There's nothing subtle about Mark Manson. He's crude, vulgar and doesn't give a f*ck.
But like anything of true value in life, dig a little deeper and you'll find treasure worthy of any explorer willing to look below the surface.
I recently interviewed Mark about his new book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, and found that the man behind the profanity is actually incredibly inspiring, deeply philosophical, and extremely clever.
So clever in fact that he's brilliantly disguised his book using language as a way of tricking the reader into reading a book about values.
At its core, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a book about finding what's truly important to you and letting go of everything else. In the same way that he encourages limiting exposure to mindless distractions such as social media, television and technology, he encourages limiting concern over things that have little to no meaning or value in your life.
In our interview, Mark said, "If seeing things online or hearing things your co-workers say is really affecting you that much then you need to look at the values in your life. If your emotions are constantly being pushed this way or that way, and you feel like you're never in control, it's probably because you're valuing a lot of the wrong things."
More than a practical guidebook to choosing what's important in our lives and what's unimportant, it's a brutally honest and much needed reality check about our personal problems, fears and expectations. It's a bold confrontation of self, our painful truths, faults and uncertainties, without all the positive airy fairy fluff we've been spoon-fed to believe by self-help gurus.
"Fuck positivity," Manson says. "Let's be honest; sometimes things are fucked up and we have to live with it."
"Not everyone can be extraordinary - there are winners and losers in society, and some if it is not fair or your fault," Manson writes.
"The path to happiness is a path full of shit heaps and shame," he remarks.
By far, my favorite quote in the book.
And I'm an incessant happiness seeker.
Reading Mark's book, I laughed until I snorted and cried until I shriveled. He's as painfully honest as he is outrageously funny. I find his honesty to be refreshing and fulfilling. When every other self-help book injects you with cheap, feel-good highs that last as long as your nose remains buried in the book and serves no practical purpose out in the mud and grime of your daily life, Mark's book yanks you out of delusion and denial, points at the pit you're stuck in and forces you to not only look at the filth and dirt covering you but also to accept it.
This, he says, is the real source of empowerment. "Once we embrace our fears, faults and uncertainties - once we stop running from and avoiding, and start confronting painful truths - we can begin to find the courage and confidence we desperately seek."
Instead of aiming for an unattainably perfect, problem free, feel-good life, Mark suggests asking the essential question, "What problem do you want to have?"
If it's true what he writes, that "Life is essentially an endless series of problems. The solution to one problem is merely the creation of another," then it makes sense when he tells me that life sucks for those who constantly try to get away from problems. Instead of asking "how can I get rid of my problems?" the question becomes, "What are the problems that excite me? What are the problems for which I am willing to sacrifice for, to work for?"
"Predicated on peddling highs to people rather than solving legitimate problems," he calls the modern self-help market the "french fries and soda version of personal growth". "It's really good and easy to consume... but there is an inherently painful and difficult struggle as part of growth and if you are never willing to hit people on the face with that, most people are just gonna avoid it... They're just going to keep finding more feel-good stuff to distract themselves with."
As any fast food restaurant can tell you, there's a lot of money to be made in french fries and soda. And with the self-improvement industry netting $11 billion a year in the US alone, it's no wonder the market is saturated with touchy feely everything-is-awesome french fries. You can practically lick the hope off your fingers along with the salt.
Manson, on the other hand, offers no hope in his book. At least, not on the surface. "This book doesn't give a fuck about alleviating your problems or your pain," he writes. "This book is not some guide to greatness - it couldn't be, because greatness is merely an illusion in our minds, a made-up destination that we obligate ourselves to pursue, our own psychological Atlantis."
The irony is the book actually is about greatness. It is hopeful. There's greatness to be discovered in accepting our lack of greatness, our simplicity and beauty amidst the complex and ugly. And in embracing our problems along with the dirt, muck and grime that essentially accompany life and humanity, we come to live the good life we always yearned for.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is a deeply inspiring book about values and purpose cleverly disguised in crude four-letter vulgarity, negativity and apocalyptic doom.
There are no soft puffy cloud prancing unicorns offering hugs on colorful rainbows, only F-bomb explosions and brutal smack-you-in-the-face reality slaps.
But by the time you finish reading it, you'll find yourself tingling with promise. The world suddenly seems brighter and lighter. You'll feel free, and oddly, good, despite the shit sandwiches served throughout the book. And it won't be the surfacey french fry kind of good that makes your body crave real nourishment, but the kind of home-cooked-goodness good that warms you from deep within, like you've just been served a hearty platter of whole, raw, organic, unfiltered truth.
To listen to the full interview, click here to go to the audio.