I'm Inconsequential. You're Inconsequential. And That's OK.

This is all fleeting. So stop wasting your life.

I'm Inconsequential. You're Inconsequential. And That's OK.
Photo by Andre Mouton / Unsplash

When I was a child, I thought the sun revolved around me. Most children do.

Everything that I thought mattered in the world was connected to me - my parents, my friends, my possessions. I was the common denominator, so naturally I believed my wants and needs were of vital importance.

I wasn't the only child to feel this way. After all, we're born and for a solid decade we are the center of the universe to at least one person in the world. We're treated as if our wants and needs are all that matter. A child knows nothing else.

As I grew older, I learned that many other children were also the center of their family's universe. And so were parents, siblings, aunts, and so on. Realizing that everyone places value in their own lives opens up the path to feel empathy for other humans. It's part of maturing as a human being.

Unfortunately, not everyone fully matures. Many reach adulthood still clinging to a sense of self-importance and disregard for what is actually valuable. Sometimes people with these qualities are elevated to positions of authority within society - I'm sure you've met a few.

There are billions of humans on this planet who are convinced they are on a critical mission.

Until several years ago I believed the same. While I understood I wasn't the center of the universe, throughout young adulthood I still believed my role was important. I worked in finance dealing with billions of dollars, investment managers and executives - how could my contribution not be important? After all, everyone else seemed to think so.

However, with additional experience, wisdom and introspection, I realized I was wrong. I observed first hand the disposability of individuals, who until the end were praised for being indispensable. The criticality of their world dispersed like a puff of smoke.

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Why the disparity?

I would summarize my observations as follows: Words tell us we are important, actions tell us otherwise.

Despite how Western society worships individualism, it is unlikely that anything we do as individuals will be remembered or recognized. Human civilization is a colony. All that matters to civilization is that we collectively keep the hive humming. Each worker bee in a colony plays a role but is easily substitutable. The colony exists because of them, but the colony can still exist if some are exterminated.

Civilization works because we blithely turn the cogs in the machine while we're led to believe we have free will and can choose our destiny. Children believe they matter because their parents tell them so. Adults believe they matter because their employer tells them so.

The "system" needs you to believe your minor contribution is crucial. If you don't believe completing TPS reports in triplicate is important you will do a half-assed job. Multiply that by 8 billion people and the machine seizes. So the world grooms people to believe they make a difference. The echo chamber of corporate PR, management speak and media propaganda drills this into us daily.

Civilization depends on 8 billion of us doing meaningless work, because combined it roughly shapes something of value, as measured by the ruling class. However, once you realize your individual contribution is infinitesimal and substitutable, you no longer look at the daily grind the same way.

Choose your fate

This isn't just about work - it's about existence. There are people who care about me, yet I would soon be forgotten if I vanished.

My relevance to this world is fleeting. On a cosmic timescale, the amount of time my existence is measurable might as well be zero.

In contrast, close family or friends might suggest my value is infinite to them.

Everyone that cares about me knows me right now. They're my closest friends and family. I think it's a stretch to say there are more than a handful of people who would be devastated if I died. Others might care, but their lives will quickly move on. A few people might miss me for the rest of their lives. But eventually these people also die. Or forget.

Soon enough, after about a generation, everyone to whom I mattered also dies off. That's it. My existence is valued by a small group of people for perhaps 30, 40, 50 years and then it's gone.

Not a soul will remember me or what I did. I simply become a piece of information in a government database - a series of 1's and 0's.

Despite the daunting pressures of life, people I care about and changes I want to create, I'm inconsequential.

You're inconsequential.

99.99% of us are inconsequential.

Re-prioritizing life

I don't wish to distress you. In fact, I find this awareness enlightening. Once I realized my life is of little consequence, I understood if I didn't choose my priorities the system would decide for me.

We exist in an infinitesimal intersection of time and space that may prove the last of its kind for humanity - possibly the universe.

It's a speck of time that neither matters in the future or the past, nor to someone down the street or across the planet. Yet, we are granted the opportunity to experience this existence.

Wasting such a precious gift as a replaceable cog in a machine is a travesty.

I used to put myself - my needs, wants and interests - at the bottom of the list. I spent most of my time performing meaningless work to benefit others. I was too busy for hobbies, too busy for family, too busy for fun. I traded in my opportunity to live life to instead spend my existence doing things that will someday be looked upon as inconsequential for an employer that would fire me without batting an eye. That's no way to live. So I changed.

Today, I rarely agree to things I'm not interested in. I focus on work that I think is enjoyable. I pick up hobbies I previously "didn't have time for". If there's something I want to do, I just do it.

You might argue that this choice is a luxury you don't have. I disagree. It's a matter of prioritization. I still do things I don't want to do. I have bills to pay. But I no longer do these things at the expense of living a full life.

We don't have much time to experience the gift of consciousness, communication, nature, color, sound. So enjoy yourself instead of sacrificing your time for a meaningless cause.

Do what makes you happy. Do the things you care about. Do the things that you will someday look back on to recall a life well lived.