2 facts have recently changed my viewpoint of life.
Some experts approximate (with lots of estimations and guesswork) that 108 billion people have lived on Planet Earth. You represent just .0000000009% of all the homo sapiens who have ever taken a breath. There are 107,999,999,999 other people who walked this planet before or concurrently with you.
You are statistically insignificant, a number that a scientist would delete from his data without hesitation because you are so impossibly small. You’re not even relevant.
The second fact is this: of those 108 billion people, how many of them do we study (or will be studied) in our history books? Could all the historians and pop culture buffs come up with 10,000 people, living or dead, who might be remembered in 100 years?
20,000 people, maybe?
Basically, you have a 1 in 5.4 million chance of being remembered.
Do you really matter? The odds are astronomically against you ever making a cameo in a history book, or inventing something world-changing. You’re not going to inspire widespread civil change like Dr. King, or innovate technology like Steve Jobs. You won’t dunk a basketball like LeBron James, or make a music video like Psy.
You won’t conquer civilizations like Attila the Hun or even Napoleon. You’re not going to build pyramids like Imhotep, or curse people thousands of years after you die, like King Tut.
You’re not as good looking as Brad Pitt and you won’t make movies like George Lucas. You’ll never run as fast as Usain Bolt. It’s a virtual lock that King Louis XIV and his Palace at Versailles will be remembered long after you’re gone.
If an alien spaceship touched down today and studied us and our history, how could they possibly grasp who you are?
You would just be a single grain on a beach; a blade of grass in a forest, blending in perfectly because you’ve never accomplished anything historically significant.
The point is, the world doesn’t orbit around you. The world doesn’t even care about you. In fact, this huge rock we live on orbits around a sun so large that we can’t fathom with our puny minds the degree to which we are dwarfed. Our world is governed by laws of physics and immovable forces so powerful that our existence appears feeble and short. We are granted to live on this Earth so long as our lease doesn’t run out with the sun and no neighboring stars decide to go supernova on us.
You and I are tiny. Hopefully I’ve proved that point. And it’s not to make you feel worthless or insignificant.
My point is to free you.
If you’re so small, and you’ll never be remembered, why do you care what other people think?
The perceptions you believe others have about you plant a cage inside your mind that keeps you from fully living. How often do you act differently because you’re afraid of what someone else might say?
And if they do say that thing you’re dreading so much, what of it?
Will it matter a day from now, a month, or even a year?
I once put a scorching-hot fondue stick in my mouth, charring my tongue and lips, and that was only a running joke for a few months. Looking back, did it matter?
I can tell you that my life is 100% unchanged now, despite the ridiculousness of what I did.
Spoiler alert: you’ll do dumb things, like me. You aren’t being truly yourself, or accomplishing everything you can, because you think the world revolves around you. You believe, consciously or subconsciously, that doing something stupid or weird will negatively affect your quality of life, like people will write that stuff down so they can reread your failures as they lie in bed at night.
But the truth is that in the grand scheme of things, it couldn’t matter less. You’re not Nixon, pulling a Watergate. You won’t be remembered like John Sedgwick, the Civil War General who shouted “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” seconds before taking a bullet to his brain. Your mistakes will be remembered in a less spectacular fashion, I promise you.
Take the gym for example.
You might be one of those people who is terrified of working out, terrified of how you’ll look. You think that stopping at every machine to study the diagrams will have some far-reaching negative impact because others will think you’re a noob.
Or if you forget to put a weight back, or you don’t have super-cute gym clothes, or if you carry around a notebook to write down the exercises you like. You actually think anyone else cares even the tiniest iota. How cute.
Think back to the last time you did something hilariously bad. I once tried to walk out the emergency exit of a crowded library. With the alarm piercing my eardrums, I had to close the door, turn around, and walk past the 3 dozen pairs of eyes watching me. That embarrassed me more than probably any memory I have.
But that was a moment that lasted 20 seconds. And I guarantee I’m the only one who remembers that. I’m probably the only one who remembered it a week later, or cared 10 minutes later.
Would you let that negatively impact your life?
Most people would. Just thinking about that story makes my body tense up and my ears ring even 10 years later.
But I know I shouldn’t care.
OK Fine, You Do Matter
If we’re so small, and no one cares about us, does it matter what we do?
Should you call your brother that you’ve had a crappy relationship with? Or should you worry what he’ll think?
Is it worthwhile to stand up for something you believe in, or should you shrink away because of what someone would think?
Should you follow the career you love, or be a victim of the expectations others have set for you?
So, does it matter what we do?
Of course it does. It matters more than anything.
It matters because you’re you. It’s up to you to find what you can love and embrace. It’s up to you to find what makes a difference and matters in your life.
Screw what everyone else thinks. If you truly knew that no one else cared, what would you spend your time on?
What makes life so much more enjoyable is finding something, even if it’s a little strange, that you can enthusiastically cling to.
You’ve probably made fun of people doing mock swordplay at the park. You’ve probably teased a sibling or cousin for loving Star Trek or something else nerdy. I’ve made fun of people for starting a Harry Potter fan club or for liking off-beat movies.
These are the people we should be celebrating. These are people who are probably getting more out of life than you are. They’ve found something they enjoy and something they can look forward to.
