have somewhat of an advantage). It hits hard though when you realize that there are no tangible benefits in getting 100+ likes on an Instagram post. The little highlighted heart indicating likes is nothing more than a steady serotonin drip. The parallels between social media obsession and drug addiction are strikingly similar when you consider it in this context.
We are the products. Every picture and status update you post is stowed away in a giant database which in turn is used to build personal profiles which are sold to advertising companies – Big Brother on steroids. The difference being that instead of a dystopian government running it a handful of silicon valley companies are the ones pulling the strings. The scariest part may be our government’s lack of ability to apply the same antitrust regulations on these social media networks as they do with other industries. It’s all moving too fast and the people in power (politicians) are completely out of their element when trying to impose any kind of meaningful sanctions (see the recent Mark Zuckerberg congressional testimony – it seemed like a Saturday Night Live sketch).
How that testimony should have gone down:
What initially started as a way for us to “connect” could ultimately be the knife that does us in.
I think social media could be a beautiful thing if people weren’t so afraid that their controversial opinions wouldn’t get the attention a pretty vacation picture gets.
Attraction Cannot Be Negotiated
(Although women certainly have their struggles in this arena this is aimed more towards men)
I don’t care how much money you have, how good looking you are, or what level of fame you’ve achieved – every (straight) man will be rejected by members of the opposite sex on multiple occasions throughout their lives, whether it be outright or in the form of being ignored or as the kids say “ghosted”. Being denied in this manner chips away at our base biological purpose (procreation) and can have lasting effects on our perceptions of self-worth.
Not helping matters is the way romantic relationships are portrayed in popular culture. Society puts tremendous importance into the concept of “finding the one”. Entire movies are based on this pursuit. It’s rare to have a film or T.V. show where there isn’t at least some kind of romantic subplot.
Most destructive is how these protagonists go about “getting the girl”: we are led to believe that relentless badgering and gifts will steer you into a woman’s heart. These representations are at odds with reality; the awkward nerdy guy rarely gets the girl in the end and it unfairly creates a system where men believe they are “owed” something in return for being “nice” and doing what they’re supposed to do.
She’s Just Not That Into You
This is a tough pill to swallow. A commonly accepted social cue is that she knows within the first 5 minutes of meeting you whether or not she’ll have the ability to see you as a romantic interest. Although friendships are sometimes considered jumping off points they rarely work out for the guy in question. It’s not called the dreaded “friend zone” for nothing.
You cannot take this kind of rejection personally. There are millions of women out there and if you keep plugging away YOU WILL eventually have success. Mulling over what could have been with that one girl is a wasteful way to spend a short life. Your best bet is to keep working on yourself and become the man that gets rejected less with each attempt.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
– Wayne Gretzky
With each denial grow stronger. Use that shit. Any “friend” who gives you grief for striking out with a girl is not a real friend and should be considered a dangerous person to keep in your inner circle.
Trampled Under Foot
The ultimate price one pays for exhibiting approval-seeking behavior is being taken advantage and/or not being taken seriously. There’s no worse feeling than being disrespected.
Respect > Love
Once you figure this out you can truly be free. Love in its traditional sense, is fleeting and conditional. It’s impossible to find inner peace if you prioritize it over respect. To find the love you feel you’re deserving of you need to first cultivate self respect and demonstrate these values publicly.
An integral part of this is having the guff to express your opinions, no matter how unorthodox or controversial they may seem. Who gives a fuck if what you say offends people. We’re not in high school anymore. If someone were to stop being your friend over an opinion you express then they’re most likely not adding to your life anyways.
Highly accomplished people are tough and don’t occupy themselves worrying about what other people think of them. People may HATE Rush Limbaugh for his vitriol and controversial opinions but last time I checked the guy has sold millions of book copies and is worth in excess of three hundred million dollars. He’s not worried about his opinions getting publicly rejected. In fact, people like him most likely welcome this kind of opposition as it drums up publicity for whatever project their working on at the time. If he was worried about people not liking him he would be Bill the History teacher from Levittown, NY instead of a modern-day media mogul.
(I’m not endorsing Rush Limbaugh – just saying that he’s gotten to where he is due to a certain amount of grit and fortitude, the same IDGAF attitude that liberal pundits like Bill Maher possess)
Touching The Void
I’ve been lucky