I was dashing out of the office, excited to meet a friend for a cocktail at one of our favorite restaurants in West Los Angeles after a crazy day at work.  As I leapt into the elevator, my boss was coming out.  “Short work day today, Karen?” he said, cocking an eyebrow.  It was 6:45 p.m. Was he serious?

As the elevator doors closed, I felt stung and a little confused.  I had been working my a*& off, and I had just won a huge case for our client.  Why was my boss implying that I was slacking?  For a split second, I considered cancelling on my friend and heading back to my cave (I mean office) to crank out a few more hours of work.  But by the time I got down to the lobby, I knew I just had to get out of the office for the night.  I was mentally exhausted, and I felt like I was suffocating.  I needed to reconnect with my friend and enjoy a few hours laughing and talking about anything other than work.

I made the right decision.  My friend and I enjoyed some great cocktails, laughed our butts off, and vented about how overworked and underappreciated we both felt in our careers.  We agreed that we were both in desperate need of a vacation, so we hatched a plan to take an amazing 10-day excursion to Costa Rica!  As I fell asleep that night, I was excited about our vacation plans.  But my boss’s comment was STILL bothering me.

To survive in this world, you must care less about little encounters like this and the many other trivialities that irk us every day.  You must know who you are and be OK with what you do.  Caring less will ensure your own sanity and survival.

But this is not to be confused with being careless.  Careless people don’t pull their weight. Careless people are complacent, even negligent.  They don’t necessarily respect others or give a sh*t about their contribution to a team, family, or friendship.

It’s about doing your best and not sweating the rest.

Being carefree, or caring less, is quite the opposite.  It’s caring about the stuff that counts and losing the nonsense that doesn’t.  It’s about doing your best and not sweating the rest.  Doing this ensures your best gets better too, because your energy isn’t used on unimportant crap.  You can care deeply about the significant stuff without the worry that weighs down many high achievers with a need to please others and be perfect.

Here’s how you can be true to yourself, maintain your integrity, and care just the right amount.

  1. Know thyself. 

To know what to care about, you need to know what you value.  What you value trumps all else—period.  Let this be your guiding light when you make decisions.

Do you care about being a mentor to junior staff at work?  Great, go for it.  Do you care about streamlining office procedures into an organized, efficient flow?  Brilliant, take charge!  Do you care about sitting in non-mandatory internal meetings (trying to keep your eyes open) where you seem to always leave none the wiser and simply an hour older?  No? Well, bow out politely. People can say what they will—you’ll be too busy doing the real work that matters to you.  And this attitude and focus will probably get you noticed too.

  1. Give up perfection. 

“No one’s perfect.”  We’ve all heard it a million times.  And yet we all secretly strive for it, then blast ourselves on occasion when we fall short, right?

I care about two things: what I’m talking about and sharing information I believe can benefit others.  If I do those two things, my work is done.  To me, that’s caring the right amount.  If I were waiting for perfection, I would never write a single blog or coach a single client.  And I refuse to let my fear, vanity, or ego rule my output.

In this case, caring less can make you a creative machine.  And as the old saying goes: You don’t have to get it perfect, you just have to get it going.

  1. Remember the word “no.” 

When you commit to caring less about the things that don’t matter to you, you reach a dangerously high level of blissful personal freedom.  This can include declining professional projects, turning down personal invitations, and even giving yourself a freakin’ break if you decide to not work out on a Saturday morning.  In the practical parody, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, Sarah Knight writes, “The life-changing magic of not giving a f*ck is all about prioritizing.  Choose joy over annoy.”

Ask yourself: What can you say no to this week?   If (like most people) you struggle to say no, here’s my favorite way to say it:

“Claire, I would love to come to your bachelorette in Vegas/look at your resume/have coffee with your acquaintance, but have to say no because I have a lot on my plate right now.  I don’t want to commit to something I can’t give my full attention to.”  

If there is an alternative, offer it—like an intro to someone else or an offer of help in a smaller way.  Otherwise I keep it loving, swift, and short.  Bonus: Over time, people request less of you as you inadvertently teach them to respect your time.  This is like heaven on a platter.  An empowered, loving “no” is respectable.  Martyrdom—“I’m always the first to help, I’m such a good friend, blah, blah, blah”—is not.

The Takeaway 

When you care about the things that matter and not the millions of things in the universe that will suck your energy/time/money/sanity, you live a different life.

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