Table Of Contents

Discovering Success Without Trying Too Hard

What I'll Be Covering..

1. Introduction

In a world obsessed with the pursuit of success, happiness, and perpetual self-improvement, the notion of ‘Don’t Try‘ will strike a somewhat jarring mantra to many of us. This concept, brought to the forefront by Mark Manson, challenges commonly held notions about what it means to succeed and be happy. Perhaps the best way we can understand it is through the story of Charles Bukowski, a man whose life story reads more like a cautionary tale than a blueprint for success and fulfilment.

Bukowski, an alcoholic, a womaniser, and an unapologetic gambler, was, by most societal standards, a failure for the better part of his life. His poetry and writing, often raw and unfiltered, were repeatedly rejected. His days were spent in a haze of alcohol, low-paying jobs, and unrelenting rejection. Yet, Bukowski’s story took an unexpected turn. In his fifties, he finally got a break. His novel, “Post Office“, became a success, and he went on to publish numerous books, gaining fame and recognition he never sought.

Despite a life marred by alcoholism, gambling, and societal rejection, Bukowski's achieved fame and success.
Despite his struggles with alcohol, Bukowski attained fame and success.

The paradox of Bukowski’s success story is encapsulated on his tombstone, etched with the words “Don’t Try”. It’s an epitaph that seems to laugh in the face of the conventional narratives we’ve been fed about what it means to succeed in life for one simple reason: Bukowski’s life and success weren’t the results of a tireless pursuit of greatness; they were the by-products of his unflinching acceptance of who he was, in all his flawed glory.

In this article, I dive into the intriguing paradox exemplified in Bukowski’s story, exploring how his philosophy of ‘Don’t Try’ can unexpectedly lead a truly contented life, not by tirelessly ‘grinding,’ attempting to conform to societal standards of success, but by boldly being nothing more or less than our true selves.

2. The Unconventional Wisdom of Charles Bukowski

So who was Bukowski? The controversial American poet and novelist, born into the tumult of the 1920’s, wasn’t your run-of-the-mill hero; he was anything but. An unrepentant alcoholic, a self-confessed womaniser, and a habitual gambler, Bukowski’s life was punctuated by a series of misadventures and missteps that would make even the most liberal of us raise an eyebrow.

Yet, within this chaos of a life, Bukowski found a peculiar sense of freedom—a freedom that came not from chasing dreams, but from the radical acceptance of who he was, warts and all. “Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning,” he wrote, “and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside—remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.”

This man didn’t grind his way to the top; in fact, for the longest time, he didn’t seem to be going anywhere at all. Rejection was a constant companion in his early writing career. His work was often dismissed as crude, distasteful, and devoid of any literary merit. But Bukowski wasn’t one to play by the rules or pander to the tastes of the literary elite. He wrote in the only way he knew—raw, unfiltered, and unabashedly honest.

“I will remember the kisses, our lips raw with love and how you gave me everything you had and how I offered you what was left of me, and I will remember your small room; the feel of you, the light in the window, your records, your books, our morning coffee, our noons, our nights — our bodies spilled together sleeping, the tiny flowing currents, immediate and forever, your leg, my leg, your arm, my arm, your smile and the warmth of you — who made me laugh again.”

In his fifties, a twist of fate finally came knocking: An offer from a small independent publisher changed the course of his life. But even then, Bukowski’s response wasn’t one of eager anticipation but rather a shrug of the shoulders, an acceptance of whatever came his way. His first novel, “Post Office”, was a reflection of his own life—unpretentious and brutally honest. It wasn’t written with the goal of bestseller lists or literary accolades in mind; it was, quite simply, Bukowski being Bukowski.

The irony of Bukowski’s success is not lost on those who study his life. It’s almost as if the less he cared, the more he achieved. His fame and popularity grew, not because he strove for them, but precisely because he didn’t. His writing resonated with people, not in spite of his flaws, but because of them.

3. Stop Trying So Hard

Bukowski’s life is a slap in the face to the traditional success-narratives we’ve been fed through social media platforms like LinkedIn, TikTok and Instagram. Picture the online influencer Alex Becker recording videos with Lamborghinis in his garage, or how about Gary Vee ‘making it big against all the odds’? It’s worth asking: are these successes even all they’re cracked up to be, or are they just well-packaged myths, selling us an illusion wrapped in glitzy marketing speel?

