You Do You (2017) is part broadside against the enforcers of silly norms and part invitation to rethink our relationships with ourselves. Packed with no-nonsense truth-telling, these summaries suggest that whatever you’ve been told to the contrary, there’s nothing wrong with being you – warts and all. In fact, Sarah Knight argues, embracing your true self is the surest path to getting what you want out of life.
Self-Help, Personal Development, Humor, Love, Sex and Marriage Humor, Psychology Humor, Self-Esteem, Mental Health, Inspirational, Philosophy, Adult
Introduction: A guide to living life on your own terms.
“Be yourself.” Sounds easy, right – after all, who else could you be but yourself? In truth, it’s one of the hardest skills you’ll ever master. That’s why millions of folks follow the crowd, accept conventional wisdom, and spend their lives trying to please others.
But it’s not impossible. Take it from best-selling “anti-guru” Sarah Knight, a woman who knows both what it’s like to feel trapped in a life you didn’t design and how to turn things around and find actual happiness. The trick? Three words: You. Do. You.
This is about putting your happiness first, and that means it’s time to stop letting others tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. So what if your dreams are weird? So what if you’re weird? Life’s too short to worry about what other people think of you or your goals.
In these summaries, you’ll learn
- why your “flaws” might just be untapped superpowers;
- how to put your own interests first without being a jerk; and
- what a kitty litter tray can do for your mental health.
The world is full of arbitrary rules that you don’t need to follow.
Life is full of rules. With the exception of laws and formal codes of conduct, most of these are unwritten and enforced by social pressure. Some make a lot of sense. “Don’t tag your friends in unflattering photos” and “Don’t answer the door nude” are pretty good rules, for example.
Others, however, don’t make a lot of sense. And because the world is full of sticklers hellbent on enforcing these arbitrary rules, there are always going to be folks telling you when you should go to college or have kids, or what you should wear to a party. Breaking these rules might not land you in prison, but it may lead to social ostracism.
But here’s the thing: deep down, no one knows more about who you are and what makes you happy than you do. Living by other people’s rules risks leading you away from this intuitive understanding of what you need to do. Instead of living in ways that fulfill you, you may get pressured into Lowest Common Denominator Living. You’ll stifle traits and tics that don’t fit other people’s definition of normality, and consequently end up miserable.
In these summaries, we’ll help you break out of this trap. The name of the game is to learn to see social expectations for what they are and take some of the pressure off yourself by refusing to follow senseless rules.
The best place to start doing this is to embrace a model called Mental Redecorating, an approach to reappraising your supposed “flaws.”
This is about recoding qualities that society regards as negative. “Nerdy,” for instance, is often used to put people down. Mental redecorating, by contrast, would redescribe this character trait in positive terms like “smart” or “knowledgable.” The same goes for a word like “weird,” which is just another way of saying “unique.”
The point to bear in mind here is that there’s nothing wrong with who you are – the social rules that make you think you’re the problem are to blame. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can start breaking away from social expectations.
Despite what society tells you to do, you don’t always have to give your best, be a team player, or put others first.
If some rules are sensible and others are senseless, how do you tell the two apart? Well, if a rule hurts you more than it helps others, you should probably question it. This puts three commonplace commandments – “Do your best,” “Be a team player,” and “Don’t be selfish” – in the firing line.
Let’s start with the notion that you should always do your best. Constantly giving it your all is exhausting, and that can take a toll on your health. Take it from the author.
For years, she got up at the crack of dawn and set to work. She studied all day and long into the night. Her college grades were excellent, but her health was soon in freefall, leaving her with an undiagnosed lump on her neck – the physical manifestation of all that stress and sleep deprivation.
Endlessly striving for perfection is also a surefire recipe for disappointment. Think of it this way: if you have the perfect Uber rating, the only way it can change is by getting worse! This suggests your best bet is to cut yourself some slack and accept that you can’t be perfect all the time.
Then there’s the idea that you should “take one for the team.” Put bluntly, this just isn’t true – it’s perfectly legitimate to put your own interests first.
This isn’t about selfishness, though. Only caring about yourself and ignoring others is definitely something to be avoided. No, what we’re talking about here is being self-ish. A self-ish person cares about others, but he also takes care of his own needs before looking out for others. This is because he understands you can only help those around you if you are okay.
This is a pretty intuitive idea, even if we often forget it. Take airplane safety instructions. The reason you’re told to take care of your own oxygen mask first is that you’re not going to be able to put a mask on your child if you’ve already passed out.
Finally, it’s important to stress that some people are team players by nature while others just aren’t, and that’s okay. If playing for a team isn’t your thing, don’t feel bad about it. As we’ve seen in this chapter, you have every right to prioritize your own health and wellbeing. Conversely, there’s no law stating that you have to be taken advantage of for the benefit of others!
There’s nothing wrong with taking risks and being vocal about what you want.
