You are not important.

You’ve known it all along, but you’ve always tried to avoid the thought. Every morning you wake up and think that maybe, just maybe, you’re one step closer to achieving greatness. Every day of elementary school gets you one step closer to middle school, and every day of middle school gets you one step closer to high school, and every day of high school gets you one step closer to a prestigious university, and every day you spend at that prestigious university gets you one step closer to a high-paying job. One day your work at this job will finally be recognized. You’ll find yourself published in all sorts of papers, and people around the world will recognize your name.

But until that happens, you’re still some unknowable number of steps away from being important.

The dreams of fame flicker behind your eyes whenever your mind wanders away from the task at hand. You can see it, as if it were to happen in just a moment. You’re walking down the street when somebody recognizes you. Hey, aren’t you the one who did that amazing thing? Aren’t you the one who did that incredible achievement that separates you from all of the other faceless people that you pass by every day of your life? You chuckle to yourself, and try to be modest. You don’t want to sound too bold. For all you know, you’re this person’s idol.

You talk to this person, and they tell you how all of their friends and family are a great fan of your work, be it a novel, or a film, or an invention that you put all of your heart and soul into. You thank them, and they thank you, and then they leave you to go about your day. Obviously they don’t want to distract you from whatever big thing it is that you’re working on next.

If you try hard enough, this dream will be a reality. Won’t it?

Maybe years from now, you’ll still be waiting for that encounter to come. You know how unlikely it is. And one day, you’ll have to admit that you aren’t important. You aren’t important in the slightest. All of your life, the dream has seemed just out of reach, but it was never even within sight.

And the programmer closes his laptop. And the writer puts down his pen. And the scientist puts down his lab notes. And the historian closes his books. And the architect sets down his tools. And the artist puts down his paintbrush.

And they tell themselves, this is not the life that I wanted to have. I spent years, every day of this drudging existence, trying to become somebody great. How could I have failed so undetectably?

Time wears on, and you feel yourself getting older. Days turn into months. Months turn into years. Your hopes of fame and recognition have long since passed. Your friendships wane, and your circles dwindle.

And then one day, expected or not, you will die.

It’s an unexceptional funeral. Your closest relatives, and perhaps some old acquaintances, appear there to mourn your death. They haul you to the graveyard in a coffin, and they throw you into a hole in the ground and bury you.

As the people leave the funeral, one by one, they forget you.

A few years pass, and your corpse has been reduced to a pile of bones and bacteria. Some old friend can’t remember your name. A whole decade is gone. Your grandchildren lose their last memories of you. A century goes by. Not a single descendant knows who you were. Your identity is reduced to a name on an old record. The world spins around the sun, and every revolution takes you one step closer to nonexistence.

But this isn’t how it was supposed to be. Each year was supposed to bring you towards immortality. Decades would pass, and people would remember your name with those like Einstein, Galileo, or Alexander the Great. Instead, decades pass, and you’re dirt in the ground. It’s like you’d never set foot on this planet at all.

And you’ve known it from the start. Even now as you read this, you find your mind wandering to that project that you should be working on, but you know that it could easily be another failure. There are over seven billion humans standing on this tiny rock flying through nothingness, and only a few thousand of them will ever have a name worth remembering.

Even your heroes today, the ones that could never be forgotten, will one day be forgotten.

No matter how hard you try, and no matter how hard you work at whatever work it is that you call your life, there are only infinitesimally small odds that some inspired individual will see what you’ve been doing and give you just the slightest ounce of recognition. And still, one ounce isn’t enough to call yourself important.

Yet still you try. Still you persist. Maybe you can win the lottery of success. Maybe you can beat the odds, the equivalent of winning a hundred thousand coin flips in a row. You know that you can still become better. There is always room for improvement. You can only get better from here. And every once in awhile, you remember just how great you have to be in order to be great. And you scurry off to work at your desk. The programmer pulls open his laptop. The writer lifts his pen in a frenzy. The scientist scribbles down data with a light in his eyes.

But everybody has these moments. How can you compete with all of them?

You fight the odds. You pray for even the smallest victory. You dream of strangers recognizing you while you’re walking down the street. But the voice in the back of your head knows, and nags, telling you that you will never be important. At your weakest moments, you hear the serpent of doubt slither back into your consciousness.

You are not important.

You are not important.

You are not important.

And if you look at the odds from any angle, you can see that that voice is right.

But, hey, maybe it’s wrong. Maybe you will be important.

Get back to work.


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