The Ridiculousness of the “I’m Not Impressed” Facebook Comment

Facebook can be a…uh…special place.  People behave in ways I cannot imagine them behaving in the flesh.  I don’t think this is good or bad, it just is.  Still, it makes for some rather odd and entertaining moments.

The other day I shared a quote from a young college opt-out with whom I was emailing:

“I dropped out of university when I was 19. I had lots of friends there. My grades were great. My future was bright. But I was unhappy and restless. Most of all, I was feeling unfulfilled. So instead of taking out student loans and finishing my degree, I quit.

We talk a lot about “living intentionally.” But during my unfulfilling time at uni, I really came to understand what that means. Going to university right out of high school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t living intentionally. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted out of life, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would be just as clueless and lost upon graduation day.

I didn’t have a business idea or plan for what to do when I quit. I didn’t have a job lined up. I quit uni “the wrong way” according to most people. It was “the risky way,” “the stupid way.” But I survived. I made it work. And I’ve loved every second of the adventure so far.

We’re hardwired for thinking that taking risks and making changes will only end in disaster. We like certainty. We like predictability. We like routines. But there’s a certain danger in routine. Those things that we can “do in our sleep” run the risk of luring us into a slumber we may never wake up from. So I’ll take the discomfort of uncertainty over the slumber of routine each chance I get.”

Cool, right?  It seemed pretty self-evident that I shared this because I thought it was inspiring and some of the many other young people I know who are slowly decaying in college but are afraid to buck social and parental pressure might take heart in her story.

It got some likes and shares, and then this comment popped up:

“This sort of thing brings out the grumpy old man in me. She quit college at 19 and now she all of 20 and not dead yet. What an inspiration! Insert sardonic face here. How much of a risk is she taking? I bet she has parents backstopping her. And I’m supposed to be inspired by her and follow her on Twitter and soak up all her wisdom? Give me a break. I’ll change my tune when she actually, you know, does something.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  So many hilarious thoughts went through my head.  I don’t normally respond to comments, but considering this girl was insulted by a stranger after I shared her story, I thought I’d post something to stick up for her just a bit.  I had a lot of ideas for responses, but opted to keep it simple with this:

“I think you underestimate just how much pressure young people face to unthinkingly go to college whether they gain anything from it or not. I share this not because this young lady has “arrived”, whatever that means, but because it takes a ton of courage to stop and think about your own life and live it on your terms instead of the conveyor belt you’re pressured into.

Anyone who’s not just bobbing in the current deserves respect.”

There was so much more to say about the comment though.  Here are some of the other responses I considered…

Thanks for your comment!  Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the intended audience. Maybe you don’t need to follow her on Twitter for inspiration. Maybe middle-aged dudes who are not facing challenges similar to a 19-year-old aren’t supposed to be inspired by her.  Maybe somewhere, some other 19-year-old hates school and is scared to death to face the social pressure of doing something more tailored to her.  Or maybe she should be chastised for not doing something impressive to you yet…

Thanks for your comment!  I wonder what “done something” means?  Could you define what activities and achievements this young lady must complete before she is allowed to have a website or talk about her story in her about section?  What challenges are big enough that she should be allowed to talk about them?  To what authorities should she appeal before sharing her journey or posting a Tweet?

Thanks for your comment!  You’re right, no one is really inspiring who hasn’t succeeded.  Then again, what’s the definition of success if not living a fulfilling life with pride in your choices and accomplishments?  If she earned a million dollars and hated her life and felt shame for her choices, would she be inspiring?  She clearly said this was a big challenge for her to overcome, she did it, and now she’s happy.  Is that not success because you think that challenge would have been easy for someone else?

Thanks for your comment!  FWIW, this young lady is working at a business in Poland right now and started her own accent reduction service for non-native English speakers on the side.  But that’s not relevant.  What’s relevant is that you were offended by the fact that her story was not directly inspiring to you.  Sorry about that!  In the future I’ll make sure to ask if what I post is personally inspiring to you, even if you’re not the intended audience.  I’ll also advise this young woman to seek your permission before feeling proud or sharing her story in the future.

