Soft skin, strong core
Today, the way we think you get peace is by resolving all your external problems. But there are unlimited external problems. The only way to actually get peace on the inside is by giving up this idea of problems.
— Naval Ravikant
Having thick skin isn’t always a good thing. I used to think it was the key to a great life without pain or stress. But my mind changed when I learned why it’s not as good as many people say it is.
Praising people who appear undeterred from their problems or opinions, people who try to deflect negativity with a shrug or casual declaration of, “Just don’t let these things get to you”, is missing a crucial point. I grew up praying to get to a stage in my life where I’d be so wonderfully thick-skinned that no bullying or vicious comments could get past the unyielding fortress of resilience I would have built. And I used to be very hard on myself about it, pushing myself to shrug things off or demand why I continuously struggled with other people’s opinions.
Thick skin implies being able to stop bad things or people from getting through to you. But you only avoid it because you spend the whole time convincing yourself that you’re fine.
Whether you believe it or not, this is impossible.
A thick-skinned mindset is the wrong attitude. In the same way that forcing yourself to forget the past or ignore a problem will only amplify it. Being thick-skinned doesn’t cure anything because if something or someone gets to you, it’s a sign you surfaced an insecurity from your internal world. After all, what use is a leading edge barricade for your fortress when the threat’s already inside?
I believe in soft skin, strong core. The past four years exemplified the potency of this philosophy as I found it to be lightyears ahead of the old adage of having thick skin. In the past, I’d ignore my problems, suppress them, let negative thoughts control me, and get angry when a bad thought wandered through the resonant mist of my mind. I’d blame all problems on externals: other people, my “unlucky” circumstances or the luck of others, or I’d leave it to the assertion that I will address them… later.
Your internal world is the most important thing in your life. Believe me. A strong core (in every sense) is the foundation to the capability of solving any problem you come across. A strong core means having vigorous self-belief and a strong support system—internally and externally—that helps you navigate through your issues, rather than always trying to walk around them.
Sit and listen to your internal state
Ignoring what gets to you in the hope of simply moving on is a bad philosophy to have. Thick skin fosters your issues. It lets them take shelter and makes them harder to remove in the future. When I used to let most things get to me—even if they weren’t aimed at me—it wasn’t my lack of thick skin that was the problem; it was that I agreed with what was said, because it underlined problems that already existed.
At the time I was always reactive, never proactive to these issues. It made me overthink or isolate myself until I felt better. But because I chased having thick skin so much, it only led to me being more permissive and accepting of the bad things. I didn’t work on my internal state as I lived consumed with trying not to listen to my issues.
A better recommendation that worked for me over the past two years is sitting with your internal pains and leaning on them. Listening to them. I know how hard it is because I’ve practised it for a while. Start with the right questions: what is this triggering in me? What am I believing? When someone says something about me, do I believe them? Why? When a new problem surfaces, is it resurfacing something else as well?
Don’t start ignoring your problems when this happens. They will only reappear, and a thick-skinned person would be too afraid to admit it. Your negative beliefs will always be there unless they are addressed and even if you consciously try not to listen to them, you will find yourself living a life in a way that affirms your existing negative beliefs.
One of the most healing things I’ve done for myself is to stop striving for thicker skin—and opt for a stronger core. Having friends and people that genuinely care about having you around and checking in on you, getting excited about your growth, will cure you many times over than the old advice of simply toughening up.
No matter how much you ignore your issues, they will get through to you one day. And you won’t be able to handle them without a strong core. Yes, naturally, our skin will get tougher as we move through life and care less. But the one thing that doesn’t naturally happen but needs to happen intentionally is to build a stronger, healthier support system. And we do this by letting the things in, but embracing what matches our beliefs and values, and removing what doesn’t.
What I’ve Learned
Here’s what I’ve learned recently.
Burnout and the time trap of productivity
Seneca wrote “Everything we have belongs to others; time alone is ours.” to explain why we rush through life instead of enjoying it, or why we feel stress mounting when we haven’t ticked off our to-do list for the day. “In a culture focused on managing time, we’ve become subservient to it.” says Lawrence Yeo.
Burnout is the culmination of energy spent during your working hours, but also the thought spend during the time you’re not working. Like when you’re physically with your family, but mentally planning what to work on next. Time management is important but exploration and creativity cannot truly exist within the bounds of time. It arises when you give yourself time and clarity of mind, and that’s a better thing to optimise for than to lay your daily schedule out to the last hour.
Productivity and avoiding burnout can be solved by simple things: a morning walk or run, journaling, meditation, and not drinking on weekdays. These aren’t bound by their time commitment, but they provide a presence of mind that prevents a future of regret or a need to control or reverse disorder and introduce tension.
Relationship compatibility boils down to communication
A tweet by RomeoStevens made me think about my past relationships, and this realisation: all the good things in relationships come from the ability to communicate. All the bad things come down to the inability to bridge the gaps between us. The trend I noticed in my past relationships, and the ones of friends I’ve helped, was that it can often feel like problems surface from not speaking the language of the other person. Most problems come from struggling to translate the other person, and it can feel like you’re talking past each other. All the best moments stem from communication; physical chemistry in one form, in part with mental chemistry. Where love is found through your minds wandering to the same places. Communication is an art and a science, and while I’ve gotten better at it (I used to be awful) I still have a long way to go.
What’s on My Mind
It’s hard to see a better life coming when you can’t see any signs of it. Right now, I’m happy with my life; I’m working on the things that I enjoy, putting myself on track for the opportunities I want, and a lot is going on that keeps me feeling fulfilled. But what I want next is to be more comfortable with understanding that I’m on the right path, and I just need to focus on myself, be positive, and consistently do the things that make me happy. Most things fall into place that way.
One Question for You
What’s one purchase you’ve made recently that made the biggest difference in your life?
Be the best of yourself,