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“You can be anything you want. The sky’s the limit. Just make the world a better place. Make an impact. You can do great things!”

There are certain fears that truly terrify me, like snakes and heights. For example, when enjoying the “Tower of Terror” with other patrons at Carowinds, I am normally the only person who screams on the way up. Snakes have scared me since I was a boy, although I am also fascinated by them.

Other fears create a more subtle anxiety, bubbling beneath the surface of my subconscious, grating on my nerves like white noise. These insidious fears eat away at me through the day, jumping out at me sometimes in a quiet moment at work or at home, and emerge most powerfully in the evening when the house becomes quiet. Of these insipid and anxious fears, the fear of insignificance ranks at the top, created by well-meaning adults when I was a child, nurtured over the years by many.

I feed this fear with a constant desire to produce. I feel empty when I don’t accomplish what I hoped to during the day. I know deep down that big buildings rise brick by brick, and when I don’t meet the brick quota my mind pains me for my laziness. Productivity stems from focus as much as it does from work ethic, and guilt pursues me shortly after I begin to engage in mental wanderings and aimless activities.

In the movies they often play tricks of scale, making grown men look like hobbits by placing them farther back in the scene. I think that my feeling of insignificance comes in large part from the ways in which I compare myself to others. This kind of comparison usually results in anxiety and depression, as indicated by scientific studies. I begin to think that I should be further along, higher up the ladder, racking up more accomplishments like some of my peers. Maybe my mind plays tricks on me like a Hollywood camera.

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” I think there’s a Bible verse somewhere that mirrors this Spiderman quote, something like, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Some of this pressure comes from a particular view of God. Included in the package is a savior complex, powering much of the modern missions movement. It’s at some level, a visceral response to the pain evident in our world, which is totally OK. As I have grown older, I realize we in the United States have our fair share of pain, too. So I think the missions movement may also provide a convenient distraction from some of that for the political types that use religion as a tool. Having grown up deep within this religious tradition, I spent many months serving overseas, and I image this sense of “great responsibility” still weighs me down like a millstone around my neck. (Forgive my off-the-rails mixing of biblical metaphors.)

Is it OK to be, like, just a normal person? Someone not extraordinary, who just has an impact in their local community, or perhaps has no impact at all? What I hate about this plague of insignificance most of all is that it robs me of the things I have accomplished, the people I have influenced in positive ways. It makes my good works seem tiny, an illusion of scarcity.

I suppose it’s true. It’s OK to not be Mother Teresa. We are significant. Our lives have meaning, in and of themselves. We don’t have to extract it from anywhere, we need not manufacture it either. Maybe it’s simply a matter of discovering the meaning already present in each moment and enjoying it.

To try to bring good into the world, to leave things a little better for having been there, surely that’s also a noble desire. For me this is about being satisfied with the idea that I can simply make the best of the opportunities that life presents to me, and not feel shame at the idea that I haven’t impacted a larger group of people. I need to think of this in terms of “What have I got to lose?” I can try have as large an impact as I can, but be satisfied in the end with whatever happens.

Rx:

  • I will try to view my accomplishments with proper scale.
  • I will remember that it’s the quality, not quantity of my legacy that’s important.
  • I will seek meaning in every moment.