How to Really Succeed in Life (don't take anything personally!)
I have two different elevator fantasies. One of them goes like this:
I step onto an elevator of a building alone. I press the button for a somewhat higher floor, let's say floor 40.
Just as the elevator door almost closes shut, a woman rushes up and swipes her hand in front of the door.
The door opens back up, she enters the elevator, and presses floor 50.
She is attractive and smartly dressed in a black pencil skirt and white blouse. Though she is slightly frazzled from almost missing the elevator, she holds herself with confidence.
She brushes both of her hands down her skirt, as if smoothing out wrinkles. I notice the diamond on her finger. Married, like me.
She turns her head toward me. Her eyes connect with mine. "Hello, Brian," she says.
I'm slightly surprised, and instantly elated, that she knows who I am.
"Hi there," I say back.
"We have less than thirty seconds," she says.
She smiles and bites her lip.
I hold my breath.
"So let me ask you this," she continues. "What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone on how to succeed in life, if you had less than thirty seconds in an elevator to give it?"
Now, dear reader, if you thought I was going to share my other elevator fantasy with you here, the one where the elevator stalls and the bow chicka bow bow music somehow starts playing in the background, my apologies. The details of that particular fantasy stay between my wife and I. Though if this post gets 10,000 Likes, I could be persuaded to share ;-)
And I promise, in the long run, you'll get far more out of me sharing this particular elevator fantasy anyway.
I've spent most of my grown-up life helping people become successful. Now she has asked me the single most important piece of advice I could give on how to do so.
I start breathing again, because the brain works better with oxygen. As the elevator climbs, possible answers shoot through my mind: "Be kind, especially when it's hardest to be kind, and you'll go farther than most," I could say. "Eat lots of spinach," I could say. "Don't worry, be happy," I could say.
Then the answer comes to me.
"Well," I reply to the woman as the elevator rises past floor 25, "here's the most important advice I would give: take absolutely nothing that happens to you personally. Because nothing that happens to you is personal."
The elevator stops. Floor 40, my floor.
As the door opens and I'm stepping out, I turn to her and add, "You'll sometimes fail at not taking things personally, you're human. But the key is to always strive toward this."
She nods and smiles at me. I tip my hat.
I don't wear a hat, but it just feels right for this fantasy.
The elevator door closes. End scene one.
Right Up There With Abe Lincoln
There are other scenes in this elevator fantasy. But the rest take place without me physically present, and I'll sum it up quickly here so we can get to the most important thing on this page, YOU.
For the rest of that day, she deeply ponders the advice I gave her. She reflects on her own life so far, and how taking things so many things personally has indeed dragged her down in so many ways.
She vows from that day forward she will try her damnedest to live the advice of not taking anything personally.
She goes on to enjoy an amazing life.
She creates a company that positively changes the world. She has a wonderful marriage, they raise wonderful children, and she stays married to the same man her entire life. She becomes the President of the United States, and she ends up being considered one of our greatest Presidents ever, right up there with Abe Lincoln.
Hey, come on, it's a fantasy.
But let's switch gears now.
Surprise, This is All About YOU
Let's make YOU the person in the elevator who asked me for, and received, the one most important piece of advice I could give on how to succeed in life.
You don't need to be a woman or wear black pencils skirts, of course -- that's just how the details of this fantasy usually appear in my mind ;-)
No matter who you are, though, this is indeed the one piece of advice I would give you if I only had a brief elevator ride to give it:
Take absolutely nothing that happens to you personally. Because nothing that happens to you is personal. You will sometimes fail, you will sometimes take things personally even though your higher self knows better, because you are human. But the key is to always strive toward doing this.
Fortunately, you and I have a bit more time here -- the equivalent of about 310 floors to climb.
So let's expand a bit on why, if you want to achieve your greatest goals and live an amazing life, striving to not take anything personally is as essential as it gets.
It Sucks. I Mean Like Nothing Else, It Really Sucks.
Here's what happens when you take something done to you, or said to you, personally:
It sucks the damned life out of you.
It sucks your energy. It sucks your time.
It sucks your productivity, creativity, inner-peace, and joy.
That's energy, time, productivity, creativity, inner-peace, and joy that you will never get back in this all-too-short life.
That's energy, time, productivity, creativity, inner-peace, and joy that you could have far better spent building a more amazing you, family, career, fortune... whatever is important to you.
Wasted on a grudge.
But wait, there's more.
Because you have to magnify it. Extensively.
If you're like so many people today, you're taking a whole lot of things personally. It's strangely fashionable to do so. Things like:
Getting cut off in traffic... personal choices others make that effect only their lives that you don't agree with.... insults hurled at you...waiting on hold for fifteen minutes... government policies that none of us should agree with... bad weather... and so much more.
That means a horrendous amount of sucking away of everything that is good and productive in you.
