In his latest book of down-to-earth professional wisdom, author and designer Adam Kurtz deals out some sage, and often funny, life advice for creatives. I gobbled up the pocket-sized book, not only because it gave my creative self-esteem a much-needed boost, but because much of his advice felt applicable to life in general. I’ve pulled three sections from Things Are What You Make of Them that really stood out for their broad appeal. Let’s face it—there’s not one among us who wouldn’t want to be a little happier or more confident, right?
How to Get Over Comparing Yourself to Others
Up until you turn 18, most everyone is doing the same thing. The path to success from kindergarten to high school graduation is largely pre-determined. But when you hit your twenties, the rulebook goes right out the window, and everyone starts to approach life at different speeds and angles. As you hit your thirties and forties, you may be more confident in your decisions and your path, but there’s always someone out there “doing it better” or getting what you want faster than you can find it.
Kurtz offers a step-by-step guide to accepting and getting over envy and harmful comparisons, offering smart tactics for learning how to tap into joy through a peer’s success and knowing when to take a break from the “competition.” He advises us to “join in any celebration for your peers! […] Be supportive and genuine—success and joy are contagious!” Celebrate your friends’ achievements instead of envying them—you may come home inspired or reassured yourself. And, when all else fails, Kurtz gives us permission to “rip out [our] eyeballs”—meaning, take a step back from obsessing over others’ measures of success or the picture-perfect world they present on social media.
How to Be Happy Happier
Of Kurtz’s eight steps to becoming a happier person, three really spoke to me. The first, “Embrace the Sad,” is an important part of getting out of our own way. Talk to a professional and take as much time as you need to work through the darkest parts. Often, our lives’ biggest challenges reap us the greatest rewards. Amidst personal and professional crisis, I spent my twenty-eighth year on a therapist’s couch. “Embracing the sad” allowed me to fall in love with a new city and finally pursue my creative dreams. Was it easy? Absolutely not. Was it worth it? One hundred percent.
The second, “Sunshine & Rainbows,” helps put things in perspective. “The sun is a massive star that will outlive all of us,” Kurtz writes. “As for rainbows, well, you’ve got to weather the storm first. Hang in there.” Really reframes some of life’s hurdles, doesn’t it?
Finally, “Forget the ‘Destination’” is essential to cultivating happiness. Kurtz writes, “Happiness is not a place, it is a journey. You do not arrive at joy. […] Stop searching for the end or it’ll find you before you ever ‘get there.’” In other words, stop hinging your happiness on the thing just out of your reach. If you can’t find ways to be joyful in the moment, you’ll never be happy when you achieve the thing you’re convinced will finally bring you contentment.
How to Be Yourself
To be your happiest and most successful, you’re going to need to identify and accept your personal truth. “What makes you who you are? You may have been told that this core truth is something to fear or be ashamed of,” Kurtz writes. “That is not true. What’s true is the experience you bring and the heart of the real, human person you are.” Embrace yourself—the good, the bad, the ugly. You have a purpose, and every decision, every incident, good or bad, has shaped the path you’re on. Allow it to take you to your best self.
And along the way, accept that you’re always evolving. Kurtz wants you to ask yourself, “Who do you want to be?” It’s an important part of personal growth, reflecting on where you want your path to lead, and accepting when it diverges from your original expectations. “We all change, so pretending otherwise is silly,” Kurtz says. So, when setting short-term goals, consider who you hope to become. “That desire is as important as who you are currently, to set your intention and inform the steps you’ll take to get there.”
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