The following is an excerpt from my book, The Lovely: A Manifesto, Of Sorts.
If you really want to see ugliness, you’ll find it. Your eyes will search it out, your mind will create it and you may, subconsciously, crave it. It will become part of who you are. The way to live with the ugliness, the dark, that with which we are ashamed, or that which we mock, is to really desire the lovely, the unique and the special. We only have to flip the switch in our minds and look at each, individual object as lovely it transcends before our eyes.
It’s not easy. And some people will laugh and roll their eyes and mock the process. But however easy it is to make something ugly is exactly how easy it is to make something beautiful. I have absolutely no doubt many people reading this will stop reading soon and chalk up my views as childish or trite. I’m ok with that. I think they are lovely anyway. The truth is, a lovely mindset is the one of the most difficult things in the world to keep. Life brings challenges; but we bring ourselves to the challenge. That simple mindset is the difference between ugly and lovely. There are barriers to everything in life. Some imaginary and some real. Our mindset causes unhappiness just as much as any other outside forces. The truth is, we think we understand our mindset when we really do not.
True ugliness and loveliness is misunderstood, and people can go through their entire life without really understanding what those words really mean. Ugly isn’t just meanness and frowns. It’s the lies we believe about ourselves. And letting those lies spread, so we project those lies onto other people. It’s hiding who you are so much that you begin to dislike yourself, and you start to not like other people either. It’s believing a criticism about your work is a criticism about yourself. It’s believing you’ll never be good enough, so don’t even try. And lovely? Lovely isn’t just competence, it’s not just happy, sunshine and unicorns. Lovely is not taking offence just becomes someone offers it. It’s believing in yourself before anyone else does. It’s telling someone about a spelling error, it’s holding the door open for someone else, it’s letting someone with two items go in front of you, because you have a cart full. It’s believing the best in yourself, and spreading that belief to others. It’s leadership without the power trip. It’s living your life and not listening to the little, mean, dirty things your brain tries to tell you. Loveliness is not meanness or revenge or get-evens.
Lovely is not just an adjective; it’s an action verb. It’s something you have to fight for, every day. You have to choose to put aside all the ugly, mark it “Do Not Open, Ever”, pack it in a box and send that sucker into outer space. Sometimes, it will come back in the least expected ways...you’ll walk into your kitchen, you’ll see the empty box, and you’ll wonder where the contents are hiding. And sometimes it will show up in unexpected places and unassuming faces. You’ll have to re-pack and re-send. Over time, it will get easier. You’ll notice the empty box earlier, or, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the box trying to land, and you’ll send it back out into space.
True loveliness starts with always recognizing the ugly for what it is: it’s not jealousy, fear or pettiness. It’s a simple misunderstanding, plain and simple. It’s the brain trying to make sense of a foreign concept, or previously unheard language or food. Remember when you were a child? And maybe you heard that people eat snails, or crickets or eels. Your response was usually ‘what?’, followed by ‘ewwww!’...but the ‘what’ came first. It’s the same way with mindset. Our brains are used to comfort of deception. It’s used to keeping us in the state of fear and uncertainty. But as you begin to see the world as lovely, the misunderstandings will fade away. A thought here, a wish there, a conversation there, begins to snowball and you keep plugging away step by step, until you’re running the marathon, and your mindset is different. It requires more than just training, it requires both a desire and a laser-like focus. But once you get started, you will want to keep it going. You’ll find there’s more happiness in taking what was once ugly and making it lovely. You’ll find you don’t want to make clouds on a sunny day.
An exercise to start on the lovely path: It works to recognize ugly, and where it hides in your life. At the end of a bad day, take a pencil and paper (it has to be some sort of writing instrument and something upon which you write, typing is different experience) and write down everything bad, or worrisome, or frustrating which happened. Do this every bad day. After a day or so, look at your list, and figure out which ones were avoidable and which ones weren’t. Then, which ones you have (or had) the power to change, and the ones you didn’t. Some things you can’t change. There are some things over which you have absolutely no power. If you can’t change it, change your mindset. Yeah, I know, easy to say. But it’s not easy. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. If you are working the overnight shift at a gas station, and your boss yells at you for things you can’t control, you can’t just quit. You can look for another job, sure, but that could take a while. You have to put in the overnight shift. It’s unavoidable. But I challenge you to find one (just one!) thing about your job that you like. And focus the hell on that one thing. Maybe you can read when no one’s there. Maybe you can listen to your favorite music. Maybe you have some regular customers or coworkers who make the job bearable. Focus on what you can do to make the job bearable, because if you don’t, the job becomes ugly. Your mind becomes ugly, and you begin to see ugly everywhere. The lovely portions of life can sometimes be the tiniest see-through sliver of a slice compared to the larger portion. It’s can also be that which saves us.