This problem has plagued me for as long as I can remember. And it doesn’t have anything to do with my woefully short attention span (at least not directly). I’ll recognize something — an observation, an insight, a morsel of advice — and I’ll understand and appreciate it on an intellectual level. The challenge is taking that something and actually embracing it on an emotional or psychological level, to the point where I’d actually act upon it.
I can’t be alone in this.
Maybe you’re feeling devastated because you just got laid off from your job. A close friend tells you to cheer up, because this means you’ll finally have the opportunity to pursue your passion and turn that side hustle in a legitimate full-time gig. You know this already. You understand it. But hearing those words doesn’t make you feel much better in the moment, because you just lost your job and your professional life is in a state of upheaval.
It’s like knowing you’re wasting far too much time on Facebook and YouTube, but you keep checking up on your friends and watching silly cat videos anyway.
Here’s a prime example from my own life. Intellectually, I know that one my greatest responsibilities now is to care for my daughter, but it has taken a conscious effort to embrace my role as a stay-at-home dad. It’s not that I actively avoided the title before; I just never really applied it to myself until I stopped to think about it. And that’s the key. You really have to stop to think about it.
Sometimes, the things that seem the most obvious can also be the most profound… but only when you stop to think about it.
Everyone Is Just as Messed Up as You Are
Despite what the Facebook version of our friends may lead us to believe, nobody’s perfect. You know this, of course, but you don’t really believe it.
What you might not see is that Henry is struggling with severe feelings of inadequacy. Maybe he thinks his career isn’t going anywhere or that his children are constantly driving up him the wall. Celebrity culture can be even worse. Think about how much rejection the typical actor or musician has to face.
We don’t know what demons other people may be facing.
You Are the Center of the Universe for No One Else
Have you ever heard of protagonist disease? I’m fairly certain we’re all afflicted with it, just like how everyone is “infected” with the zombie disease in The Walking Dead. The idea is this: we all think that we are the main character (the protagonist) in our story and everyone else is just an extra. Maybe your significant other is a supporting character.
Consciously or unconsciously, you feel like the star of the show, because you’re the only character who is always “on screen” for you. The spotlight is always on you. And everything is “told” as your first-person narrative. What we so easily forget is that everyone around us — the barista at Starbucks, the other passengers on the subway, the grandmother buying candy at the dollar store — have lives of their own too.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows coined a similar term: sonder. It’s the realization “that every random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own… in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background.” Or you might not even be cast at all.
Time Is a Finite and Non-Renewable Resource
There are only 24 hours in a day and only 7 days in a week. I once said, somewhat cheekily, that saving time was pointless. It’s not like you can deposit the “extra” 10 minutes you shaved off your daily commute into some sort of time bank, subsequently withdrawing that time when you’re running late for an appointment the next day.
Relativity aside (since that’ll open an entirely different discussion), our experience of time is fixed. Those few seconds you just spent reading the preceding sentence are gone forever. Poof. Gone. Time is a resource and a currency, one that can never be renewed or recovered. In this way, it is positively critical that you choose how you spend it wisely. No refunds. No exchanges.
External Validation Will Never Be Enough
In a quote attributed either to Eleanor Roosevelt or David Foster Wallace, depending who you ask, we’re told that we wouldn’t worry so much what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do. But we still do it. That’s why Hollywood loves award shows. That’s why everyone likes to have their ego stroked and back patted.
Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we all want other people to acknowledge our existence. We want to feel like we matter, even if that praise is ultimately empty. The truth is that you will only find meaning within yourself. The outside world can’t do this for you, no matter how many accolades you might rack up along the way.
Do you agree? If so, share this blog post far and wide on social media and chime in with your approval via the comments below. It’ll make me feel better about myself, and the time I spent to type these words, in this story where I am the headlining star.