In this article I interview Sarah Knight the author of the bestselling “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck” about How to Not Give a Fuck!
This article is a must read if you’re a habitual approval seeker, people pleaser, worrier – or fuck giver!
In this article:
- The definition of a “fuck”
- The Not Sorry Method
- Being Selfish
- Good selfish vs bad selfish
- Guilt free living
- What you should and shouldn’t give a fuck about
- How to not give a fuck
- The Likability Vortex
- How to say no without being an asshole
And much, much more
How Sarah Knight stopped giving a fuck
Michael Frank: How did you get on this path of not giving a fuck?
Sarah Knight: It started out when I was feeling very dissatisfied with my corporate job as a book editor in New York City, back in 2013, a job I’d done for 15 years. I had to take a long look at my life and my future, and what was important to me, and what I wanted to do and how I was going to accomplish it, and it turned out that being happy was more important to me than continuing on the career path that I had been on.
Michael Frank: So you were hating your job. Was there a particular catalyst that made you stop giving a fuck or did it happen gradually over time?
Sarah Knight: I would say the catalyst for doing something about it was having a panic attack in my office and that really made me realize that something was wrong and that I need to do something to fix it. I knew that I needed to look after my mental health.
Michael Frank: Do you know what caused the panic attack? Were you giving a presentation at the time? Was there some high pressure meeting?
Sarah Knight: No, in fact I wasn’t under any particular pressure at all. I think it was just years and years of pressure. You know I’ve learned a lot about anxiety and panic since then, and I think that I was probably experiencing anxiety for a really long time and not knowing what it was, and thinking that I had a stomach ache or a headache or a little bit of shortness of breath or insomnia or any number of symptoms that turn out to be related to anxiety. And so when I had the panic attack, I really didn’t know what was happening to me. At first I thought I must be having an aneurysm and that’s ridiculous. And then I thought I’d been poisoned. So if that gives you any idea of what kind of frame of mind you wind up in when you’re experiencing that kind of panic, it is really irrational. And so when that happened to me, I really had to stop and think, okay, there’s gotta be a different way to do this. Meaning life.
The definition of a “fuck”
Michael Frank: When you talk about “not giving a fuck” what does that mean?
Sarah Knight: I define your “fucks” as your time, energy and money
“Giving a fuck means you care. When I say I don’t give a fuck about Game of Thrones, I mean I don’t care about Game of Thrones. Now let’s take the concept a step further: Let’s define your fucks as your time, energy, and money.” – Sarah Knight
Michael Frank: So we define a “fuck” as our time, energy and money, and when we say we don’t give a fuck, what we’re really saying is that we refuse to give our time, energy or money to that particular thing in question.
Sarah Knight: Exactly. And I refer to your time, energy and money as your “fuck bucks” and conserving and deploying them is making a “fuck budget” and sticking to it.
The Not Sorry Method
Michael Frank: Let’s talk about the not sorry method. What is it?
Sarah Knight: The not sorry method has two steps:
- Deciding what you don’t give a fuck about
- Stop giving a fuck about those things
And if you do those two steps, and if you enact them with honesty and politeness, then you will find that you have nothing to apologize for. You won’t have done anything wrong, and therefore you don’t have to feel guilty, hence the name of the method.
Michael Frank: I would say that’s easier said than done though. Because what if you’re a habitual approval seeker, people pleaser, worrier – or fuck giver? How do you not give a fuck then? Because I think it’s really quite difficult for some people (anxious people especially) to stop worrying and let go.
Sarah Knight: Well these are exactly the kind of people who could benefit from reading The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. You know, I was that person for over 30 years and I was a type A perfectionist and I wanted to say yes to everything and do everything perfectly and make everybody happy. But eventually that will put you in the nurse’s office at your high rise office building with a panic attack.
I don’t try to pretend that unlearning a lifetime’s worth of behavior is easy, but it is simple, and all of the methods in all of my books are really based in these very simple binaries. You either do this or you do that. You care about something or you don’t. And they all start with being honest with yourself. And I think that the first step for a lot of people is admitting what they do and don’t care about, and looking at what they’ve been saying yes to out of a sense of obligation, rather than out of a sense of choice and desire.
