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Are You A Spectator of Your Own Life?

By Martha Sigargök-Martin | Get Inspired

Jun 13
Set the right priorities

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) by Joel and Ethan Coen

A Little Story About Being The Specator of One's Own Life

Have you ever watched a movie by the Coen Brothers?

Well, you probably have but in case you haven’t, Joel and Ethan Coen make films that are quirky, sometimes cynical, and very specific to them. All of their films are different from each other but they have a style and sense of humor that is unmistakable.

One of their most striking films is “The Man who wasn’t there”, released in 2001. It’s a neo-noir that tells the story of Ed Crane, a barbershop employee.

Now, I’ll have to spoil the story to explain to you what’s it’s all about.

The story takes place in the town of Santa Rosa, California, in 1949. Ed Crane stumbles on situations in his life without being an active part of it. He’s married to Doris, an alcoholic bookkeeper and work at the barber shop of his brother-in-law, Frank.

Ed’s thoughtless life takes a dramatic turn as a customer proposes him a deal. The businessman needs investors to put up $10,000 in a new technology called dry cleaning. Ed decides to blackmail his wife's boss, “Big Dave” Brewer, to stole the money from his department. He also happens to know that his wife is having an affair with him but he doesn’t do anything about it.


After Dave discovers who’s set him up, he attempts to kill Ed at the barber shop, but the later accidentally kills him before the job gets done. The police arrest Doris (Ed’s wife) for theft and Dave’s murder.

Ed is persuaded to hire Freddy Riedenschneider, a defense attorney from Sacramento, whom he pays his stay in the most expensive hotel in town by mortgaging the barber shop. On the morning of the trial, Ed finds out that his wife has hanged herself in her cell. It’s later revealed, that she was pregnant with Dave’s child. Ed, deeply in debt, starts drinking heavily.

But it’s not over for Ed yet. More torments are to come. To forget about his situation he visits regularly Rachel “Birdy” Abundas, a friend's teenage daughter, to hear her play the piano. He fantasizes about becoming her manager and decides to visit her music teacher to discuss her career. Unluckily, he's told that the teenager has no talent. On their way back home, she tries to thank him for his engagement by giving him a blow job. He loses control of the car and they crash.

Ed wakes up in the hospital surrounded by the police who arrest him for murder. They have found Ed’s investment contract next to Tolliver’s body, the businessman from the barbershop. Ed mortgages his house to engage Riedenschneider but as Frank – his former boss – attacks him during the trial, Ed has nothing left for his defense. He’s sentenced to death and ends up in an electric chair.

While Ed is electrocuted, he reflects on his fate, regretting none of his “decisions” and hoping to see his wife in the afterlife.

Making Conscious Choices

Now, why am I telling you this story, which isn’t even real and pretty cynical by the way?

Because it’s a parable for avoiding making conscious choices.

Being a spectator of one's own life is a way of living, many people have.

It's not conscious nor intentional, but it happens.

The problem with that is that if you're in that state for too long, you're going to be very unhappy without even knowing why.

If you're trying to achieve something; writing a book, a screenplay, making a film or something else creative, you'll need to take control over a few things in order to be productive.

Here are tips I can give you, to help you taking control back and get peace of mind if you want to.

Set Priorities...

I guess this isn't the first time you've heard this...

And it's good advice. the problem is that it only tells you what you have to do, but not how you can do it.

I know, and understand very well, that setting priorities is a very difficult task for lots of people, especially the creative ones.

If you’re a hardcore creative you’ll probably have many phases where you have a lot of ideas at the same time, feel euphoric, and then mentally burned out before you've even started.

The problem is if you don’t decide on what idea you should act right now, you’ll end up doing nothing at all.

Ed is a spectator of his own life. Yes, he acts, yet he just takes what life is throwing at him and isn’t even really present. He doesn’t have priorities because he doesn’t have a hint of an idea of what he wants to do with his life.

He starts to work at the barbershop, because Frank, his brother-in-law gave him the job. He starts to blackmail his wife’s boss because Creighton Tolliver walked into the shop and asked. His wife cheats on him, yet, he does nothing about it. He doesn’t love his life and doesn’t see any meaning in it.

And that’s what prioritizing is all about, making conscious choices.

Of course, we make choices all day long. We take the red pill or the blue pill but the question is to know if it’s conscious.

See... Ed has made his choices. Even doing nothing is a choice. But he wasn’t conscious about it. By not positioning himself, prioritizing what’s important for him, he ends up in an electric chair.

Fine, you get it, setting priorities is king, but how?

First, let's get to the bottom of the problem...

The Reason Why You Can't Seem To Find Your Priorities

I understand very well that it might be difficult for you to even know what you really want. And the reasons can be more complex than you think.

There is a lot of confusion in the personal development industry around this because it rarely takes into account that a lot of people don’t even know what they want.

I’m horrified myself when I go to the supermarket and see people wondering for minutes in front of a shelf because they don’t know if they want to eat the yogurt with blueberries or the one with strawberries…

If you recognize yourself in this, think about it...

If you don’t even know which yogurt you want to eat, how are you going to know what bigger things you want in life?

Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to think according to what others expect of us. And, big spoiler, it starts in your childhood. Whether you had very anxious parents who would only make decisions on the account of what’s the neighbors are going to think, or authoritarian ones who broke every hint of will and individuality in you, what you’ve experienced in your early years will influence the rest of your life.

Bam! Hard to swallow, right?

But hold on there. There's hope. Since you’re not a three-year-old anymore and as long as you’re not dead, you have the power to change things. It’s not going to be easy – sometimes it can be – but it’s worth it.

The reason why it isn’t going to be easy is that you have hard-wired patterns in your brains that have been built for years.

