Dushka Zapata is one of the most popular and influential writers in the world. Her brilliant essays have been viewed over 178 million times on Quora and through her social media, and have been compiled into 11 amazing books. Dushka was born in Mexico and has lived in multiple countries, through which she has developed an appreciation for, and deep understanding of, other people. She has an incredible knack for taking complex subjects and perpetual life dilemmas and breaking them down into simple, easy-to-understand and grasp ideas and concepts. What she offers the world is truly life-changing.
ESSAYS BY AND Q&A WITH DUSHKA ZAPATA
What Skills Are Useful Every Day?
Observation: Be attentive. Notice. Nothing is ordinary.
A sense of adventure: Take a chance. Participate. Explore.
Resourcefulness: Exercise your ability to deal with an unexpected turn of events.
Patience: Resist irritation or restlessness when something takes longer or is more complicated than you thought it would be.
Spontaneity: Don’t over-plan. Don’t premeditate. Act on impulse.
Wonder: Marvel. Return to the time when you experienced awe.
The Other Is Like You
One of the most painful things is the illusion that we are along and that no one understands us. Compassion is the antidote.
Compassion is an ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It means you can see things from their perspective — it’s a deep form of understanding.
Compassion makes it much more difficult to feel indifference and isolation. It makes it harder to feel anger, frustration, animosity.
It invites you to realize that another is like you. It lends you a feeling of community instead of one of disassociation.
Compassion get you out of your troubles and your stories and your head, to connect you, introduce you to a collective instead of individual universe.
Being compassionate is one of the ways to move through the world understanding more and suffering less.
Q: It feels like compassion was already lacking in this age of social media, and it has only been made more difficult through this disconnected year of the pandemic, election, etc. How does one go about developing more compassion?
• Experience – When you experience things, you can understand it better.
• What I do to my own brain … Choices of how I interpret things that happen.
• Do you rile yourself up, or rile yourself down?
• We would be doing ourselves a huge favor if we put ourselves in others’ shoes to make an effort to better understand their perspective instead of indignantly trying to hold onto ours.
• Compassion is one of the recipes for suffering less.
• This makes my life easier to live.
Q: How do you feel travel has impacted your ability to be compassionate?
• A lot of what you feel compassionate for has to do with your ability to understand others, and the more you travel, the more you understand others.
• What makes us the same is so much more than what makes us different.
How Is It Possible That I Exist?
Hundreds and thousands of things — millions of things — had to line up just right.
Galaxies and their trajectory. Stardust and how it fell. Evolution and the way it took place across eons. People encountering other people, so they could get together and make the people who made the people who made the people who made me.
My mother and father meeting for the first time in that field of poppies.
The moment of my conception — not earlier or later. Not to any other people but these two people, complete with their fire and their dreams.
My existence defies all odds.
I am a miracle, and so are you.
Q: How do you counsel the person who doesn’t think they’re a miracle, but thinks instead that they are ordinary or less than others?
• My next book is literally about that. Expounds upon recent book “Love Yourself, And Other Insurgent Acts That Recast Everything.”
• Being influenced is in the receiver, the person being influenced.
• Loving yourself is a process that no one else can do for you.
• It’s a realization that just comes upon you one day.
Q: As you look back on your own life, when do you feel that realization occurred for you?
• I was lucky that my parents always made me feel special.
• I built myself around this so much so that I never really questioned it.
A self-confident person can distinguish reality from her insecurity. For example, I don’t need to get everything perfect, I don’t need to compare myself to others. I know that when I fee nobody understands me I have to work on understanding myself.
A self-confident person feels gossip and putting others down is a waste of time and cannot be bothered with it.
A self-confident person know who she is what she wants. This is because the need for approval does not override her own voice.
She is transparent. She expresses what she things and what she likes. She is not afraid of not being liked for who she is so she has nothing to hide.
She craves time alone. She does not need to be constantly distracted and feels like being alone = being in the best company.
She treats herself well. She is her own best friend. Her inner narrative is kind.
She takes care of herself. She eats well, goes to the doctor, does things she enjoys as a gift to herself.
She does healthy things. Goodbye toxic relationships (even if I still love you). Goodbye job where I’m not appreciated. I deserve better, and I’m going to go find it.
She recognizes her own efforts. Even if no one knows the effort she just went through, she knows. She feels proud of herself.
• My next book about self-love breaks down a lot of these ideas.
• My critical inner narrative is “You could have done that better.”
• Checking our inner narrative to course-correct what we hear all the time is an important step.