Michael Frank: In addition to being honest, is there anything else you would say needs to change in your psychology or your thinking in order to let go and detach?
Sarah Knight: I think it’s just really important to look out for number one. You know people have definitely accused my methods of being selfish and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
People need to let go of culturally constructed ideas of obligation and guilt and necessity, and realize that it’s your life to live and there’s nothing wrong with living it in a way that makes you happy. So let go of obligations to things you don’t really want to do and don’t care about and don’t give your fucks to them.
You just really have to remember that not every invitation that’s ever been issued is one that you have to accept. Not every job that’s ever been offered to you is one that you have to take. Not every favor that’s been asked of you is one that you have to do. And if you can dial back those cultural ideas about obligation, then you can really start to uncover the things that you truly want to do.
You know nobody is walking away from my books becoming a carefree psychopath just churning and burning their way through their friends and family and winding up alone and miserable because they’ve stopped giving fucks to anyone. That’s not how it goes.
Good selfish vs bad selfish
Michael Frank: Let’s talk about selfishness. You differentiate between good selfish and bad selfish. What’s the difference?
Sarah Knight: Well I would say that if an action you could take is hurting you more than it’s helping somebody else, then it’s okay to not do that thing or take that action or make that decision.
The idea is not to go around hurting other people. So if you need to take a nap, it’s a perfectly good selfish decision for you to go into your bedroom, close the door, tell your family not to talk to you for an hour so you can get a nap and can come back happy and refreshed and reinvigorated and ready to participate again.
Bad selfish is falling asleep on the couch and expecting your family to tip toe around you for an hour and not wake you up and not say anything because you decided right there in the middle of their lives that you are going to take a nap.
So if you can think about selfish in those terms, there is a good way to be selfish and do things for yourself for your own benefit, and there is a bad way and it really involves whether other people are getting hurt in the process.
Guilt free living
Michael Frank: A lot of people try to make their priorities your priorities. Oftentimes family, friends, workmates, bosses etc. try to make you feel guilty if you don’t do what they want you to do.
Sarah Knight: Yeah. I find that guilt is often used as a motivator and that’s not how I like to live my life. It’s certainly not how my husband and I interact as a couple. He doesn’t make me do things I don’t want to do, and I don’t make him do things he doesn’t want to do. It doesn’t surprise me that that’s what other people’s friends, family, partners, bosses, coworkers do to them. It’s certainly been done to me by other people.
But what I try to make people realize is that you wouldn’t want to feel guilted and shamed into doing something out of obligation that you don’t really want to do. So why would you do that to somebody else? It’s very much a do unto others type of philosophy, even if it’s rooted in selfishness, which you know, again, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
Calling out the guilt trippers
Michael Frank: If someone was trying to make you feel guilty for not doing something, would you call them out on it?
Sarah Knight: Yes, I absolutely would. And I wouldn’t have necessarily done that five years ago. So even though I invented this method and have been espousing it to great success for the last few years, it was a learning process for me too. So now I feel very comfortable being super direct with people, I’m still polite, I don’t need to make anybody feel bad or upset them, but I will be honest and direct and ask you what your intentions are.
Telling your friends you no longer give a fuck
Michael Frank: When you were making the transition from fuck giver to non fuck giver, did you communicate that to your friends? Did you explain your philosophy and say this is why I’m saying no?
Sarah Knight: Yeah. Sometimes I just started saying no to things and nobody cared. Nobody gave me a hard time about it and I thought, wow, that was easy, I should have started doing that a long time ago! And other times I had friends who were a little more sensitive, or there were situations that carried more culturally obligated weight that I felt like I needed to explain a little bit further. And I did. And again, I just tried to be as honest and polite as possible. You know there’s a lot of stuff in our lives that people invite us to do. And I don’t think it’s bad to just say “no thank you”.
What you should and shouldn’t give a fuck about
Michael Frank: I wrote down a list of things that I think the average person should and shouldn’t give a fuck about that I wanted to get your thoughts on…
Things you should give a fuck about:
- Your career
- Your business
- Your time
- Your money
- Your health
- Your goals
- Your friends
- Your family
- Your partner
Things you shouldn’t give a fuck about:
- What other people think about you
- Whether or not other people like you
- Whether or not other people approve of your decisions
- The things you can’t control and can’t change
- The expectations of others – unless it’s your boss or your customers
- The opinions of others – especially those who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about
- Celebrity gossip
- The latest trends
- The news – 99% is just clickbait garbage
Is there anything you think I’ve missed that we should or shouldn’t give a fuck about?