Thanks for your comment!  Let me see if I can boil down the heart of it in summary:  You’re upset because something someone posted to Facebook doesn’t inspire you.  Your post could be shortened a bit to, “I’m not impressed.”  Got it.

Thanks for your comment!  Though it does bring out the grumpy young man in me.  So you’re all of middle-aged-something, you shot down a young stranger’s story on Facebook, and you’re not dead yet.  What, you want me to follow you on Twitter now to soak up more of your dismissive derision?  Please.  Call me when you’ve, you know, done something that piques my interest.

I decided not to post any of those.  It seemed like it would have been mean.  Plus, the Facebook inspiration police might have swarmed and pointed out with deep insight and profound erudition that they’re not impressed anyway.  That would have been crushing.

Check out this podcast episode about call-out culture and the dangers of playing the critic:

Episode 2: TK Coleman on Comments, Critics, and Call-Out Culture


Fear of Success is a Thing Too

The stoic approach has a lot going for it.

Contrary to “name it and claim it”, Law of Attraction kind of practices, stoicism admonishes not to fill your head with visions of utopia.  It takes the opposite tack.

Mentally explore the worst case scenario and familiarize yourself with it.  This prepares you emotionally to handle whatever comes.  By preparing for the worst you’ll be unshakeable when anything less occurs.

It’s a valuable life philosophy for dealing with fear of failure.  When you’ve already experienced failure mentally and realized it’s not all the bad, you gain a kind of invincibility not devoid of reason and realism.  You become what my friend TK Coleman might call a “Tough-minded optimist.”

But failure is not the only fear that holds us back.  Fear of success is a thing too.

What if you launch your blog or produce your movie or sell your new product and it actually takes off?  What if you go viral?  What if you have more demand than you can keep up with?  What if people start writing news stories about you?  What if your success presents you with the decision of whether to quit your day job and redefine yourself?  What if you threaten the status quo?  What if people start suing you?  What if people write articles about how much you suck?  What if all your acquaintances start asking you for jobs and money and favors?  What if big investors want to fund you but only if you move to a new city?  What if your quiet evenings at home with your loved ones and Netflix become impossible to maintain along with your new endeavor?

If you really succeed some of these things will happen.  They are at least as scary as failure and the stoic approach might cause you to avoid imagining them ahead of time.  It’s arrogant to close your eyes and feel the experience of wild success, right?  It’s delusional and might keep you from being able to handle failure, right?

Maybe if that’s all you ever imagine.  On the flipside, if you’re only every braced for failure you might be blindsided by success and crumble, or worse yet never go hard after it due to latent fear of its unknown rewards and challenges.

One of those cheesy evangelical phrases I grew up around is pretty accurate here.  “Another level another devil”.  Maybe now your problems and fears loom large.  If you don’t get the job you won’t know how to pay rent.  Yet if you succeed in a big way your problems and fears become more, not less serious.  If you don’t land the deal you’ll have to fire thirteen good employees and they won’t know how to pay rent.  Success can be scary stuff.

If the stoic experience of mentally living through the worst-case is the antidote to fear of failure then I suggest the opposite is the antidote to fear of success.

Envision your best-case.  Envision having millions of fans or dollars.  Envision wild success and its attendant obligations and challenges.  Really, seriously explore what you would do right now if you had it.  It presents more challenges than most are willing to acknowledge.

I don’t know about the effectiveness of envisioning your goals as a way to achieve them, but I still think it’s important to envision success as a way to overcome your fear of it.

Humility Also Means Ignoring Input

Humility is a weird concept.  It’s easily associated with things like meekness, deferential behavior, lack of confidence, and wishy-washiness.  But these are not genuine humility.

Humility is the willingness to see yourself as you truly are.

Valuable humility is simply a recognition of your position in the vast universe.  It is a recognition of your identity separate from your roles or relative ranking to others.

Sometimes that means seeing that you are incorrect, and you’re not a big deal.

Of course, you’re not unimportant to you or those around you or even to the world.  But on the cosmic scene what you eat for breakfast isn’t a big deal.  Neither is who you’re dating or what you’re wearing.  But what’s especially unimportant is what others think of you.  Humility reminds you of this.

