Surprise Saturday: The Chip On Your Shoulder

How to eliminate needless unhappiness

two brown sailing ship miniatures on window

In the 18th century, shipwrights were allowed to take home a share of the timber used to build and construct warships.

Eventually, too much good wood was lost, and the men were forbidden to carry out large piles of it on their shoulders. Now, they were supposed to carry it under their arms - so they could take less of it. Of course, the workers revolted, demanding to keep logging away their fair share on their shoulders.

This is where the expression “to have a chip on one’s shoulder” comes from. When we insist on continuing to do things a certain way, with or without good reason, that’s a chip we won’t stop carrying.

Often, all it does is hold us back.

This morning, I got a text from a friend:

“Hey! I’ll move next week. Do you have time to help? Probably won’t take long. I’ll buy you pizza or something!”

Now I love pizza more than anyone, but I also have a rule: I never help people move.

“Sorry bro, I’m out. One, I have a lot of work to do and two, I hate moving. I don’t do them on principle.”

Thankfully, he understood.

“Well, at least you’re honest.”

One of the first self-help blog posts I ever read was by James Altucher. It’s called How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps. In it, he writes about how he maintains his emotional health. One of his rules is this:

Always be honest. It’s fun. Nobody is honest anymore and people are afraid of it.

Try being honest for a day (without being hurtful). It’s amazing where the boundaries are of how honest one can be. It’s much bigger than I thought.

A corollary of this is: I never do anything I don’t want to do. Like I NEVER go to weddings.

What James is saying is this: Don’t sacrifice your happiness just to keep carrying an old chip on your shoulder.

Every time I help someone move, I want to punch both them and myself in the face.

Sometimes, it’s because they organize it poorly and we end up schlepping a half a ton wardrobe with three people. Sometimes, it’s because I’m 5’7”, weigh 140 lbs, and am about to collapse under the weight of said wardrobe.

But it’s always because I think: Why did I sign up for this? I hate this. So one day, I decided to stop carrying that chip on my shoulder. Like James, when he stopped going to weddings.

How often do we voluntarily ruin our happiness because we give in to something we know we will regret?

How many people hate weddings or moving or baby showers, yet still say “yes” every time they’re asked? Out of courtesy. Or guilt. Or some other fake societal obligation.

I say forget the rules. Knock the chip off your shoulder. Embrace radical honesty. And don’t make yourself unhappy.

After all, it’s still just wood. If you carry less of it, maybe you’ll feel a little lighter.


About Surprise Saturday: In the long run, the only good pattern breaking our patterns. That’s why, every once in a while, we need a shock to the system. An unexpected idea. A creative surprise. That’s what we’ll unwrap every Saturday.

Picasso said he didn’t seek. He just found. Let’s keep exploring.

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