May 092014

kitchener_2634167bI’m reading a book set in the British colonial period. Early on an alchemist is pressed into service on a ship. “Britain needs your skills. By the power of the crown I compel you to serve.” That man was unique, and he was needed. The ship could not function without him, and they forced him in. On the one hand, that sucks. On the other hand, it’s nice to be needed.

The world was still small back then. The world population was a fraction of what it is now, and maybe more importantly – it was extremely fragmented. It was quite possible that by lucky genes, good upbringing, and a lot of personal effort, someone could become the best at something. Sometimes only two of the three were needed. Sometimes just lots of hard work. You could be the best carpenter in the local area, which was for practical purposes indistinguishable from being the best carpenter in the world. Or the best soldier. Or the best musician. And even if you weren’t the best, as long as you were good at what you did, you were needed.

That is no longer the case. The world is small, and the population is vast. With the exception of a tiny handful of people, no one is really needed. Regardless of what you do or who you are, there is someone within a few day’s travel that can replace you, and is probably willing to do so. We are all fungible. No one really matters.

Yes, it’s nice to have the freedom to leave whenever I want, to do what I want. I wouldn’t want to be pressed into service for years aboard a sailing ship. It’s a relief to know that no one’s life will be ruined if I decide to quit, someone else will step in the pick up the slack. But it makes the things I do feel less meaningful. If Finding Purpose is life’s expansion pack, I’m still not very good at it.

I almost didn’t post this, since I try to keep upbeat about things and not dwell on gloomy crap. Happiness is a choice, after all. But it has been dwelling on my mind for well over a week, and I needed to get it out. It’s been blocking up other things.

  2 Responses to “On Being Needed”

  1. Hi, there! I’ve been lurking for a few weeks. Just wanted to say that I need your blog. ;) It always gives me a great starting point for thinking about a lot of things, some of which I’ve already thought about, some that are totally new to me, and some in-between. I found your blog after devouring the HPMOR podcast, for which I am eternally grateful. Just wanted to say thanks!

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