Sometimes humility means seeing that you are correct, and you are a big deal.

Humility is not about taking everyone else’s view of you seriously or trusting your own ideas less than others.  Paradoxically, that’s pride (in one of the few ways pride can be negative).  It’s pride because it’s concerned with how you appear to others.  It’s concerned with saving face.  It moves the locus of control and the definition of success from you to external forces and slavishly adapts to those.

Pride wants you to please everyone.  Pride wants you to come off looking good.  Pride always looks for an excuse to hide behind.  “I did it because I had to”, or, “I was giving my customers what they wanted”, or, “I was just following the expert’s advice”.

Humility recognizes that you might be wrong and look a fool, but it doesn’t care.  When you see that you’re not that important, being right or looking cool suddenly don’t much matter.

Humility recognizes that you’re sometimes right and other’s advice could be wrong.  It takes humility to ignore advice or common wisdom and do what you know to be true.  You’re exposed.  You have no fallback and no one to blame.

Humility is knowing who you are and owning it when it’s easy and when it’s not.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re practicing the virtue of humility because you’re denying yourself and your ideas and responding to everyone else’s.  That’s fear.

Be humble enough to see yourself as you truly are, both when you are right and when you are wrong.  Be humble enough to take advice when it’s good and ignore it when it’s not.

What If My Kids End Up As Failures?

I write and podcast a lot about unschooling, entrepreneurship, liberty, living a free and self-directed life, etc.  Because of this it’s easy to feel pressure regarding my own kids.  What if they don’t turn out all right?  What if they become unhappy status-driven school-loving commies?  Wouldn’t that invalidate everything I talk about?

From a logical standpoint, no.  A person who secretly eats meat can have sound and compelling arguments for vegetarianism.  A person who could never play quarterback might be a great coach.  A bad mother might be a good thinker.

True, most people might ignore all ideas from someone whose life they don’t admire.  Post a good quote from a controversial famous person and you’re likely to have more people condemn the person than the quote.  Whether or not it’s fair, it will happen.

I’ve always been bothered by this way of evaluating ideas.  My arguments are either interesting and useful or they’re not, regardless of my unseemly personal tendencies like the occasional wearing of jorts.  I don’t feel much personal pressure to behave in any particular way in hopes that it makes my writing more appealing.  I can’t imagine doing so.  What a yoke to live under!  Yuck.

With kids it’s different.  Not in kind, but in degree.  The idea that what my kids do with their lives should be a determinant of whether what I write is good or bad strikes me as vastly more offensive.

If I’m a theist and my kids grow up atheists does that make me a failure?  Does it invalidate theism?  I may be a failure and theism may be invalid, but not because of what beliefs and behaviors my kids adopt.

If we were to say that me or my ideas could be considered bogus if my kids did not adopt them and mirror my life, what would we really be saying about children?  The implication is that a child is not an autonomous being capable of making choices and forming beliefs – good or bad.  The implication is that children are sponges who ought to and do, if properly trained, become whatever their parents wish them to be.  This is an idea I find disgusting.

Whatever environment we create for our kids they still have the freedom to choose the kind of life they want to live.  They have to go through their own process of discovery.  My hope is that, if we can maximize opportunities, minimize impediments, and avoid emotional damage, it will be easier for them to choose to live free and wonderful lives.  But here’s the kicker: free and wonderful must be defined by them, not me.

True, non-envious, non-manipulative love is when you desire other people to experience happiness on their own terms.  It’s pretty hard, but when you feel it it is delightful.  It’s like you get to live additional lives when you can truly take joy in other people taking joy.

Yes, I feel waves of panic from time to time when I consider how my own kids might choose to live their lives, both now and in the future.  But I fight it.  I take that pressure off myself as best I can.

I don’t feel obligated to have my kids be or think or do anything in particular in order to validate things I think and live.  They can choose whatever they want.  They’re on a journey to find truth just like I am.  Their journey can’t invalidate mine, nor mine theirs.

How Obsession with Options Can Blind You to Opportunities

One of the first steps in your personal emancipation is to realize that the world is full of options, and the few things currently in front of you are not the only from which to choose.  But there is a difference between options and opportunities.

