“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” — Mark Twain
“Everybody thinks they’re so damn important,” a friend once told me. For a long time, I was one of those people.
I still am from time to time.
Like anybody else, my ship can veer from the calm waters of intrinsic reward to crashing on the cliffs of validation; the Sirens luring me in, veiled as Likes, Shares and Retweets.
I’m human — the need for acceptance part of my wiring.
Thankfully, I’ve also gained a healthy perspective on the absurdity that accompanies such a pursuit. My job is not to be a molder of consensus or a seeker of validation, but to share my unique voice with those who need to hear it most; the duration of applause, if any, should be secondary.
I do the work because it matters to me. If it resonates with another, it’s icing on the cake.
The truth is, aside from my family and friends, my very being is relatively insignificant. Life went on long before, and if we can get our act together, will continue to long after.
I am one of a species of roughly 7 billion, which is one of at least 10 million others, on a planet that’s been around 4.5 billion years, in a universe made up of potentially 2 trillion galaxies.
There is no rational scenario where it could be about me.
But instead of being disheartened by my insignificance, I choose to be liberated by it. It makes me want to live more, not less.
Here are 3 ways I’ve been liberated by my insignificance…
No Fear of Failure
“Failure is success deferred.” — Ray Kurzweil
Admittedly, this mindset took some years to cultivate. And it didn’t hurt that I was a professional actor for many years.
But what I’ve discovered is I have virtually no control over how the world will receive my art. What I do have agency over is my work ethic and attitude. Once I figured that out, I no longer took failure personally.
If someone isn’t a fan of a film I make, an article I write, or a speech I deliver, it quite literally is not my problem.
Armed with both that knowledge and peace of mind, I don’t stop.
I keep going because the sense of meaning I derive from creatively expressing myself is directly aligned with the actual doing of it.
Embracing My Mortality
“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” — Leonardo da Vinci
The first time someone called me “sir” instead of “dude” I was devastated. The way others saw me was no longer (if ever) in harmony with how I viewed myself.
At first, I found myself clinging fiercely to an identity that time was subtly trying to wring away from me.
I suddenly found raucous bars a waste of my time. I realized how fortunate I was to have the parents I had. I valued silence, sought solitude, and was no longer afraid to be alone with my thoughts.
In other words, what I valued most in life had changed.
Much of that transition occurred over less than a decade, which is really not that much time. But it’s not an insignificant part of a human life, even a long one.
How many more evolutions will I go through?
My point is, life speeds up as you get older. It’s a sobering realization. For the first time ever, the finish line is no longer a mirage. You begin to appreciate it’s a race everybody ultimately wins.
Almost overnight there’s a new urgency to the word, “someday,” because you simply have less of them. Even the least nostalgic among us begin to reflect more on the path trekked rather than dream of the one ahead.
But part of being liberated by my insignificance has meant being liberated by the fact I am going to die one day. And in the context of the world’s existence, relatively soon.
So if mortality is certain but its timing is not, the question becomes what do I do?
I choose to take action. Not hastily. Not recklessly.
I’m guided by a healthy fear that if I allow it to, my life will eventually be an epitaph that reads:
Here lies a man that could of, should of, and would of.
And I have no interest in a life of theory instead of action. So all I do is write down what I want to do and slowly build a plan to make it happen. Some of them never come to fruition but many do.
And it’s all because I’ve placed my faith in the power of pen to paper.
Strip Away the Nonessential
“Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”- Bruce Lee
There’s a great scene in the film A Bronx Tale where Calogero sees his friend Louie crossing the street.
“Where’s my money?!” Calogero screams.
After Louie claims to not have it, he bolts down the street. Calogero gives chase before he’s reprimanded by his mentor, Sonny.
“First of all, is he a good friend of yours?” Sonny asks.
“Nah, I don’t even like him,” Calogero responds.
“Look at it this way, it costs you $20 to get rid of him.”
Right now, my primary goal is to make my life as simple as possible.
Believe me when I say this is a major work-in-progress, but I’ve already seen major changes from everything to the quality of my sleep to the depth of my personal relationships.
I realized that most of life is noise. There are actually very few things worth my time.
My job is to figure out what those things are and sidestep everything else. Learning to define success on my own terms and refusing to allow the validation of others to be my north star has helped clarify both.
The fact is, very few people actually care about what I’m doing. And that’s okay.
And it’s that very realization that has created a far grander dance floor for my creativity to waltz, boogie, whirl, or whatever my heart desires. It has also created a heightened sense of self-awareness and a freedom to be who I want in my absurdly limited time here.
I do the work because it has intrinsic value and not because I’m focused on leaving a legacy.
Accepting my insignificance is by far the most significant step for living in accordance with who I perceive myself to be.