• The simple question “What is it that’s best for me?” is actually really difficult to answer, and it really requires that I lower the volume on everyone else’s voice so that I can hear mine.
• This is why I’m such a good advocate of spending time alone.
Q: And does spending time alone illuminate that inner voice for you?
• We really suffer from the noise of people around us.
• We need to have the space to influence ourselves.
• I need a lot of time alone.
On the other side of the spectrum from self-confidence is self-consciousness.
When I first began taking yoga classes, I was mortified about all the things I couldn’t do. What if people thought I was incompetent, inflexible, out of shape?
I noticed in the throes of my stress that I spent a great deal of energy worrying about how humiliated I could feel but no energy at all looking at others or thinking less of them because of what they could or could not do.
Be who you are. Do what you can. Follow what interests you. When you walk into any room and worry about what others might think of you, let me assure you that they are way too busy worrying about what others think of them.
• Everyone judges you but nobody really cares.
• Don’t let what other people think of you have an impact over your decisions about yourself.
• Our friend, Christopher Lochhead, is unapologetically authentic.
• It’s not sustainable to try to be somebody else.
• It is not our job to try to live up to somebody else’s expectations for us.
Quote from Joan Rivers … “Listen, I wish I could tell you it gets better. But, it doesn’t get better. YOU get better.”
Q: Dushka, how are you better today than you were 1 year ago or 5 years ago?
• I suffer less.
• I don’t put myself at the center of everything.
• Taking things personally puts you at the center of everything, and makes you suffer more.
• It’s exhausting.
• We are the lens through which we see the world.
• Whenever somebody asks me what book should I read, I recommend “The Four Agreements,” because of its direct relationship with the impact it can have on your life. One of the 4 agreements is “Don’t Take Things Personally.”
• Giving feedback is an EFFORT, it’s safer to say nothing, so the mere fact that somebody would offer your feedback is truly a compliment.
• Learn the difference between FACT and STORY. What actually happened is a fact. Most of our interpretations about what happened is a story.
• Sometimes, suffering is in the thing that happened. But most of the time, suffering is in the story. So most of what makes us suffer DOES NOT EXIST.
• I find this to be incredible powerful and liberating.
• It helps to have a “story buddy” in your life who can point out to you when you are allowing a story to affect you negatively.
How To Change Anything
To tell you how to change anything, I am going to give you an answer that you will find massively unsatisfactory. I know this because when I first discovered it I found it massively unsatisfactory.
Except that it has changed everything.
The answer is this: be aware. Aware. Like this: “Wow, I am doing it again — I feel like this is someone else’s fault.”
You don’t judge it. It’s not good or bad. You just see.
Once you become aware of something and identify it as damaging, your body and your brain will begin to rearrange things. You don’t need to understand how.
That’s it. Awareness is the catalyst for everything.
• This ties well to what we just discussed. You become AWARE that you are spinning a story.
• Awareness is the beginning of all change.
• You can’t change what you don’t see.
Here, Dushka starts talking about her most recent book: “How To Draw Your Boundaries And Why No One Else Can Save You”
• If you don’t establish your boundaries, you become very resentful.
• Boundaries are as easy as saying “no,” but they’re also very complicated.
• Boundaries are the key to every healthy relationship.
• Not taking things personally allows you to respect another person’s boundaries.
Dushka’s newest book coming out soon (March 2021) is a workbook based on the book “Love Yourself, And Other Insurgent Acts That Will Recast Everything.“
• It’s a workbook that you fill out with your answers.
• It’s called “How To Love Yourself : A Workbook”
• It’s really about you writing your own book about how to love yourself.
Q: In “Life Lessons I Learned The Hard Way,” you write this: “Discipline, far from punishing, is the highest, truest, manifestation of self-love.” Can you unpack this one a bit?
• I am a huge proponent of discipline.
• There are 2 manifestations of self-love … one is a boundary, the other is discipline.
• Dushka reads a new essay here on discipline.
• Discipline is the bridge from where you are now to where you want to be.
• Look at what you’re doing every day, because it adds up, whether good or bad.
Q: Another lesson you share is this: “The meaning of life is connection. Identify people who inspire you and build you up and keep them near you.” Who inspires you most, Dushka?
• Everybody! People are so interesting and amazing.
• If you assume that the people worth being inspired over are few, you miss the fact that everyone has a story.
• Dushka reads a new essay she wrote a few days ago … about how her friend handles the wrapper of a chocolate bar.
If Feelings Are Fickle, Why Act On Them?
Many, many feelings come and go. They are a flash, lightning, brush fire, forest fire, a cleanse, nothing.