And if you're like so many people today, you're also taking certain very "big" bad things that happened to you very personally, holding on to those grudges for long periods of time. Hours. Weeks. Even years. Things like:
Divorces and breakups... rejection in your desired careers or relationships... crimes... bankruptcies and other financial calamities... and so much more.
Indeed, the sheer volume and extent of taking things personally sucks the sleep, health and -- quite literally -- the life out of you.
It's all the perfect recipe to unequivocally NOT succeed in your life, however you define success.
It Is Entirely About THEIR Defect, NOT YOU.
Now I suspect some people's egos may be resisting this to some extent.
"How can I NOT take [INSERT THING THAT ENRAGES YOU] personally!?! It hurt me! It was done to hurt me! Of course I'm going to angry!"
So let's first get this straight: being angry is not the same as taking things personally.
Not at all.
It is certainly normal to get angry if, for example, someone slams a door in your face, or shouts obscenities at you, or robs you.
The anger can in fact be a positive emotion if you channel it properly. People can learn from anger, grow from anger, and make positive changes in the world motivated by anger, as many have done.
And those who commit the offenses are not off the hook at all -- they have issues that need correcting, if possible. The more extreme their offense, the more they should be held accountable so hopefully their offensive behavior gets corrected.
Those who rob you or worse, for example, are a threat to the social order, they should serve time for their offense, and most importantly and hopefully can have their foul behavior corrected.
However, and please read this slowly and pay close attention...
When you take an offense personally -- as if the thing done or said was NOT entirely about their their defect, and instead about you -- you are making a big mistake that only hurts you.
When people say and do offensive, hurtful and even violent things, it has nothing to do with you.
You can be angry, and hopefully you channel that anger properly. You may deserve justice depending on the extent of the thing.
But it is never about you.
It is a problem inside of them, and like a thunderstorm or tornado unleashing on a certain neighborhood, you happen to be in their path.
Yes, this is even true of those who seem to have targeted, or to be targeting, you personally, such as exes or stalkers.
We are each and only responsible for our own actions and reactions. It is their ignorance, their dysfunction, their psychosis, that is the problem.
Barring self-defense, the same is true for you: if you ever set out to hurt someone, no matter what you believe they did, that defect is entirely on you.
There is no upside, no benefit at all to be gained, from taking things personally.
It is a delusion whose only real aspect is its massive weight that pulls you way down.
Take a Deep Breath. See How This Feels.
That's the rational reason not to take anything personally, but it can be even more effective for you to simply experience how right and good not taking things personally feels.
So right now recall some recent situation where you did take things personally: a recent incident with a significant other, family member, or someone at work is a common choice, for example,
Now take a deep breath, put yourself back in that situation, and remind yourself that whatever harsh or stupid words or actions are being shot at you really have nothing to do with you.
That is their defect, a defect that exists independent of you and that only they are responsible for repairing. There is a better, more mature way for them to handle their own internal issues that they aren't yet aware of or choosing.
But it is not about you.
Close your eyes and give yourself a chance to really re-experience the incident in this manner. See how it feels.
Done correctly, you'll feel a thousand pounds lighter.
You won't feel like all that is good and productive about you is being sucked out of you.
You won't feel defective desires yourself, like the need for "revenge," or any such need to lower yourself beneath their level and strike back.
You may still be upset about the incident, but it is in a more clinical way. A removed way.
You aren't carrying the weight of it on your heart, as if their defect was really about you.
Give It a Name. "The Devil" is Appropriate.
And this is precisely how you get better and better at not taking things personally.
Become consciously aware of that tremendous pull on your heart and head when you do take things personally.
It can be helpful to give that terrible and all-consuming feeling a name that you choose, so you can call it out when you feel it.
One good name to consider is The Devil, because it does pull you down to a place that sucks all that is good and beneficial out of you.
Review situations in your past where you've taken things personally, and in your mind correct the situation with the knowledge that it's about their defect, not you.
And catch yourself in those future situations where you do feel that weight of taking whatever happens personally.
At first you may not catch yourself until well after the situation. That's okay. During the incident, right after the incident, ten minutes or two days after the incident... catching it at any point is far better than not catching it at all.
And as with anything, the more you practice it, the better at it you'll become.
You will discover an abundance of energy, time, productivity, creativity, inner-peace, and joy you didn't even know was there.
This will free your life more than you can even imagine.
We're at floor 310. This is where I get off the elevator.
The last thing I need to tell you is I promise this is all true.
It may not be easy, but trying your damnedest not to take anything personally will change your life in more positive ways than perhaps any other single thing you could ever do.
I tip my hat to you.
The door closes.
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Brian Vaszily, Founder of Advantage Hacks, has grown 5 successful startups, launched many successful products, authored several books including a #1 bestseller, and coached many good people and 2 jackasses. For 20+ years it's been his passion to discover what MOST enables successful people to become successful. From timeless success strategies to new technology coming soon that will change our world, he reveals the most important secrets to you here, and usually does so in a damn enjoyable way.