Have you ever been at a party where someone introduces themselves then literally like one nanosecond after they say their name, poof, it’s already gone? Nothing committed to memory, not even a first letter. For the rest of the night (maybe for the next five years) you’ll greet them as, “Hey man!” or “Hey buddy, how’s it going?”
This scenario has happened to all of us. But what’s interesting, at least for me, is that I don’t realize how many times this has happened in the reverse. Where I’m the nameless guy; I’m the, “Man” in “Hey man!”
It’s hard to grasp, because it’s near impossible to live life without thinking of ourselves at the center of the universe. And not in a full-out narcissistic way; it’s just human nature. Even the most humble person has to view themselves as the main character in their story (albeit an incredibly humble, selfless hero).
Or if you’re like, “Maybe I used to view things that way, but not anymore. I’m living for my kids, it’s all about my grand-kids,” even in that scenario, you are still the very important Academy Award winning Best Supporting Actor. You’re the Alan Arkin, the Octavia Spencer.
My point is this, no one’s walking down the sidewalk thinking, “You know what, I’m an unpaid extra here, the movie is really about that stranger across the street.”
But in their movie, that’s exactly what I am!
And, because we see ourselves as the main character, every decision is framed through this protagonist lens. What college to go to. What job to take. Which frozen pizza to pick. These become major moments in the all important plot line of our story. So, as we make these decisions, it becomes this mixture of what do I want to do and what will other people think of my choice. It’s like we’re writing a movie and have to submit the script to our peers (and strangers) for review.
But the truth is, outside of our immediate family, maybe a couple of close friends, all these moments really aren’t a big deal for anyone else.
How do I know? Because think about what it’s like when someone you haven’t seen since high school posts on Facebook that they got engaged. You go oh wow, that’s great, I remember they sat next to me in math class. And then they’re gone from the brain because you’re worried about the deadline at work, or your kids at school, or a million other things. Then three years later you see a photo that this person has had a baby. Same cycle, oh wow, good for them, hit the thumbs up like, and gone. Keep scrolling.
It’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t make us shallow people. The same thing is happening in reverse. If I put up wedding photos, vacation photos, share a blog post, a distant acquaintance out there sees mine and thinks, “Oh, neat, good for him, I’ll give him a like,” and keep scrolling.
And that’s the best case scenario! It could be, “Screw that guy, let me go ahead and unfollow his posts from now on.” Seems reasonable when we do it (especially if it’s because of political rants); but harsh and unimaginable when we’re on the opposite end of the equation.
But it happens to everybody. Even famous people. Case and point, I was listening to a podcast, it was hosted by JJ Redick, a famous basketball villain at Duke who has been playing in the NBA 10+ years. He was talking about how hard free agency was for him recently and how long it took to find a team that would give him an appealing offer. He said he was embarrassed about it all, he didn’t want to go out in public because he thought he’d just feel all the shame, everyone would be looking at him, whispering about him, viewing him as a loser.
What he found was no one was thinking about him. People were thinking about their own lives. Their family, their friends, their own big decisions. When friends and acquaintances talked to him they were happy to see him, “Hey JJ, what’s going on?” And, to most people, his situation was still one to be envied. NBA player. Making millions of dollars. That’s every kid’s dream.
What I find interesting is the moments when we feel the most alone, after a loss, a death in the family, that’s when people care the most. People start reaching out and saying we’re in their thoughts, we’re in their prayers. Sometimes I’ll read a comment and go, wow, I haven’t seen that person in five years.
Same thing with good news. Hundreds of likes for a wedding ring or a close up of a newborn baby. But the stuff in the middle, the everyday decisions, the setbacks, the disappointments, it’s just not Page One news for the people around us. There are no panels with Kenny, Shaq, Ernie, and Charles Barkley breaking down the action each and every night.
It introduces a weird truth: people are generally cheering for each other and, when they’re not, they’re thinking about their own lives instead. And if that view is too optimistic, a little too far on the Mr. Rogers side of things, that’s fair, but I’m still gonna roll with it.
Also, if JJ Redick can float under the radar, I absolutely can too. Realistically, there are only like seven people who can truly say they are main characters in more than their immediate circle’s lives. I’d say the list is limited to Trump, Kanye, Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, LeBron, Drake, and Lady Gaga.
And I put Lady Gaga on my list just to make you go, “Well, I don’t know about Lady Gaga making the cut.” She’s got 78 million Twitter followers and even that’s only enough for a maybe on the most relevant list.
Now, I feel like this blog post is a giant balancing act. I can understand how this could all read very depressing. “What’s the point? We don’t matter” type of thing.
But I don’t think it’s depressing at all. I think it’s the opposite; I think this can be the final nail in the coffin that keeps us from wasting too much time on what other people think about our career, our house, our frozen pizza choice because, the truth is, if you put a microphone in their brain and played what they were thinking it probably sounds more like this: What’s that guy’s name again? Crap, he waived. Uh… ‘Hey guy!’
Now, not caring what other people think (or what we think other people are thinking when, in reality, they are in between figuring out our name and contemplating which sandwich they want for lunch) is a lot easier said than done. I read somewhere that we have a biological need in us to not want to be separated from the tribe because, thousands of years ago, exile from the tribe meant death; so it is very much wired in as a very very bad thing. But here in 2018, the “exile” is much lower stakes; aka being banished from someone’s Facebook newsfeed. It’s not a big deal!
I think if we fully realize we’re only a main character, only a main supporting character, in a small group of family and friends’ lives, it allows us to hyper-focus our time on the people that matter most, worrying about the plot points in that story and not wasting our time overthinking our perceived impact everywhere else. We can make decisions that are best for us and those it directly impacts. It’s a far more reasonable, relaxing way to live.
And to everyone else, every new person we meet, we just have to try and at least remember their names.
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