The first time I saw Powers of Ten (1977) was in either middle school or high school.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be useful to remember how small you are. In the big scheme of things, whatever it is that’s stressing you out just might not be all that important. Remember stressing out about a test in a class in the past? Did those results stick with you? Probably not.
I had a teammate once who had a personal mantra for work: “we aren’t saving babies here.” Always a good reminder it’s rarely worth burning out and sacrificing mental health. There’s always tomorrow to work on endless todo lists.
Here are some quotes that might help you feel uplifted by the insignificance of everything.
From “Principles” by Ray Dalio:
However, when we look down on ourselves through the eyes of nature we are of absolutely no significance. It is a reality that each one of us is only one of about seven billion of our species alive today and that our species is only one of about ten million species on our planet. Earth is just one of about 100 billion planets in our galaxy, which is just one of about two trillion galaxies in the universe. And our lifetimes are only about 1/ 3,000 of humanity’s existence, which itself is only 1/ 20,000 of the Earth’s existence.
If you don’t change the world today, that’s fine. If you don’t change the world this year, that’s okay. And in your career, no worries.
Focus on being a good person in the day in front of you. Help another person today. That adds up a lot better than feeling like you missed on a home run swing day after day.
Seinfeld’s other techniques
In self-development books, people often refer to Seinfeld’s technique of writing jokes every single day and keeping the chain going in a calendar. The Principles quote above reminded me of something I read in Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head (amazing book, by the way).
Seinfeld shares his technique for staying grounded:
Judd: How do you get over that hump?
Jerry: You look at some pictures from the Hubble Telescope and you snap out of it. I used to keep pictures of the Hubble on the wall of the writing room at Seinfeld. It would calm me when I would start to think that what I was doing was important.
It might be time to put a picture of the stars next to that wall calendar with all the Xs on it.
You aren’t that special
Ginsberg: “I feel bad for you.”
Don Draper: “I don’t think about you at all.”
That’s one of my favorite lines from Mad Men. We grew up thinking we were special and each and every one of us would go on to do amazing things. It can’t pan out that way. If everyone were amazing, nobody would be.
Remember that people don’t think about you all that often. Remember that what you do isn’t that significant in nature’s eyes.
And remember that this can be a great thing.