Standing your ground can be tricky, not least because you’ll often be told that you’re “being difficult.” Put like that, it sounds like you’re being childish and petulant, and that’s why it’s often phrased that way – it’s a great method of stopping you from sticking up for yourself. But there’s nothing wrong with digging your heels in and being clear about what you want in life.
Imagine you’re in a restaurant. You like your steak well done and that’s how you order it. When it arrives, however, it’s rare. You remind the waiter of your order and ask for another steak. If you’ve been in this kind of situation, you’ll know that there’s a good chance someone at the table will accuse you of making an unnecessary fuss.
Well, if being upfront about what you do and don’t want, and clearly communicating those wishes, means you’re being difficult, so be it – you can own that. Remember, though, there’s a difference between standing your ground and trampling over others. Put differently, this isn’t a license to be an asshole. If you change your mind about how you’d like your steak after you’ve ordered but don’t tell anyone, you don’t get to order another one!
Standing up for yourself is also important when it comes to making important life decisions. This is because other people’s opinions may be the only thing holding you back from pursuing your dreams.
Say you’re toying with the idea of quitting your job. You’ll likely feel uneasy about this even if you hate your work. That’s understandable. Giving up a paycheck is risky, especially if others are financially dependent on you. If you quit, you might also end up feeling like you somehow failed in the role, and no one wants to feel that way. These are legitimate reasons to doubt your decision.
But if the only thing stopping you from quitting your job is what other people might think about your decision, you should probably take the plunge. No one, after all, knows your situation better than you do. If the author hadn’t ignored what others were saying, for example, she would never have quit her job and written her book!
You’re free to define success however you like and you can take any route to achieve it.
Some people are happy following the conventional rules and take the freeway through life. Others prefer the scenic route and stick to quieter backcountry roads. Either way, it’s a personal decision, and that means no one gets to dictate how you’ll be traveling – except you.
Take the author. As she sees it, having kids is a pretty simple choice. If you want children, you should have them; if you don’t – well, you shouldn’t. The problem, however, is that lots of folks question the legitimacy of the latter choice. When the author decided she didn’t want children, she was constantly nagged and told that she’d regret her decision. This kind of pressure is one of the most common ways in which people are forced to follow norms they don’t actually subscribe to.
But doing something because others want you to do it just doesn’t make sense. They don’t have to live with the consequences, after all – only you do. This is a great mantra to keep in mind when people start bugging you to adopt certain lifestyles or make certain decisions. Want to become a vegetarian? Go for it! Kids not your cup of tea? Don’t have any! If you’re not forcing people to live like you do, they shouldn’t be trying to foist their ideas on you.
It’s not just how you travel – your lifestyle – that’s up to you, though. You also get to plug your preferred destination into the GPS, set your own goals, and define what success means to you personally.
This clashes with conventional wisdom. All too often we’re told that success is all about going to college and getting a “good job.” But you’ll only feel successful if you’re meeting your own goals. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some people equate doing well in life with a high salary, others think it’s about starting a family, and others value flexibility first and foremost.
What your goal looks like will often determine the route you travel, and this is why different people end up following different paths. If your definition of success is fairly conventional, for example, and you want a high-paying job, college might well be the way to go. If you’re set on acting in movies, by contrast, you might follow Tom Hanks’ lead and drop out of college, or simply not go at all. It really is up to you!
Being pessimistic and “weird” has lots of perks.
“You won’t get anywhere with that attitude!” Like being told you’ll regret your choices later on, this is one of the ways in which people apply pressure to peers who don’t conform to social norms. What they’re really saying is that the way you’re acting is just too weird and that you should make more of an effort to fit in. But guess what – that’s bullshit too.
There are no two ways about it: contemporary Western society is pretty down on pessimism. If you want to get anywhere in life, we’re told, you have to be upbeat and optimistic. That’s fine if you happen to have a sunny disposition, of course, but some people – like the author – are natural-born pessimists.
Contrary to received wisdom, this isn’t a curse. In fact, it’s not even a problem. Negativity can spur us on. If the author hadn’t been the gloomy type, for instance, she might have ignored the fact that her old job was making her miserable. The reason she didn’t do that, and thus gained the courage to quit, was simple: she doesn’t try to repress her innate negativity.
Pessimists are also extremely useful to have around when things go south. Why’s that? Well, because they’re trained to anticipate things going wrong, they usually have a plan for when things do go wrong. Put simply, a pessimist will likely have a back-up plan if it rains on her wedding day. An optimist, on the other hand, more likely won’t. For similar reasons, pessimists usually start projects early. As a result of anticipating the worst, they often end up finishing punctually or even ahead of schedule.
This just goes to show that you don’t need to repress your inner negativity. There’s also no need to repress your “weirdness” in general. If you’re perceived as weird, it’s likely just because you do things your own way and aren’t governed by social norms. Just think of a world in which everyone let their weirdness hang out – wouldn’t it be more interesting, original, and, well, happy?