The toxic world of influencer lifestyles and quick internet success breeds discontent.
The toxic world of influencer lifestyles and quick internet success breeds discontent.

For one thing, the problem with these influencer lifestyles, this ceaseless race for more, is that it blinds us to the joys of the here and now. We become so fixated on the pursuit, so engrossed in reaching the next milestone, that we fail to appreciate the beauty of the present. It’s like going on a scenic hike but being so obsessed with reaching the summit that you don’t notice the breath-taking views along the way. The flowers, the birds, the gentle rustle of the leaves in the wind—all missed because your eyes are glued to the top of the mountain.

Another interesting point raised by Manson is the “Backwards law“—the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it. For instance, we seek ways to make more money because we feel we don’t have enough, or we engage in affirmations of beauty because we don’t feel beautiful. But this relentless pursuit of self-improvement only serves to remind us repeatedly of our shortcomings and what we perceive as failures. The more desperately one wants to be rich, sexy, happy, loved, or spiritually enlightened, the more one feels poor, unattractive, lonely, and shallow. 

“Those who escape hell, however, never talk about it and nothing much bothers them after that.”

And it is in fact so much worse than that: this relentless pursuit of positivity sets us all up in what Manson aptly dubs the “Feedback Loop from Hell”. It’s like having a small itch and scratching it so vigorously that it turns into a festering wound. You feel a bit down because, let’s face it, life sometimes hands you a raw deal. But instead of acknowledging these feelings, you berate yourself for feeling bad because, hey, you should be positive all the time! In essence, this creates a cycle of guilt about feeling bad, which makes you feel worse, leading to more guilt, and so on. It’s a never-ending carousel that leaves you dizzy with unhappiness, all because you were trying too hard to stay on the horse of relentless positivity.

And even if, by some stroke of luck, we do get what we want, we’re left wondering, “Is this it? Was this what I was running so hard for?” In our relentless pursuit of this dream, we must be willing to ask ourselves: Are we truly chasing what we want, or are we just running away from contentment, always reaching for the stars but forgetting to keep our feet on the ground?

3. The Trap of Toxic Positivity

In an era where the mantra of “stay positive” is plastered across every social media feed, self-help book, and motivational poster, is it time to take a step back and ask: are we all just marinating in a giant, simmering pot of positivity soup, oblivious to the fact that it might be overcooked? Constant positivity, the relentless pushing of a happy-go-lucky attitude regardless of life’s curveballs, functions much like slapping a coat of bright paint over a crumbling wall—it might look good for a while, but it does nothing to address the underlying issues.

Manson goes onto explain that suffering, in various forms, is biologically useful as it is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. The trap of constant positivity, meanwhile, denies us the ability to process genuine human emotions. It encourages a superficial glossing over of life’s deeper challenges, leaving us ill-equipped to deal with the inevitable lows.

In a nutshell, Manson tells us that life is a spectrum of experiences and emotions, and to live fully, we must be willing to explore the breadth of this spectrum—not just the sunny peaks of Positivity Mountain but also the shadowy valleys of Doubt, Fear, and Sadness. Only by embracing our whole emotional landscape can we navigate life with a sense of authenticity, resilience, and true contentment.

5. The Case for Mediocrity

This brings us to the importance of choosing what to give a fck about. He argues that not giving a fck is not about being indifferent but about being comfortable with being different. It’s about focusing on what truly matters to us based on our personal values and disregarding what doesn’t. 

Consider the tale of Jack, a fictional character who embodies the pursuit of excellence. Jack wants to be a top performer at work, a loving partner and parent, a fitness enthusiast, a gourmet cook, and a knowledgeable polyglot. Jack pushes himself in every area, but instead of feeling fulfilled, he feels perpetually behind. His pursuit of excellence becomes a pursuit of exhaustion. Jack’s story is a cautionary tale of stretching oneself too thin, of the futility of trying to be everything to everyone.