Options are theoretical.  Opportunities are actual.  Options are statistical probabilities.  Opportunities are singular, concrete instances.  Options can always be added on, and the option set can always grow as an aggregate bundle, so there is no urgency or scarcity in options.  Opportunities are temporary and cannot be aggregated.  Each is too unique and cannot be replicated.

The finite nature of each individual opportunity can be scary.  It feels more comforting to stay in the abstract world of options than to jump in to a real opportunity, which immediately reduces the set of theoretical other options.

Options thinking can be useful to gain some big picture long term perspective, but it’s a dangerous mindset too because it can blind you to opportunities or limit the ways you can gain from them.  Here are three of the downsides to thinking about options instead of opportunities.

Too Good for That

Because options are a giant aggregate of all possible activities, the field will always look better than a specific, individual opportunity.  When you know that the field is available to you (in theory) real actions always seem a little less glamorous.  The problem is that the field is not available to you.  Your life isn’t like gambling.  You can’t pick the field.  You have to settle on specific actions.  Grumpiness can result when you do specific things but obsess about keeping your options open.  You’ll always think you’re too good for whatever you’re doing and never fully throw yourself behind it.  This will, paradoxically, further limit your options as those around you will tire of your attitude of superiority and belief that, if you wanted to, you could be doing something better.  It keeps you from entering in to the moment and doing your best work.

Myth of the Perfect Path

The purpose of options is to be able to choose one or more at some point.  But after spending a lot of time expanding your theoretical option set towards this end pressure can begin to build.  When you finally do choose something specific, you’d better get it right.  Options thinking can make you so aware of opportunity cost (or in many cases, imagined, theoretical opportunity cost) of foregone activities that it puts an unbearable burden on whatever you do choose to be perfect.  This short-circuits the best of all human learning techniques, trial and error.  No trial occurs when error is so feared.  The endless keeping of options open in search for the perfect assumes too much about your ability to know all variables – including your own changing desires and interests – and deprives you of one of the best discovery tools, failure.  All this stress about choosing the mythical one true path leads to another problem.

Paralysis by Analysis

The ceaseless break-down comparisons, the cost-benefit analyses, the consideration of these seemingly weighty matters can itself become an activity so consuming it prevents you from all others.  You can become bogged down in a quagmire of strategic planning and never take the definite actions necessary to achieve anything.  The real problem is that inaction is also an action.  Not choosing is a choice.  Waiting, watching, thinking on the sidelines has a cost that’s even higher than the cost of choosing an imperfect opportunity.  When you take opportunity B it means you can no longer take A or C.  That’s the cost.  But the benefit is you get whatever goodness is to be had from B, and the self-knowledge of how well B suits you.  Even if you fail at it you gain something.  When you get stuck analyzing all three options you not only miss out on A and C, but you forgo the benefits of B as well.

Expanding your options set can be intoxicating.  For a time, it feels so fast paced and exciting.  I could do anything!  Why would I do this one thing when I could keep entertaining all the possible things I could do in my mind?

It’s alright to play with your options and expand them and think about them from time to time.  But you’ve got to put options in their place as subordinate statistical playthings when compared to opportunities.  Options don’t change the world or the holder of them.  Actions do.

Maybe You Should Feel More Fear

Zak Slayback and I were talking about some people we’d recently met who desperately wanted to do something exciting and new, but in the end they couldn’t pull the trigger.  I told him I was surprised by how much fear can hold people back.  Zak’s insightful response was that their problem wasn’t too much fear, but too little.  Too many people will do anything to avoid the experience of feeling afraid, and if more people would embrace it, they’d be happier.

As usual, I stole this wonderful conversation and turned it into a blog post.  It’s up today at the Praxis blog, where I riff a bit on this theme.  Thanks Zak!

From the post:

“If we believe that experiencing the emotion of fear is the worst possible thing we can go through, we will do only those things that are not accompanied by that emotion.  We’ll stay safe, stay home, stay in he comfort zone, only try what we’re already good at, only talk to who we already know.  The avoidance of experiencing fear is a recipe for stagnation.”

Read the whole thing here.