Imagine for a moment that you’re walking down a quiet street minding your own business when a car driven by a distracted teenager veers around the corner and up onto the sidewalk and clips you (don’t text and drive kids).
You tumble through the air and hit the ground in a heap a few yards away and the teen speeds off. You’re a bloody mess, and are barely hanging on to consciousness when you see a stranger running towards you. He runs up to you and kneels down.
“Wow, you’re really messed up,” he says. “Your one leg’s popped out of its socket, want me to put it back for you?”
“Are… are you a doctor?” you ask.
“No. But I’m a really nice guy.”
Even with tunnel vision setting in you manage a pretty good ‘What the hell’s wrong with you’ look. “If you’re not a doctor can you at least call an ambulance?” you ask.
He shakes his head. “Nope. Sorry. I’m super honest though, and I have a great sense of humor. Oh! I’m a great father too!”
It’s at this point you use the last of your ebbing strength to grab him by the shirt with both hands and pull your broken husk to his face to scream “I don’t care! Do something to help me!”
Actions Speak Louder
It may seem like an extreme example, but society and everyone you meet is the accident victim bleeding out on the street and you’re the guy running up to help.
Everyone needs something. The question is whether or not you’re able to provide that something. If you are then you’re useful, if not – well then in general no one’s really going to care about you.
If that seems harsh to you it’s for two reasons. The first is that it is harsh. Deal with it. The second is that modern culture as a whole has drifted in the direction of pretending to value states over actions. People tend to judge their value based on what they are rather than what theydo.
Not sure if you do too? Ask yourself really quick what makes you so great, why anyone else should care about you. If you’re like most people you default to states of being over actions. You’ll say things like, “I’m nice, I’m funny, I’m a hard worker, I’m generous” etc. When you should be saying things like, “I tell great jokes, I donate 10% of my income to charity and I make a mind-exploding grilled cheese sandwich”.
Everyone needs something. This doesn’t have to be anything huge – they might just need a hug or a little bit of support. Either way there’s something they need and your value to them hinges entirely on your ability to provide things that they need. It doesn’t matter if these are things they know they need or not, just that you are able to provide something of value via your actions.
Learning to Walk Your Talk
If you realize that you fall into this category of people who emphasize states over actions, if you’re the useless guy running up to the accident victim with nothing at all to offer but assurances you’re a nice person – you need to change the way you approach the world.
After all, what do those states even mean if they’re not backed up by actions?
Are you a nice guy if all you ever do is think nice thoughts? If you had two friends and one of them helped you move, like physically picked up your couch and put it in the truck, and the other one just thought really nice thoughts about helping you move, who would you actually consider to be the nice person?
Before you start insisting that all the good traits about yourself you listed when I asked you why anyone should care you exist are backed up by concrete actions – are they?
As a result of this swing toward the ‘it’s who you are inside that counts’ bullshit a lot of people just go on making reaffirmations to themselves that they’re funny, or a nice person, or whatever. Then when you ask them what they actually do that’s so funny, or nice or anything else all you get back is a blank stare and lots of ‘ums’.
So stop thinking about yourself in those terms. Understand that you are what you do.
You are. I don’t care about your hipster, post-postmodernist, feel-good notions of internally derived self-worth. You are what you do. That doesn’t have to mean you are what you do for a living necessarily, but you are a reflection and direct product of your actions and vice versa. So act like it.
Figure out who you want to be and go out and do the things that the person you want to be would do. Change your identity by changing your actions and your actions will in turn reshape your identity.
If you’re not sure who you want to be, pick a new skill – cooking, parkour, speaking a new language, making toothpick sculptures of ducks – it really doesn’t matter what. Pick something and get really, really good at that thing. Good enough to make people take notice. Good enough that people are impressed.
Once you’ve done that once, make it a habit. Learn something else. You have plenty of lives to do it in, so start shifting your way of thinking from trying to be things to doing things. You’ll lead a much better life that way.
Have anything you’d like to add? Think I’m wrong and it does matter that you’re a super nice guy because it’s what your mom told you growing up? Leave a comment!
Photo Credit: Alex Cockroach