Now, imagine if Jack decided to focus on being an exceptional partner and parent, and merely good enough at work. What if he chose to cook simple meals instead of gourmet feasts and stayed reasonably fit instead of being a gym rat? This acceptance of mediocrity in certain areas would allow Jack to excel where it truly mattered to him, to invest his time and energy in what brings him the most joy and satisfaction.

Embracing mediocrity in some aspects might enable Jack to excel in areas that brought him the most joy and satisfaction.
Embracing mediocrity in some aspects might enable Jack to excel in areas that brought him the most joy and satisfaction.

In a society obsessed with being the best, suggesting that being average in some areas is beneficial might seem odd. However, embracing mediocrity isn’t about giving up growth or settling for less. It’s about recognising our limits and focusing on what matters most. It means being fine with being a hobbyist instead of a pro athlete, a competent worker rather than a CEO, and a loving but flawed partner instead of an ideal one. It means acknowledging that while we can have it all, we don’t need to be the best at everything—and that’s perfectly okay.

“Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.”

Suppose, for example, you’re caring for a plant. You water it, tend to it, but instead of blossoming, it begins to wilt. Perplexed, you water it more, only to see it deteriorate further. In frustration, you step back, watering it less. Miraculously, the plant revives.

Manson’s philosophy isn’t about promoting laziness or lack of ambition. Instead, it suggests that ‘over-efforting’ in life can be similarly counterproductive. Just as a plant needs a balanced environment to grow, our lives require a balance between effort and ease. By prioritising our struggles and accepting that not every aspect of our lives demands excellence, we create room for more meaningful success and satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to a more sustainable and fulfilling way of living.

The paradoxical concept of achieving more by trying less is illustrated by imagining a house-plant wilting and dying when being over-watered.
The paradoxical concept of achieving more by trying less is illustrated by imagining a house-plant wilting and dying when being over-watered.

The psychological benefits of this approach can be significant. Releasing the pressure to always perform at peak levels reduces stress and anxiety. It fosters a mindset where we value quality over quantity in our efforts. This mindset shift not only improves mental well-being but often leads to better outcomes, as we’re able to channel our energies more effectively.

In essence, Manson is suggesting that by consciously choosing what we try hard at and what we don’t, we can achieve a more balanced, happier life. This approach is not about laziness or apathy but about reallocating our efforts wisely. It’s recognising that sometimes, less is more. When we let go of the incessant need to excel in everything, we allow ourselves the space to succeed in what truly counts. This shift not only reduces stress but also often leads to better outcomes, as our efforts are more concentrated and genuine.

7. The Role of Responsibility in Happiness

Manson’s main idea is that happiness isn’t about avoiding problems but about our ability to solve them. He gives examples like how addressing a health issue by getting a gym membership brings new challenges like waking up early, working out, and managing post-workout routines. Similarly, when we dedicate time to spend with a partner to improve our relationship, it comes with its own set of challenges like deciding what to do, budgeting for dinners, and rekindling the romance.

The key insight here is that happiness comes from solving problems, not from trying to have a problem-free life. Avoiding problems or thinking we have no problems makes us unhappy, just like feeling helpless in solving our problems does. Manson’s perspective shifts our focus from trying to live a problem-free life, which is impossible, to accepting life’s challenges as a natural part of it. He emphasises that problems are a constant in life; they just change form. Solving one problem usually leads to another. So, we should embrace different problems and the discomfort that comes with them as opportunities for personal growth and happiness, rather than seeking an impossibly smooth and trouble-free existence.

In summary, this component of Manson’s message is about understanding that our happiness largely depends on how we perceive and deal with the problems we encounter. By embracing our challenges and taking responsibility for them, we unlock the true potential for happiness and satisfaction in our lives.

8. Embracing the Paradox: The Power of Not Trying

In a world that bombards us with endless stimuli, telling us to care about everything from political scandals to the latest celebrity gossip, Manson’s message in “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” is simple: save your energy for things that truly matter. By doing this, we can avoid wasting our time and emotional energy on trivial matters that don’t align with our values or contribute to our well-being.

Manson acknowledges that this selective indifference is not an easy task; it “takes a lifetime of practice and discipline to achieve.” There will be many failures along the way, but it’s a worthwhile struggle, perhaps the most significant one in life.

