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Top five ways to counter self-pity

Photographer: Sydney Sims

I’ve run a design and digital agency for almost 30 years. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in those three decades, mostly by making mistakes. 

My biggest lesson is that our work is all about people. Our team, our clients and their audiences are all complex human beings, doing their best to get through each day, seeing the world from their own unique perspective.

Trying to understand other people, and working out how to behave so they have a chance of understanding you, was the subject I chose for my recent talk at the Spektrix conference. 

One of the key topics I explored was how to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I referenced Stephen Fry and a (tongue in cheek) quote where he said that the key to our own happiness is to stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

He was talking about the difference between depression and the state of self-pity. 

If you live with depression, I implore you to talk to open up to friends and to talk to medical professionals. But if self-pity is your things then here are my top five ways to counter it…

1. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself sometimes

We all beat ourselves sometimes, we all feel we are hard done by, suffer from imposter syndrome, and have arguments that we don’t understand. We all get hungry, angry, aggrieved, frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, undermined and grumpy. That's all OK. It’s what we do next that’s important.

2. There’s no point sulking unless you tell people why 

Sitting in a corner feeling sorry for yourself, hoping that someone will guess what’s wrong, is helping nobody. People can’t read your mind so either tell them what’s upsetting you or get over it.

Or… do something to actively change the situation. Yes, I know that’s all easier said than done – it’s much easier to sulk and moan than to tackle a tricky problem. But if you don’t address the issue, how do you expect the situation to change?

3. Most people are well-meaning most of the time

Most people are just doing their best, trying to get through the day. So don’t imagine that they spend their lives trying to devise ways to ruin yours. Try not to create narratives that are only from your own perspective. Don’t imagine every interaction is loaded with hidden meaning and tricks to catch you out.

Try thinking that the other person only has your best interest at heart. You won’t always be right but you will be happier and more productive.

4. Other people are infuriating but it’s rarely personal 

Hell is other people. But it isn’t usually personal. People are just living their lives oblivious to what’s in your head. When they say or do something that upsets you, ask yourself if they meant it as a personal slight or did they just not think about all the things you would like them to have considered. 

If it was a personal sleight, you can be almost certain that their bitterness comes from somewhere else in their life. That’s nothing to do with you. 

5. You can choose to change your perspective 

We are all playing roles in our own and other people’s stories. It’s very easy to settle in to that role and become a character or even a caricature. But we don’t have to. Today could be the day, to change and become a different, more empathetic person. It might help you be better at your job, and you might be happier and healthier while you are doing it.

What have you got to lose?

Michael Smith is the founding director of Cog Design, a design and digital agency that helps arts organisations inspire their audiences.

@michael_cog
cogdesign.com