Sarah Knight: No, I think you are already a master of giving and not giving a fuck! Everything sounds tip top to me. And you focused in on something that’s really important which is not giving a fuck about what other people think. And that is really the cornerstone. If you can start doing that then you’re going to be golden.
How not to give a fuck
Michael Frank: I also wanted to share with you some of the things that have helped me to not to give a fuck and see if you could add anything or give me your thoughts.
Sarah Knight: Okay
Ask this question
Michael Frank: Asking this question:
“Will this matter 12 months from now?”
If the answer is no – I don’t give a fuck.
If the answer is yes – I’ll do something about it. But I won’t give a fuck. I’ll just take action.
99% of the time the answer is no. So that enables you to stop sweating the small stuff, gain some perspective, and stop giving a fuck.
Critical thinking. If you are a critical thinker, you can see through bullshit, and you know when someone is trying to brainwash or bullshit or manipulate you.
Realize that most people are stupid
I know this is not a PC thing to say, but realizing how dumb the average person is.
I think of the George Carlin quote:
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize that half of them are even stupider than that” – George Carlin
My philosophy is why should I care what the average idiot thinks about anything?
Sarah Knight: Oh yes. I cannot disagree with that. I really cannot.
Most people’s minds are their worst enemy. They say that money makes a good servant, but a poor master, and I would say that the mind makes a good servant, but a terrible master. So if you can watch your mind in meditation and get some space from your thoughts, then you’re less likely to be consumed by anxiety and worry, and you’re more likely to give fewer fucks.
Make a conscious effort
“Try not giving a fuck, there’s a lot of power in that.” – Marc Maron
Making a conscious effort, because like I said earlier, it can be difficult if you’re a habitual approval seeker, people pleaser, worrier, fuck giver to let go. So you need to make a conscious effort to let go in the beginning.
Have something more important to focus on
I think you also need something important to focus on. I think you sweat the small stuff when you’re not focused on the big stuff. So if you’re focused on your projects, your blog, your podcast, your business, your life, you’re less likely to give a fuck about bullshit that doesn’t matter.
Doing things to build your confidence is another good thing. Generally the more baseline confidence a person has, the less fucks they’ll give about what other people might think, say or do.
Confidence building activities
- Acting classes
- Martial Arts
- Public speaking
- Mastering a skill, becoming a subject matter expert
- Making progress on something that is important to you
- Wearing clothes that suit you and make you look good
Remember: You’ll be dead soon
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” – Steve Jobs
And most importantly: Just remembering that you’ll be dead soon. We all will be. You don’t have time to give a fuck. You really don’t.
Do what you want or don’t – either way you’ll be dead soon.
Go for your dreams or don’t – either way you’ll be dead soon.
Sarah Knight: Well you have basically summed up the premise of all four of my books right there. I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said. And some of it I’m really good at, and some of it I’m not as good at. I also like to remind people that this is an ongoing process for me too.
You know I did a whole Ted Talk about this and I still have to remind myself periodically. So I do think that not only do you have to be aware and thoughtful about it in the beginning, but as an ongoing process, you have to remind yourself that you’re on the right path.
Michael Frank: For me, I would sum up your message and your philosophy as:
“Living authentically and honestly and unapologetically by being true to yourself. Being honest, but also being direct. Be polite and respectful, but also realize that you’re not responsible for how other people feel. You don’t necessarily have to do things to trigger and provoke them, but you’re also not responsible if they take offense over nothing.”
Sarah Knight: Exactly. Nailed it again.
How to not give a fuck if you’re highly emotional and emphathetic
Michael Frank: Let’s go to some reader questions:
“What tips would you give to someone who is highly emotional and empathetic on how to give less fucks for those who tend to take stuff to heart?”