Finding help when you need it and setting your priorities are the best ways of looking after your mental health.
If you’d visited the author in her office a couple of years back, you’d have noticed something odd: a litter tray filled with sand under her desk, into which she occasionally dipped her bare feet. What was going on here? To explain that, we need to rewind a little.
The author experienced her first full-scale panic attack at the age of 31. At first, she was highly skeptical about getting professional help to address this issue. There wasn’t anything wrong with her physically, after all, and she didn’t like the idea of being told she was “crazy.”
Thankfully, she got over this initial reluctance and eventually decided to see a doctor for a biofeedback session. When the doctor urged her to write down everything that made her happy, one of the first things on her list was going to the beach and feeling the sand under her feet.
And that’s where the litter box came into the picture: it was a way of making the author feel calm and happy at work. The moral of the story? Well, there are a couple. First off, the stigma around mental health issues is real, but you shouldn’t let it stop you from seeking assistance. Secondly, it might take a seemingly crazy idea like a litter box of sand to keep you mentally healthy!
Taking care of yourself isn’t just a matter of responding to problems – you can also head them off by arranging your life so that it supports your happiness and mental wellbeing. The key here is to set your own priorities.
This flies in the face of the conventional idea that “family always comes first,” but who and what you prioritize is down to you. So, say your cousin Jen and your friend Tito both happen to choose the same day for their respective weddings. If you’d genuinely prefer going to Jen’s wedding, that’s great – your friend is probably going to sympathize with your situation.
But what if you’d prefer to go to Tito’s wedding? Chances are, you’ll find yourself at Jen’s anyway – blood, as someone will no doubt remind you, is thicker than water. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making these kinds of sacrifices now and again, but it can’t become a default behavior – that would be unfair to both your friends and yourself. More importantly, it’s bound to make you miserable in the long run.
Accepting yourself as you are means ignoring what others think about you.
We all feel the pressure to look or act in certain ways. Conforming to these social expectations might buy you a little peace and quiet, but it won’t make you happy. The only way you’ll feel genuinely great in your own skin is to do what’s right for you – not what other people say you should be doing.
This means you can ignore all sorts of arbitrary social rules. Take being nice. Sure, you shouldn’t be a jerk to the folks you come across on an average day, but you’re not obligated to be nice to them either – politeness is more than enough. When the author lived in New York, for example, random strangers in the street constantly told her to smile. But why should you have to put on a fake smile and act upbeat if you don’t feel that way? The truth is that you don’t.
It’s also vital to accept your body as it is and ignore what others think about how it should look. Take it from the National Eating Disorders Association in the United States, which estimates that around 20 million American women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Underlying many of these cases is people’s failure to accept how they look.
This is something the author understands all too well. For many years, she suffered from an unhealthy body image, followed all kinds of unhealthy and faddish diets, and alternated between bulimia and anorexia. This isn’t to say that no one needs to lose weight, of course – some people do, especially for health reasons. But eating disorders aren’t usually so much about health concerns as they are about negative self-image.
Finally, it’s also time to start ignoring the folks who make you feel bad because you’re good at something. Back in 2005, the author, who was then 26, gave her first big presentation to her superiors at a publishing company. As she saw it, the presentation had gone well, which was hardly surprising given that public speaking is something she’s good at. This is what she told her colleague when he asked her about it. That didn’t go down well. The author’s colleague seemed resentful and began admonishing her for being “self-congratulatory.”
But if this happens to you, remember what the author realized in that moment: self-esteem and confidence in your own abilities isn’t anything to be ashamed of – in fact, it should be a source of pride!
The key message in these summaries:
Life is full of arbitrary rules and social norms. Despite the pressure we may feel to conform to these expectations, we’re better off when we ignore them. When we embrace who we really are, however “weird” we may appear to others, we free ourselves to follow our own dreams and goals. And that’s ultimately what puts us on the path to happiness.
Take care of your WNDs.
Here’s a simple trick to help you keep your true priorities in focus: think about your WNDs. That’s short for “What you want, what you need, and what you deserve.” Grab a piece of paper and jot down everything that comes to mind under each of these categories. This will help you define what kind of relationships you want to have, both with yourself and others.
About the author
Sarah Knight’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, has been published in 30 languages and counting, and her TEDx talk, “The Magic of Not Giving a F*ck,” has more than nine million views. She is a New York Times bestselling author, and her other titles include Get Your Sh*t Together, You Do You, Calm the F*ck Down, and F*ck No. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Red, Refinery29, and elsewhere, and her No F*cks Given podcast has 1 million downloads.
After quitting her corporate job in 2015 to pursue a freelance life, she moved from Brooklyn, New York, to the Dominican Republic, where she currently resides with her husband and a sh*tload of lizards.