One of the hardest lessons for me to learn in life was: I'm not essential to the world.
It's not that I don't have value, which I do. It's not that I don't add to the world, which I do. It's that what I do does not make or break anything in existence. The world would get by just the way it is (not fine, but the way it is) without me. I don't change that in any discernable way. And, I think I'm pretty good with that now. It's taken me almost 40 years to learn, but I think I'm pretty much there. Unfortunately, most people are not yet there with me, and may never get there in their lifetimes. I'm not telling you anyone is worthless as we all have immense value. What I'm saying is none of us are really as important as we often make ourselves out to be.
A prime example of this is when we're interacting with others in the workplace, particularly in the Washington D.C. area, we often experience someone who talks about:
How much work they do
How many hours they work
How little sleep they get (in a bragging way)
How important their particular job is
How much they have to sacrifice in order to . . . (name anything here)
I once used to be one of these people, fitting right into the rat-race enveloping so many American lives. Let's not spend time talking about how people get sucked into this, but rather how we can each break ourselves out of it.
The first step in not putting so much unearned value on what we do every day is to look at what we do every day. On a given day have you:
Improved someone's life?
Made the world a better/safer/more enjoyable place to live?
Unless, and until we do either or both of these things every day, we're simply not contributing to the world. We can earn all the money we want, but that adds no discernable value to the world. So, look at what you did today, yesterday, any day last week. Did you do either of these two things? If so, great, you created value that day. Good job! If not, no worries, so few of us do these things every day. Just do one today. Then do another one tomorrow. Then the next day, and so on. This is where each of us can offer the world more value than we take out of it.
As for how important we are, we can create value, possibly making the world a better place, but are still not essential for its continuation. I have two examples of possibly the most essential, and most unknown, people to ever walk the earth so far:
Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov (Russian: Станисла́в Евгра́фович Петро́в; born 1939 in Vladivostok) is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces.
On September 26, 1983, just three weeks after the Soviet military had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Okonuclear early-warning system when the system reported that a missile, followed by another one and then up to five more, were being launched from the United States. Petrov judged the report to be a false alarm. and his decision is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war. Investigation later confirmed that the satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned.
Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov (Russian: Василий Александрович Архипов) (30 January 1926 – 19 August 1998) was a Soviet Navy officer who prevented a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Only Arkhipov, as Flotilla commander and second-in-command of the nuclear-armed submarine B-59, refused to authorize the captain's use of nuclear torpedos against the United States Navy, a decision requiring the agreement of all three senior officers aboard. In 2002 Thomas Blanton, who was then director of the National Security Archive, said that "a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world".
Petrov and Arkhipov were ESSENTIAL! I don't know if anyone else on duty those days would have made the same decisions. Yet, they literally saved the world. Everything else each of us do may help in some way, which has immense value. Yet, we're not essential. Keeping ourselves, our lives, and our contributions to the world in perspective can help us have better relations with other people, feel better about ourselves, and maybe make those small contributions which really do help make the world a better place one small piece at a time.