You Matter Less Than You Think.
What if it’s good that you’re not important?
It’s really difficult to shake the habit of believing that you matter. Half the time you don’t even realise that you’re doing it. And even when you do, it’s so compelling to just go with it. Pretty much every aspect of the experience of being you is perfectly set up to convince you that you’re some kind of big deal.
I mean, let’s start with the obvious stuff. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life has happened from your perspective. Your friends are your friends. Your family is your family. It’s so natural to see the world this way that it feels strange, even offensive, whenever you’re referred to as so and so’s friend, or the person who works at such and such a place, or as anything other than the beating heart at the centre of whatever is going on.
Naturally, it’s not just you that seems important, the things that happen to you seem to matter that much more too. That minor inconvenience you suffered at the supermarket or the mild headache you’ve had since breakfast? How could they fail to be important if they’re happening to the most important person in existence? All of your opinions make perfect sense without you having to listen or show empathy or make any effort to think about them so how could they fail to feel right? Your feelings are visceral and urgent and real in a way that nobody else’s will ever be able to match so how could they fail to feel more urgent?
Even if you have crushingly low self-esteem, the only reason you feel bad about yourself is that you don’t match up to your mental image of how important you’re supposed to be. Your life has failed to support your underlying belief that you’re supposed to be at the centre of things. People with low self-esteem don’t lack confidence. The world has simply failed to support the image that they have of themselves in their heads. That’s a tough mismatch to deal with.
If you’ve come up against this mismatch yourself, you’ve probably been told to have confidence in yourself. Just believe in yourself and everything will be fine. Look at yourself in the mirror every morning and tell yourself that you’re great. And soon or later, you realised that it didn’t work. The delusion that you matter can’t be supported through your own efforts. What comes from that is a kind of weak, brittle confidence. It’s a confidence which event best is all swagger and self-importance. It’s the kind of false confidence that can’t bear to be challenged, or laughed at, or seen to fail. It’s one that many people, maybe yourself among them, cling to.
And it’s a shame because this kind of fragile confidence holds you back in so many ways. It’s the reason you’re afraid to try new things. It’s the reason why you don’t speak to that attractive non-gender-specific person that you like. It’s the reason you’re afraid to make mistakes. You’re afraid that the thin shell of confidence that you’ve wrapped around your quivering ego will shatter if it collides with reality.
For example, how many times have you been on a date and felt so nervous you thought you’d puke, all because you were worried you wouldn’t know what to say? You’ve got an entirely new, sexy human being in front of you, you idiot! Why are you so worried about yourself when you could be interested enough in them to ask a few questions about what they like or what they think about the annexation of Crimea? Stop focusing on yourself for once and just like magic, all of those concerns about yourself will vanish too, and you’ll get to find another human being interesting. Try it! They’ll appreciate it!
Or how about that book or song or video that you’ve been putting off making? Or even worse, that you’ve already made and are afraid to show to anybody. What could explain this insanity other than the completely misguided belief that it will matter if you aren’t as amazing as you want people to believe you are. Newsflash: You’re not. Nobody is. But if you put yourself out there, you at least have a chance at being useful.
Because this is the point I’ve been driving at this whole time; you don’t matter. Or let me be more precise and say; your opinion about whether you matter doesn’t matter. You don’t get to decide whether you matter or not. Just as you don’t get to decide whether you’re funny, or kind, or being an asshole. Your importance is directly proportional to how useful you are to the people around you. You don’t get to decide if you matter or not. They do.
I’m not saying you should base your sense of self-worth on whether others say you matter or not, I’m saying you should base it on how useful you are. On how much good you bring into the world. On how many lives are better for having you in them. I’m saying that you matter when you matter to someone. Or preferably many someones. Not when you tell yourself that you do.
This probably feels a little counterintuitive. After all, as we’ve discussed, almost everything about the experience of being you conspires to tell you that you’re a big deal. But the fact is, you aren’t the centre of the world, you’re the centre of your world. And while your world is yours alone, you share the world with 8 billion other people. So get out there. Make mistakes, fall on your ass, make people laugh, even if you’re the one they’re laughing at. As much as you might want to be, you aren’t the centre of the universe. But if you work at being useful, you might be the centre of somebody else’s.