I say again, you have to get excited about stuff.
My Econ professor in college taught me this lesson. He shared with us a story that I can’t do justice in writing. His unbridled passion oozed with every word as he told us what he loved.
With his new bride, he attended a conference in Europe. In between sessions, he realized this might be the only opportunity of his life to visit the famous medieval churches in Europe.
Even though it cost him and his wife a few hundred dollars to travel to a neighboring country and visit the specific one he had always fantasized about, he understood and embraced the idea that finding and doing things he loves is what makes life worth living.
Of course, it seemed a little strange to me sitting in his class. I mean, who cares about medieval churches?
But he didn’t care what I thought. As he neared the end of his story, his voice breaking and trembling, I realized that experience from 3 decades earlier made him unequivocally happy. He didn’t do it because someone else expected it of him or because it was the social norm. He did it for himself and to realize a lifelong passion of his.
I don’t think he’s weird anymore. I’m envious, actually.
Finding stuff we love and crave to learn about doesn’t make us weird. It makes us unique, and it makes us interesting.
We identify people (right or wrong), by what they love to do.
“Oh that’s the guy who plays badminton 5 times a week.”
“Is that the lady who collects old timey stamps?”
“He plans civil war reenactments. Huh.”
We all classify people according to their passions because that’s what grabs our attention. People devoid of passion never earn the interest of others. If you don’t care about or associate yourself with anything, people will have a hard time remembering you, much less care about you.
One of my good friends is an unabashed Hanson fan. You know, that boy band from the 90’s? It’s a little dorky, but she loves it. It makes her happy.
She’s traveled out of the country to see them in concert. She’s had backstage passes, and met them many times. She’s made new friends across the nation who share a love of Hanson.
That level of passion is contagious. You can see it and feel it. It makes me want to find what I love and cling to it. She’s a great example to the world of saying “screw what you think!” and living life the way she wants, finding joy in what makes her happy.
After all, she’s just one person in a vast ocean of billions. She won’t go down in history books as “that crazy Hanson fan.” So why should she care? From a cosmic perspective, her existence is meaningless, and the universe doesn’t care what she loves to do. Most of the 108 billion don’t care.
But to herself, nothing is more important.
What About Me?
I’m passionate about a few things.
There are the obvious ones, like family and religion. It’s almost dumb to say I’m passionate about those things, as if I had a choice. Those things are a part of me, like a pepperoni is part of a pizza (and you’ll never convince me otherwise).
But I’m also a fervent Lakers fan. For years, I thought it detracted from my personality – that I spent so much time watching and following them that I was a lesser person. I’ve realized over time that it’s one more thing that makes me unique and memorable.
Should I not be a Lakers fan because the fans of 29 other teams might make fun of me, or criticize me? I’m actually embarrassed that I went to a game early this year, and didn’t wear my Lakers jersey. I thought wearing it in an opposing arena would annoy people.
Seriously, how stupid is that? How is that living? I hid my passion because of some stupid paranoia. I ended up sitting next to 4 guys, all wearing Lakers jerseys, unashamed of their passion. Wearing your passion on your sleeve makes life fun.
Erin loves Winnie the Pooh and teddy bears. I mean she still sleeps with a teddy bear which I thought was weird when we were first married, but now it’s endearing.
Her greatest passion is unequivocally anything to do with animals. She was a vet tech for years and she can not wait until we can have a dog. She pretty much made it a marriage requirement that we have at least one dog.
Hopefully by now you’re contemplating what you’re passionate about. What makes you all giddy and tingly and happy? Do you get excited about a weird TV show, a sports team, or finding an old penny in a dusty collector’s shop?
The world doesn’t care, so choose whatever you want. It doesn’t even have to be hipster, or chic, or underground. Do what you love, even if everyone else is doing it.
In the past year, I’ve become passionate about eating real foods.
You might think I’m a hippie, but I’m trying not to care, because it makes me happy.
For a long time, I wanted an iPad. Now, I want to buy a cool (definitely a relative term) water filter to go on my counter. The last book I read wasn’t a sci-fi or fantasy novel; it was a cookbook about real foods.
Seriously. I read a cookbook for fun. How uncool is that? But I’m trying not to care what you think.
I recently bought 25 pounds of organic field corn online, and I’m proud of it. 95% of America would find that baffling, but who cares?
I know it’s hard to untrain your mind and forget what others think. I’ve heard people say things about the way Erin and I eat now. They think we’re crazy. They think we’re brainwashed. They think we’re not really living because we’re too strict on ourselves.
They don’t realize it’s just the opposite. Our passion makes life worth living.
Here’s my main point.
If what’s holding you back from eating healthy are disapproving looks and the perceptions others will form about you, it’s time to dive in.
What others think about you, by itself, won’t ruin your life.
What will ruin your life is holding back on your passions because you’re afraid to do something that might not fit in with others’ perceptions of “normal.”
You run your life, and it’s up to you to make it a worthwhile one. In this impossibly large universe, no one, besides family and close friends, is going to go out of their way to make you happy. And even those closest to you can’t decide what makes you truly happy.
They can’t decide for you to become passionate about being healthy. You have to do it yourself, even if everyone else thinks you’re nuts.
But who cares what they think?