Sarah Knight: When you’re too emotionally invested in things, whether it’s somebody else’s feelings, whether it’s being upset or panicky or sad about something bad that’s just happened to you, it just takes all of your focus, you really can’t do what you need to do, you really can’t get anything done.
I think you have to be able to acknowledge those emotions, and spend a little time with them handling it and letting it work itself out and tire itself out.
But take that emotion, and your question was about empathy, and just set it aside for a little bit so that you can really focus on the problem or the task or the issue at hand. And sort of divide that emotional aspect from it. That’s what I do and as I said I was a real people pleaser for 30 years, I wanted to do things that made other people happy, and this is how I’ve managed to distance myself from the original Sarah. And I don’t think that the new Sarah is a bad person. I just think that she’s just more aware of what is necessary for her to live a good life. But I think that having too much empathy and being too emotionally tied up in things can prevent you from being able to move forward and make good decisions and solve problems in your life.
What you think and feel counts too
Michael Frank: Another reader question:
“How do you balance not being a people pleaser, and being respectful to others, especially parents and family?”
Sarah Knight: Well, there’s a difference between being a people pleaser in the sense that you never want to make a good selfish decision that benefits you, because you’re so worried about or concerned with what other people want and what other people think.
The difference is when you realize that what other people want, and what other people think, is not necessarily any more or less valuable or legitimate than what you want, and what you think.
Once you realize that what you want and think and feel counts too, sometimes you’re going to do what you want, and other times you’re going to do what your family or friends want because that’s what keeps the harmony, or that’s what being a good friend is all about, then you’ll automatically feel less burdened and less pissed off by all the stuff that you feel like you’re being forced to do.
If you can just say no to a little bit of the stuff that you really don’t want to do, then you’ll have more time and energy and just generally more goodwill and more good feeling and you may end up at your friend’s five-year-old kids piano recital even though you don’t really want to watch a five year old’s piano recital because you have all this leftover time and energy from not feeling forced.
I think that it’s good for your friendships to stop doing things based out of obligation so that you’re not constantly pissed off at your friends.
Teach people to respect your time
Michael Frank: It teaches people to respect your time too.
Sarah Knight: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that’s very true in a work setting as well, because if you’re like me, you said yes to everything because either consciously or subconsciously you wanted to be the teacher’s pet, the bosses favorite, or you just didn’t want to lose your job, or you really enjoy excelling. But the more you just keep saying yes to things, the more people are going to pile on top of you and they’re not going to respect your time because you haven’t told them to respect it. You haven’t told them that you can’t or don’t want to handle all of this stuff. So it really starts with you.
Should you explain yourself?
Michael Frank: We agree than when someone tries to make their desires your priorities and you say no, if they try to guilt trip you – call them out on it.
But what about when people take offense at you saying no when none was intended? It’s not that you didn’t want to be there for your friend, you just didn’t want to be at that piano recital or that baby shower or that whatever. Do you tend to explain yourself if offense was taken but none was intended?
Sarah Knight: I do and I have, but I’m happy to say that that situation hasn’t arisen very often. Maybe because I have really great friends and an understanding family. But the point is that I think that the reason a lot of us don’t say no to things is because we think there’s going to be this backlash. We think that we’re going to be guilt tripped and shamed. And when we actually do say no, we find out that people are mostly like, oh, okay, sorry I missed you, see you next time!
Do people occasionally try to guilt trip you? Yes. I’ve been on the other end of that. And in those cases I wouldn’t say I’ve argued, but I’ve definitely debated my side of the story with the person who was guilting me and have reached a detente. But I think it’s actually a fear of the guilt that keeps a lot of people giving those unnecessary fucks. And if you stop giving those unnecessary fucks, and you don’t get guilted by people, you’ll be like, Oh god, why didn’t I stop doing this years ago?!
The Likability Vortex
Michael Frank: Let’s talk about the likability vortex. Being liked vs. being respected. What is the likability vortex, and how do we get out of it?
Sarah Knight: Well you know a lot of people ask the question, how do you stop giving a fuck and still be successful in your job? Because don’t you need to be well liked in order to be successful?