Many feelings come and direct your life. They are a guiding light, a lighthouse, a bright shooting star, everything.
You can tell the difference because aside from from feelings you have thoughts, aside from thoughts you have goals.
You come with other things too: ethics, principles, intentions, your decisions, your actions — a sense of right and wrong.
Feel a feeling. Think a thought. Give each their just, fair space. Let them take you for a spin — you might as well, since they will whether you want them to or not.
But recognize that just because you feel something doesn’t mean you must act on it.
What do you want? Where will following this feeling take you? Does that sound like somewhere you want to go? Does that sound like the person you want to be?
You are not your feelings. You are the person who feels them. You are not your thoughts. You are the person who thinks them.
What you are is the person who gets to decide.
• Let me explain what I mean by “feelings are fickle.” When you feel something that you don’t want to feel, you tend to believe that this feeling is going to be permanent. But it’s not that way, so hold on.
Q: Dushka, how did you learn to separate your feelings and thoughts from your actions?
• It’s so hard, because it requires that you doubt yourself.
• First I read about this … it’s a Buddhist principle.
• What really landed it for me is I learned to meditate.
• When you learn to meditate, you start to make a distinction between your thoughts and yourself.
Q: Is there a specific meditation practice you follow today?
• I pick a quiet spot. I sit, I breathe, and I try to focus on my breath for 4 minutes. That’s it.
• Dushka recommends the app called “Calm,” and a meditation course by Jeff Warren
Is Optimism Delusional
This question assumes that pessimists see things as they are. This puts me in a place where I would have to accept detaching myself from reality in order to be happy, where I have to decline seeing things clearly if what I want is to feel good.
How can I possibly be happy if I believe happiness is bargain I would never want to strike?
I reject any perspective that traps me into having to choose not to be happy, or that makes me believe that happiness implies the loss of something I can’t live without.
Instead, I can be happy without ever needing to deceive myself, and so can you.
• I don’t think optimism is something you can force on another person.
• And I don’t feel optimistic all the time.
• If I have a choice, I would rather look at something in a way that makes me happy than in a way that doesn’t.
Q: Does simple gratitude play a part in being more optimistic?
• I think gratitude is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves.
• Gratitude shifts my perspective from what I don’t have to what I do have.
• We can do a lot for ourselves with our perspective.
Q: Much of my audience are people in their 20s. I’d love for you to read them a part from “Torment & Butterflies.”
Oh my god just look at you. You have everything you need.
You are beautiful in ways you won’t understand for decades. You are in a hurry, but have so much time. You feel like you will have everything figured out a few years from now, but all you are doing is rushing towards the time you realize that moment never comes.
And your angst — ah, your angst. I know you want to get rid of it, and you should, but also it’s life force. Use it.
I was not like you when I was in my twenties. You are so together. You see so much more than I ever did.
You are doing to be OK. I don’t mean everything is going to be OK. I mean you. I know this because I see it right in front of me, plain as day.
What Skills Make Me A Better Human
Self love, which allows me to see things as they are, rather than defensively.
Selflessness, to always consider the thoughts and feelings of others rather than being under the illusion that anything revolves around me.
Generosity, to give, forgive, and assume the best intentions in others.
Gratitude, to appreciate what I have rather than only have eyes for what I don’t.
Non-judgment, to accept and understand both myself and other people.
Accountability as the antidote to blame.
Compassion, the ability to put myself in another person’s shoes.
Courage, to face fear and be willing to make the right choice for myself even if I risk disappointing others.
Q: And WRITING, right Dushka? Why should everyone write?
• 3 skills that are important to learn for professional purposes: writing, how to be better presenters, and how to think visually (drawing)
• Dushka’s recommends “Draw To Win” and “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam.
• We were visual before we had language.
The Most Essential Human Needs:
Setting aside the most obvious things, such as food and water and being safe, the most essential human needs are:
• Purpose or meaning
• Validation, being seen, understood — not from ego, but from identity
• The sense that you are leaving something behind, or LEGACY.
Dushka Zapata is leaving behind an incalculable legacy through her writing!
• Thanks to Christopher Lochhead for introducing me to Dushka.
• I love the idea of “wanting to suffer less.” Loving yourself, having discipline, not taking things personally, having compassion for others, and yourself.
• Awareness is the beginning of all change.
— Taking time alone for introspection
— Writing, clarifying our thoughts
— Receiving feedback from others as a gift.
• The meaning of life is connection.
— There is value in every person we meet.
— Take a genuine interest in all other people.
— Develop your sense of wonder and curiosity.
Follow Dushka on Social Media (her Instagram here)
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