How to Be a Person in the World
Heather Havrilesky

Longform Says

Heather Havrilesky is the writer behind “Ask Polly,” the advice column of New York Magazine’s The Cut, and last year’s best-selling How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life. Heather is honest, unsparing, optimistic, existential, and very, very funny. She’s also an essayist, cultural critic, and author of the 2010 memoir Disaster Preparedness. There’s no one else we’d rather have diagnose the sorry state of our modern souls IN ALL CAPS, EVERY WEEK, WITH DEADLY ACCURACY. Hear her on episode #182.

Excerpt from How to Be a Person in the World

All of this reflects a wider societal shift toward encountering anyone who seems slightly out of step with the reigning cultural ideal of cool indifference as damaged goods. People who are anxious or pensive or a tiny bit off-kilter are quickly labeled as losers or freaks. People who are shy or conversationally awkward or out of practice are written off as shut-ins or nerds. The irony is that apathy and vagueness and under explaining and ghosting— attitudes and behaviors that drive the sensitive among us insane— are defined as normal. Remember how people used to say that this or that social scene is “just like high school all over again”? Well, the whole world is high school all over again. We are expected to act like cool kids — light, breezy, disengaged— in every environment. As a culture, we’re unknowingly mimicking carefully scripted sitcom characters, as if they represent some Platonic ideal of humanity. We expect ourselves and each other to move through the world with the bulletproof, professionally slick, faux confidence of comedic sidekicks and superheroes.

You don’t need a better script. What you need is some practice doing less. You need to learn to forget yourself in the moment, to relax and take in the scenery without trying to make everything right. Practice not firing off questions and filling in the gaps. Don’t master disingenuous suaveness like the rest of the world. That will get you nowhere. Present your flawed self, without always struggling to make adjustments and corrections as you go. Accept that you are a little odd, and the world will accept it, too.


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