Fragments of something vaguely related to self-importance, productivity, purpose, and immortality.
Why are you the main character? There’s a few billion out there, why would you be in the miniscule fraction of a % that is remembered a generation later?
You probably know your parents’ names. Maybe even some of your grandparents. Beyond that? Gone, evaporated, eroded, crumbled. Things online might “live forever”, but so do your ancestors’ birth / census records. If the information isn’t accessible, it might as well not exist.
Ernest Hemingway said:
Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name. In some ways men can be immortal
He was wrong. Hemingway died 62 years ago, and was undoubtedly in the top 0.001% of people whose name might survive a few generations. He has now survived 1 extra lifetime through immense luck, skill, and creativity. How likely is 10 more lifetimes?
A better way of looking at it is considering how many people from 10 years ago you can name. Likely everyone you know, plus all celebrities, the number will easily be a few hundred. What about 100 years ago? We’re already likely into the realm of no personal connections, a few tens of authors, creators, and politicians. 1000? We are likely down to zero, unless you are exceptionally into your history.
Your country likely did not exist a few thousand years ago. Your local geography would be unrecognisable. Why would the current construction last? If your family, city, country disappears, where will your permanent records go?
Forget about the big picture. You cannot change that.
You’ve got 50ish productive years to do something, if we’re generous and you’re doing shit from 15 to 65. Start off in a low-income / troubled / bad influence family? Dedicate at least 5 of those years, likely all 50, to “catching up”, since the majority of those around you will have support, advice, and connections you can never have. Start off anything other than a straight white male? Again take at least 5 years, you will face at best unfair conscious and subconscious decisions. Born in an area with high crime, poor infrastructure, corruption? The odds are unbelievably against you.
Fine, you bet it all on 0 at roulette and won. 100 times. You’re 15, genetically lucked out, family are whatever perfect is, you even live in a stable, wealthy country. You are the 1 in 1000 that even has a chance of something impressive. What the fuck are you gonna do with all that potential?
Well, you’re gonna blow it. You’re gonna discover alcohol. You’re gonna discover a bad all-encompassing relationship. You’re gonna fall into the bottomless black pit of nihilism. You need to do these things to understand human nature, the good, evil, forgetful, and chaotic mess. The good news? You can do all of these, waste decades, and still come back. Time is the only asset that matters, you’re never out until you’re out.
There are infinite ways to not be the one. Find a thousand needles in a million haystacks, be unbelievably lucky and you will end up a vaguely well-adjusted adult, with a solid education, financial stability, and maybe even some morals. Throw in an ideal life partner too, why not.
What the fuck now?
How do you achieve your immortality, or at least last beyond your own brief lifespan? The names you remember from previous generations, they were almost exclusively the extremely wealthy, stable, and lucky. There are a hell of a lot more of those now, even obscenities like billionaires.
You cannot spend your way to glory. There will be no burial pyramid, no giant bronze statue.
You cannot exercise your way to glory. A lifetime in the gym will earn you respect of those in the gym. A self-congratulating circle of hype. You are one cancer diagnosis away from crumbling.
You cannot fight your way to glory. You can absolutely kill and martyr for your cause, and your name will persist a year or two. Your blood will be drowned by the blood of the next generation.
There are escapes. No, not giving up, that’s not valid. Two valid escapes from this paralysis.
You can create, or you can enjoy.
Write, draw, sculpt, teach, build, design.
These things will outlive you, and if you do them for the right reasons might even make a few generations think of you positively.
Write a helpful article, design a beautiful database schema, share your bizarre wall painting. Yep, they’re probably shit, but so is everyone else’s. They’re all infinitely better than the ones that are never shared.
Quantity or quality? Why not both? If your magnum opus never gets finished, what is the point. Start small, build up. Eventually you’ll make things you don’t hate a week later. Remember them, show them to people whose opinion you care about. They’ll get better.
You might even be able to get paid for this thing, instead of grabbing creative intermissions between work and life.
This isn’t giving up. This is giving in. If you enjoy your time here, it doesn’t matter what happens after. Spend your money, buy the offered upgrade, try the unusual food, book the impulsive ticket, attend the niche event. Live life.
I have no idea how to do this, sorry. You probably already do, it’s supposed to be natural.
Or just meander in the middle like almost everyone else with potential. Drink too much, eat too much, regret too much. Work too little to create, work too much to enjoy.
If you have an idea, either have the self-awareness to admit you are soft and slacking, and this idea is pointless, or put in the work to:
- Shape the vague idea into something valid
- Challenge it before it is born, and be prepared to abort it
- Plan how this is going to go
Notice the casual “if you have an idea”. That’s the easy bit right? Ideas are cheap, execution is hard?
Cool, so what’s the idea. What’s your world changing idea that will grant you immortality and the love and respect of every human on earth. Or even let you earn a brief living?
I dunno. Sell some houses or some insurance. Or groceries. Work for someone else, get paid, exist until pension kicks in.
Maybe you’ll have an idea, maybe you’ll grind evenings and weekends for it. I really hope it’s a good one, otherwise fuck, that had a high opportunity cost. It’s often said you should “learn” or “earn” in a job, ideally both. The same applies to whatever your idea is.
If your startup fails but you now know infinitely more about marketing? That’s not a failure, you’re ready for round 2. Most successful people have a graveyard full of failed, idiotic, doomed ideas. Your first few are probably gonna be the same. Maybe not.
Life is impossible, contentment is harder. Try not to hate it too much, and try to balance creating and consuming. Good luck, you only get one shot.
Note: The header image is Ernest Hemingway posing with his favourite shotgun at his home in Cuba, a “double-barreled shotgun that he had used so often it might have been a friend”. He would later use this to commit suicide.