I listened to Dan Harris interview Ron Siegal this morning on “The Joys of Insignificance.”
What a giant flash of recognition! Yes, I’m constantly comparing myself to others. Yes, with every text or email I receive, I’m subtly looking for confirmation that I’m a wise or skilled or good person (or insert your own lifelong longing here–successful, funny, attractive, giving, smart, loyal, strong, creative, unique). And when I don’t receive that, my value comes into question. We all have different patterns we fall back on when we need a self-esteem boost. For me, it’s self improvement and personal growth. I’ll buy another book, listen to another podcast, journal yet again about the things in my life and work that aren’t perfected yet.
Ron quotes Joseph Campbell: There is perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.
It’s easy to rail against people who have money as their wall–we’re both jealous of them for getting so far up the ladder and we have so many examples of how money is the wrong wall. But we’ve all got some “wrong walls” we’ve leaned our ladders against–
- I’m significant if I’m the best parent–anticipate my child’s every need, manage their social life, set aside a college fund, and never show them I’m angry or irritated.
- I’m significant if I always have the best ideas.
- I’m significant if I become the expert in my field–maybe one more degree would get me there.
- I’m significant if my interim CEO role turns into the permanent one.
- I’m significant if a lot of people thank me for being loving and kind.
- I’m significant if people are inspired by me.
- I’m significant if my home, clothing, and environment are beautiful.
- I’m significant if I’m making a difference in the world.
Ron’s point (and every major religion’s point!) is that life is impermanent. We are all going to die. He asks the audience, “Who was the King of England in 1410?” Of course no one knows. Then he says, “It sure was a big deal in 1410!” No matter who we are or what we have achieved, someday it won’t be remembered!
And he says that when he’s been around people who have dropped the constant fight for significance, he feels immediately at ease in their presence. Loved, seen, unhurried. I want to be that kind of person. I want to embrace how not special I am in exchange for liberation. Of course, the big question is, “How do I do this in a way that’s not striving?” Oh boy. I’ll get back to you on that.