And I say, no you do not. You need to be respected first. Being liked is a bonus. It’s great. It’s awesome. But you have got to stop doing things in order to get other people to like you. Because in the end, you don’t really have any control over whether or not other people like you. You can try, you can be nice and solicitous and you can do things for them, but there are going to be people who just don’t like you because they just don’t. They don’t have a good reason. You remind them of somebody they don’t like. They don’t like that one thing you said one time. They don’t know you very well, but for some reason they just don’t like you.
But you can still command respect. You can be a kick ass employee. You can be a great, smart, thoughtful, wise, successful boss and people will grudgingly have to respect you, and a lot of people will do so not grudgingly. But you really can’t worry about what other people think in terms of whether or not they like you. You don’t have control over that. You have control over you, and how good of a job you do, and whether that is worthy of other people’s respect. And that’s all you can do.
How do you make and maintain friends while not giving a fuck?
Michael Frank: Agreed. Reader question:
“How do you make and maintain friends while not giving a fuck?”
Sarah Knight: Well not giving a fuck is really about giving your fucks to the things that make you happy. So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make and maintain friendships if those friendships are making you happy. You know that’s where you should be giving your fucks.
Michael Frank: I also think that sometimes the people that seem to give the least amount of fucks about what other people think, seem to attract the most popularity and attention. I think the less attached you are to what other people think, the more attractive you become.
Sarah Knight: That sounds perfectly reasonable. Sounds like something I should probably be writing about.
What if you don’t give a fuck about anything?
Michael Frank: Reader question: This potentially sounds like someone who is maybe suffering from some sort of depression, I’m not sure:
“What are you to do when you don’t give a fuck about anything? Why can’t I give a fuck about things that actually matter?”
Sarah Knight: That does sound like somebody who is experiencing depression and if they are listening I would urge them to talk to a doctor or to a therapist about those feelings because that is really what depression is, it’s the inability to care, you know, you feel incapable. And I don’t think that somebody who is truly emotionally healthy would have that feeling. I’m not a doctor, but I think that if you’re feeling that way, it’s probably time to talk to a professional.
How to say no without being an asshole
Michael Frank: What are some of the most common questions you get from readers and fans?
Sarah Knight: The most common question I get is:
“How do you say no without being an asshole?”
People say to me you’ve told me why to say no, and why I should feel okay about saying no, but I still feel like I can’t do it without being rude. You know there are people out there like my friend who just couldn’t hang up on a telemarketer even though it was costing her $4 a minute in roaming charges!
Michael Frank: I think it’s probably about the way that you communicate that no, and the timing of that no. Some people are just not ready to hear what you have to say, even if you’re right. I think if you can time it well and address their needs and maybe say “I know this is important to you because of (insert reason) – however (insert reason) is why I’m not going to do it”, whether you just say it’s a personal policy or you have a genuine excuse, is there anything else that you might add to that?
Sarah Knight: Yeah. Another way to say no is to offer another option. Maybe you don’t want to have lunch on a particular day or at a particular place, or your friend is inviting you but you know there’s going to be a 3rd person that you don’t want to do it with, in turning down your friend you can offer an alternative. That’s another way to say no, but make the other person feel like it’s not them, it’s just that you can think of another better way to do this.
Spend your fucks wisely
Michael Frank: Any final thoughts as we wrap up?
Sarah Knight: Yeah. Once you stop giving your fucks (time, energy and money) to things you don’t care about, you’ll start to feel so much lighter and happier and more energized, and you’ll have more time and energy and money to do the things you really want to do. And it’ll make you want to give even fewer, better fucks as time goes on. So it really is a kind of a slippery slope I suppose, but in the best possible way.
I think not giving a fuck actually makes you a better person because it makes you happier, which makes you a better friend and a better sibling and a better parent and a better child and a better employee and colleague and boss because you’re just feeling freer and more liberated.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Sarah Knight’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck, has been published in more than twenty languages, and her TEDx talk, “The Magic of Not Giving a Fuck,” has more than four million views. All of the books in her No Fucks Given Guides series have been international bestsellers, including Get Your Shit Together, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for sixteen weeks. Her writing has also appeared in Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Red, Refinery29, and elsewhere.
After quitting her corporate job to pursue a freelance life, she moved from Brooklyn, New York, to the Dominican Republic, where she currently resides with her husband, two feral rescue cats, and a shitload of lizards.