Concretely, If you have been told you’re worthless during your childhood and acted in accordance - which you have if you were told this - and you’re in your 30s, it means that you have had the same negative thoughts about yourself, over and over again for 30 years.

You need to replace your hard-wired negative thoughts about yourself with new, positive ones. And that won’t change overnight.

However, I want to emphasize something here. It doesn’t mean that it will need 30 more years to rewire your brain!

In fact, I think, people who need years to recover, need years to recover because they expect and they’re told, that it’s going to take years.

So... How Do You Set Priorities?

Unfortunately, this like the passion thing. Nobody can answer that for you.

And believe me, I feel you. I’m also someone who tends to seek answers from the outside for my daily challenges. And if you're reading this, you're looking for an answer. But I have kind of bad news here:

Nobody can tell you how to do it in the end. Because nobody is you.

Disappointed?

Don’t panic! There are solutions. The thing is, that you'll have to realize right now, that solutions are individual. Yes, of course, you can try to model someone else and use proved methods to manage your life, but, you’ll have to find out what YOUR best solution is.

However, I do have a few tips for you to start in the right place.

You Need To Find Out What Matters To You

In order to set priorities, you need to know what’s really important to you first.

If you don't know anymore what you want, it's because you've lost contact with your inner self on the way.

1. Start paying attention to what feels good and what not

In a society that relies heavily upon keeping up the appearances, we've got the tendency to think that we should want what other people want, especially if they seem to be successful from the outside.

So, start paying attention to how you feel inside and ask yourself the right questions...

  • Do you keep a job that makes you feel dead inside because you're afraid to go (which is a very understandable concern by the way)?
  • Do you keep seeing that one friend, despite the fact that you feel awful after every meeting?
  • Do you keep going to that store managed by a rude employee that makes you feel uncomfortable?

Every time you have a negative feeling, go into introspection and ask yourself where it comes from. It can be that you've to work on your attitude, but many times, if you haven't done anything wrong, it's a lead you should follow.

The same applies to positive feelings...

If you think about doing something and it feels good inside, Follow that lead. There's a thing I'm convinced about:

Whatever helps you and feels good to you, is, in fact, good for you.

By that, I don’t mean joining a cult or start doing drugs. It doesn’t make any sense to replace a problem with another problem.

But starts with the little things that are easy, harmless, and feel good.

2. Start Reconnecting With Your Inner Compass by Setting Boundaries

And that's a big one!

If you belong to the empath/sensitive fraction, setting boundaries is probably a major issue for you.

Start with baby steps.

When someone is disrespectful to you, don’t just swallow the pill and move on with it.

Fight back!

You don’t have to be aggressive about it, but don’t swallow the pill.

Ask why they’re asking you that, instead of going down to that path where you’re telling yourself that it always happens to you and that you’re unlucky or whatever negative belief is wired into your brain.

Instead of blaming life and yourself, ask!

You’ll see the more you stand up for yourself, the better you’ll get at perceiving what’s going on inside of you.

Of course, what is disrespectful to you depends on your own expectations and isn't something you can define objectively. Except if someone spits in your face, he probably meant to be disrespectful, but it's not the point.

The point is to recognize when you feel uncomfortable, why you feel uncomfortable, and learn to set the boundaries you need in order to find your inner compass.

3. Start facing your problems instead of avoiding them

Now, do something that takes more courage.

If you have dealt with an interpersonal situation (with colleagues, friends, and/or family) for too long, and repressed your feeling for a long time, I want you to set a date on your agenda where you’ll talk to that person.

It needs a lot of guts. I feel terrified for you, just writing those lines, but it'll set you free.

Because every issue you have, that hasn’t been solved, is killing you inside and has a negative impact on everything that you do. No exception.

Whether it's a grudge you've held for years or someone who "hurts you" on a regular basis, at some point you'll have to make a conscious choice to change the situation.

If you still have that kind of conflict in your life, it means that thinking positively about it and moving on doesn't work on you yet.

So, you'll have to tackle it the good old fashion way...

For example, if you feel badly treated by someone you can't avoid on a regular basis, try to tell that person how you feel.

I emphasize on the "how-you-feel"-part because your feelings are objective (sounds weird but they are!), however, your interpretation of the way that person treats you isn't!

So isn't the interpretation of your counterpart, provided that she knows what you mean.

I don't believe in that bullshit that conflicts are shared 50-50. I do think that there are dominant people in this world who get on the nerve of everybody else and have proudly earned a 90 % share of the problem,

However, there's no such thing as objectivity.

But! If a discussion turns into a serious conflict, which is very uncomfortable, stand your ground!

By that, I don't mean becoming an asshole or not recognizing your fault, if you think your counterpart has a point, but don't let him/her belittle what you feel and, above all, belittle you as a person.

There's a big difference between criticizing what someone has done and telling that person that she's not okay the way she is.

Sadly, it's not rare to see sensitive and empathic people attract assholes - an asshole isn't okay the way he is, but again here, it's an interpretation - because the later love to feed psychologically on them.

If you've been really fucked up during your childhood, you'll feel a sensation of guilt after having stood up for yourself but at some point, it will disappear and set energy free for what matters to you.

In Conclusion

I know it's a lot! But if you start to follow my advice, you'll notice that you'll feel more and more freedom and start to reconnect with yourself.

The more you'll listen to yourself, the easier it will get to identify what you want and what you don't want.

Setting priorities, according to what you want in life, will then become a piece of cake.

Do you have problems setting priorities and boundaries? Please tell me in the comment section below, I'd be happy to answer!

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About the Author

Hey! I'm Martha, and I help creative people understanding and solving mental and creative blocks through blog posts about film, series, and creativity, as well as through a creative coaching website (marthasm.com) just dedicated to this topic.

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