Follow rule #6: don’t take yourself so damn seriously
If you follow just one rule in life, choose rule Number Six.
“The mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” — Frank Zappa
Two prime ministers were having a casual conversation. One was intrigued about this rule that seemed so simple. The other man has just recommended it on two occasions with an immediate positive outcome.
First, a subordinate came to see him. He was upset, banging his fist on the desk. Then, a hysterical woman who was gesticulating wildly. After their boss reminded them of rule number 6, they both left the room in a positive mood.
The other prime minister was intrigued, “What is rule number 6?”
“Rule number 6 is don’t take yourself so damn seriously.”
The first prime minister laughed. He wanted to learn more, “So, what are the other rules?”
“There are no other rules,” was the answer.
The secret of life requires following one single rule. If you want to succeed and be happy, don’t take yourself too seriously.
The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” — Mark Twain
When we take ourselves too seriously, we believe everything revolves around us. That’s why we fear being ridiculed — we don’t want to face that we are not so special.
The fear of shame kills our drive — we censor our desires to avoid being laughed at.
The paradox of shame is that, by looking for approval, we turn others into our judges. The fear of rejection makes us desperate for pleasing others. We become prisoners of other people’s judgment.
The fear of ridicule is anticipation — we worry about something that might happen.
As Brené Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly, seeking approval disconnect us from our desires. Women are expected to be naturally perfect. Men live under the pressure of not being perceived as weak. The author captures the need for worthiness in the sequence “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”
External expectations are a moving target, as I wrote in this column. By trying to please everyone, we end pleasing no one — ourselves included.
Our self-worth is tied to how our audience receives our performance. If they love it, we are worth it. If they don’t, we feel worthless. Living our lives as an endless performance is exhausting — we are always playing a part.
Perfectionism is the enemy of change. The bar is so high that we never rest to have fun. We want to do everything the right way — one single mistake could ruin everything we’ve built.
When we take ourselves seriously, we take others seriously too — that’s why their opinions hurt us. You let their judgment define your identity — you accept the labels people give you.
The solution lies in finding balance: take life seriously, but not yourself.
As Alan Rickman said: “I do take my work seriously and the way to do that is not to take yourself too seriously.”
Goodbye Measurement World
“The notion that leaders need to be in charge and to know all the answers is both dated and distracted.” — Peter Sheahan
I consider myself a serious person — I take life seriously.
However, my peculiar sense of humor has allowed me to cope through turbulent times. A long time ago, I learned to stop looking for other people’s approval. If something goes well, I enjoy it. If it doesn’t, I move on.
I’m not immune to other’s people influence, but I’ve learned to own my actions. I do what feels right and take full ownership — there’s no room for blaming others or myself.
I feel comfortable being uncomfortable — vulnerability is recognizing my perfect imperfections. I learned to take life seriously, but not myself.
In the Art of Possibility, Rosamund and Benjamin Zanders share 12 rules for bringing creativity into all human endeavors — rule Number Six is the best. The authors invite us to take a distance from our serious and substantial selves.
Our inner-self has been trained to ‘measure up’ in a competitive world — we look for external references to define our performance.
We live in a measurement world. Everything we do is measured against others. How much money we make. How beautiful our partners are. How happy we are. Our identity is relative to what other people have or do.
“The frames our mind create define and confine what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves in life, only appear unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view.” — Rosamund and Benjamin Zanders
Change your outlook. Move from measurement to possibilities.
When others laughed at you, they measure you against their expectations. But if you focus on achieving what you wish, regardless of what people think, you will reach your full potential.
Take leaders, for example. Those who feel superior try to suppress others to look even better. Those who feel inferior try to make others suffer too. When you stop measuring yourself against other’s expectations, you are not only free, but you don’t feel the need to change others.
We have two selves, according to the Zanders, our Calculating-Self, and our Central-Self.
The Calculating-Self it’s us in survival mode — it sees everything as an attack on us. The Central-Self represents the generative, prolific, and creative nature of ourselves and the world. Instead of putting us at the center of everything, it appraises reality without an agenda.
The Central-Self is a softer, brighter, and lighter version of ourselves — it’s ego-less.
Rule Number 6 is a reminder to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously! It releases us from selfish and self-limiting views — instead of trying to be appreciated, we stop giving a damn.
Humor Will Help You Take Yourself Less Seriously
“You can’t deny laughter. When it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.” — Stephen King
Do you consider yourself a serious person? Do you find it hard to let go?
There are two types of people. Those who find it easy to laugh at themselves. And those who take themselves too seriously. Laughing at yourself is more than a positive mindset — it improves our health also.
Research links laughing at oneself with having an upbeat personality and a good mood. It’s at the foundation of having a sense of humor. However, laughing at oneself is not easy — it represents the most difficult (humor) level.
Those who laugh at themselves regularly are less prone to chronic stress too.
Adaptive humor — cheering people up or seeing the fun in adverse events, is connected to well-being and psychological health. It increases resilience, diminishes the risks of heart attacks, and helps us manage pain better.
Humor gives leaders an edge too. Employees mentioned a “sense of humor” and “work ethic” twice as much as any other phrases to define what makes a good leader, according to a study by Bell Leadership Institute.
Taking ourselves with a grain of salt gives us perspective — we can learn from mistakes by observing from a distance.
How to Stop Taking Yourself Too Seriously
“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” — Chinese proverb
1. Confront the fear of being ridiculed:
End the vicious cycle — fear fuels more fear. Face it and get over it. As Seth Godin said, “Dance with fear. As you dance, you realize that fear is, in fact, a compass — it’s giving you a hint that you are onto something.” Use that fear as energy to leap forward.
2. Drop the ball on purpose:
I don’t mean metaphorically, just let something fall through the cracks. This will not only help you realize that one mistake won’t kill you — but it will also help you regain control. If someone complains, smile and tell them you did it on purpose. Erring on purpose prepares you for unexpected mistakes.
3. Change the tone, change the conversation:
The best way to overcome pressure from perfectionists is not to take them too seriously. Perfectionists tend to think in right-or-wrong terms — either you succeed or fail. Use humor to disarm their approach: show them life’s shades of grey.
4. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
This simple question can help you, and others, put things in perspective. I’m not telling you not to aim high, but to find balance. Write everything that comes to your mind. Are you worried about real things? Or are you taking small things too seriously? Reflect and separate worries from facts.
5. Become shame-resilient:
Learn to acknowledge the voice of shame when it’s calling your name. Face that emotion. Brené Brown suggests talking to your shame, “This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not values that drive me. My value is courage. You can move on, shame.”
6. Add more humor to your life:
Surround yourself with funny people. Turn off the news and violent shows; watch a comedy instead. Use self-deprecation instead of nasty labels. Smile. Especially when you feel nervous or upset. Find the humor in something serious. Getting used to laugh at yourself will make you immune to your audience’s laughter.
7. Let go of your reputation:
Your image is not you. It’s just what people perceive. Don’t let your self-worth depend on your audience’s applause. When your self-worth is not on the line, it’s easier to take more risks and be courageous. You stop thinking if you know how to dance or not. You start swaying.
Life’s too short. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. I know it sounds easier said than done, but trying to impress others requires more energy. Learn to see the opportunity hidden within challenges.
Don’t take others too seriously, either. Free yourself from the Measurement World. Be okay being vulnerable. Take life seriously, not yourself.