This approach doesn’t mean being completely uncaring. Instead, it’s about developing a deep sense of discernment. It’s about knowing when to invest our time and emotions and when to step back, recognising that not all battles are worth fighting. This philosophy encourages us to accept our limitations, flaws, and life’s unpredictability, finding beauty and personal growth in the challenges we choose to engage with.

At the core of Manson’s philosophy is the acceptance of suffering and struggle as natural aspects of life. As he puts it, “Avoiding suffering is a kind of suffering. Avoiding struggle is a struggle. Denying failure is a failure.” Manson’s approach is not about being apathetic but about making thoughtful choices about where we direct our care and attention.

A selective focus on our concerns is liberating, enabling us to prioritise what truly matters and disregard inconsequential trivia.
A selective focus on our concerns is liberating, enabling us to prioritise what truly matters and disregard inconsequential trivia.

Basically, adopting the ‘not giving a fck’ philosophy can profoundly change how we see and interact with the world. It teaches us to let go of unimportant, fleeting, and superficial matters, instead prompting us to concentrate on our values, personal growth, and authenticity. More than that, though, this approach, while challenging, holds the key to a deeper, more meaningful existence, where happiness is derived not from the absence of problems but from our capacity to engage with and overcome them. It’s about confronting life’s inevitable challenges with clarity and purpose, without wasting our ‘fcks’ on things that are inconsequential in the grand scheme of our lives.

Manson also discusses the importance of viewing failure as a stepping stone to success. He suggests that by redefining our relationship with failure and seeing it as a catalyst for growth and learning, we can embrace it. Manson highlights that the fear of failure often hinders us more than failure itself. By changing how we perceive failure—seeing it not as defeat but as a necessary part of learning and development—we can free ourselves from the paralysing fear of making mistakes. This leads to a healthier, more resilient mindset, helping us navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and purpose.

Ultimately, ‘not giving a fuck’ as Manson put it, simplifies our emotional landscape. By reducing the clutter of concerns that don’t serve us, we can find more peace, focus, and satisfaction in our lives. In essence, through his book, Manson encourages us to live authentically, aligned with our values, and to embrace life’s imperfections. He tells us that the key to living well is caring deeply about the right things and not at all about the rest.

7. FAQs

1. What is the concept of 'Don't Try' as discussed in the article?

The concept of ‘Don’t Try,’ as discussed in the article, challenges the conventional notions of success and happiness. It encourages individuals to live authentically and prioritize what truly matters in life while disregarding the pursuit of success for its own sake. This philosophy is exemplified through the life of Charles Bukowski, who achieved success by being his authentic self rather than conforming to societal standards of success.

2. Who was Charles Bukowski, and why is his life story significant in relation to 'Don't Try'?

Charles Bukowski was a controversial American poet and novelist known for his unconventional and flawed lifestyle, including alcoholism, womanizing, and gambling. His life story is significant in the context of ‘Don’t Try’ because it demonstrates how embracing one’s authentic self and not striving relentlessly for success can lead to unexpected achievements and contentment.

3. How does Bukowski's success challenge traditional success narratives portrayed on social media?

Bukowski’s success challenges the traditional success narratives often promoted on social media platforms by highlighting the drawbacks of relentless ambition and perpetual positivity. It suggests that constantly striving for success may blind individuals to the present and lead to dissatisfaction. Bukowski’s story encourages a more authentic and balanced approach to life.

4. What is the concept of 'Toxic Positivity,' and how does it relate to the article?

‘Toxic Positivity’ is the excessive promotion of a happy and optimistic attitude, even in the face of challenging circumstances. The article discusses how this mindset can be counterproductive, leading to guilt and the denial of genuine human emotions. It emphasizes the importance of embracing the full range of emotions for a more authentic and fulfilling life.

5. What does the article suggest about embracing mediocrity, and how does it contrast with societal norms?

The article suggests that embracing mediocrity in certain aspects of life can be beneficial. It contrasts societal pressure to excel at everything and encourages individuals to focus on what truly matters to them. By acknowledging personal limitations and finding joy in simplicity, individuals can lead more authentic and satisfying lives.

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