My Fear of Insignificance.

LIGHTS…CAMERA…

Cue a 26-year-old male. Brown hair parted to the left with a face that both mothers and daughters can agree on. He’s getting ready for his work job selling advertising space for a mid-sized website.

Let’s call him Peter.

Peter grabs a light blue dress shirt, snapping it in the air a few times. He doesn’t remember exactly when he stopped ironing his dress shirts before work. It wasn’t a conscious decision. He just grabbed the iron one morning, stared at it for a few moments, and put it back in the closet.

In the grand scheme of things, wrinkles just didn’t seem worth the time.

An A- student in college and the editor-in-chief of the university newspaper, Peter had big plans as he crossed the graduation stage to be a journalist, maybe an editor, at the city newspaper. His dream was to write stories that matter, to highlight the good going on in the world instead of the bad.

Everyone knew Peter would make it.

Through a friend’s dad he was able to land an internship. He worked hard, started getting a few small assignments… He could see some light breaking on his dream. He even landed his first big interview with the mayor.

Then, his whole department was laid off.

Cue Peter, scrambling to find a job anywhere. Cue Peter, selling advertising space instead of sharing stories that can change the world. Cue vague memories of the last two years, each day blending together in a kaleidoscope of monotony.

The Looming Question

Peter can’t really complain about his job. Oh, he used too. Every day. But not now; he’s settled in. He has a good wage. He gets good hours. He works for a good boss. He sits in a good corner cubicle and if he leans backward far enough and to the left, he can just see the window and the top branches of an elm tree. His dreams of being a journalist have slowly died. But his 401k is alive and well.

But as he loops his tie this morning and cinches the knot, his hands stop. He stares into the mirror, his eyes locking like two spies trying to tell if the other is lying, or telling the truth. Then THE QUESTION hits him. The one that he’s been avoiding. He wants to run from it even now, but it’s caught him like a tuna in a net.

What am I doing with my life?

There. He’s said it.

He has a good wage at a good job. But it is monotonous, meaningless, mundane…

“My life was supposed to matter,” he says to the mirror. “To have an impact. To do something worth doing.”

Our generation’s greatest fear has gripped him tight this morning and is not letting go.
That fear? Insignificance.

Peter’s story is my story.

And maybe it’s yours. Sure the details are different, but I believe insignificance is the monster looming in the back of our generation’s closet. You could call that entitlement. Self-absorption. Narcissism. Or could call it the dreams of the young. Call it our search for meaning. Call it a commitment to finding our passion. Call it Nancy, Fred, or Jack and the Giant Beanstock.

However you want to name it, I don’t believe this generation is satisfied with good. With comfortable. With 401k’s, bonuses, the corner office, or climbing the ladder. This generation is not motivated solely by external perks. Our generation is motivated by significance. We’re motivated not by sounding important, but by actually doing something important.

We don’t want a powerful title. We want to fulfill a purpose.

My Fear

I don’t want my life to begin and end in status quo. I don’t want to push paper in a cubicle and call it my lot.

But will I be all right if what God deems significant looks downright insignificant to me? What if significance carries with it no accolades, billboards, or a feel-good movie of the year? What if I toil and no one gives a rat’s behind?

Will I have the courage to find meaning in the seemingly mundane?

Will I be willing to dream in the big, while being faithful in the small?

I believe this fear of insignificance could be our generation’s greatest strength. It will motivate us to let go, to push through barriers, to break the impossible into pieces, if we can find significance in the insignificant.

Have you ever settled for a routine in your life instead of choosing to do something more significant? What fears were holding you back? What are doing now to pursue God’s purpose for your life?

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Paul Angone is the creator of AllGroanUp.com – a collaborative community for Gen Y in-between growing and grown. His upcoming debut book All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job! has been described as “Donald Miller meets Office Space.” Find Paul at @PaulAngone.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I totally know what you mean. It’s not enough to just live on my own and support myself- I want to do something bigger.

    • http://twitter.com/PaulAngone Paul Angone

      Definitely. My fear of insignifiance is a blessing and a burden, depending on my reaction to it in a given day.

  • http://twitter.com/piccolina_tracy Tracy

    it’s like you were reading my heart writing this. it’s hard, doing the regular job wondering what God’s purpose for me in it is, while at the same place dreaming about that fantasy goal. That thing i’m so passionate about..

    • http://twitter.com/PaulAngone Paul Angone

      Totally. Thanks Tracy. I have always felt the same way as you. “Dream in the big, be faithful in the small” is my constant reminder.

  • Jen

    This is truly the question that robs me of peace and I hate it because I believe God knows what lies ahead, has a plan and is also faithful to keep me on the path that will get me there. But while I’m waiting for the next right thing (being a stay at home mom to triplets has definitely been a reasonable reason for me to stay on the bench awhile), I keep fearing that I’m either overlooking the cues or using my 24/7 job that doesn’t pay as the excuse for not pursuing something that perhaps does. Before the kids, I had a job that was a passion and I would’ve done it for free. But I don’t feel the same about it anymore even though that’s what I’m trained to do and it makes sense that I should do that again… sometime… soon… (says the patient but just-a-little-bit-worried-that-she’ll-never-bring-in-a-dollar-again husband.) I know what my next passion is and, like you, it takes alot of breaks and happenstances and God-ordainted coincidences to get it off the ground. In the meantime, do I pursue the old passion that is now a fizzle but a fizzle with pay? Or do I wait and see if God really is planning to strike me twice with lightening so that I can once again shine His light into a new corner of the world…?

    • http://twitter.com/PaulAngone Paul Angone

      Wow Jen, well said. Pretty sure you and Kelli above should’ve written this article instead of me.

      Love your questions and two paths that you see lay ahead. I wonder if you keep walking if somewhere up ahead those two seemingly divergent paths intersect.

      One thing is for sure though (says the dad of ONE 17 month old), “staying on the bench” with three triplets is 187% more work than those of us who are currently on the field.

  • http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/ kelli woodford

    As a homeschooling mom, I am intimately acquainted with the yearning for lasting purpose. It is as familiar as the pencil shavings that line my countertops.
    I love your line “courage to find meaning in the seemingly mundane”. I think that’s it. The reason we are put in these places where it seems all we can do is be faithful in the small — because eventually we come to realize these things were not small at all.
    More of that upside-down kingdom thing, I guess.
    Thanks for the courage you displayed in expressing these fears. They are often things we only whisper in the dark . . . or at ourselves in the mirror.

    • http://twitter.com/PaulAngone Paul Angone

      Extremely well said Kelli. Thank you. You’re right, the lasting impact you’ll assuredly have on your children’s lives, and all the lives they impact, is unquantifiable. Small is the new big — or always was so, I just continually fail to see it.

  • Lauren

    Wow. Thank you for writing this – so much truth. I am struggling with fear of insignificance, and the details aren’t too different. Though I know I’m not alone from conversations with peers and the parallel stories of friends, it’s encouraging to see this desire and fear and experience written in such a straightforward, honest way. I’m in the process of moving and looking for new work, based largely on my desire to pursue my passion and, in a way, to remain unsettled. When I talk to friends and family about my move, they encourage me but are consistently surprised in a way that implies admiration, but also a hesitancy. I think it’s worth noting that people are generally supportive of a search for significance, no matter what age. I think the balancing act comes in when risk becomes a factor in the situation. A big piece of the puzzle, as you pointed out, is finding significance where you are, even if it seems insignificant, but it’s tough to decide when to act on a dream while balancing that with appreciating your current situation. I have a friend who refers to this struggle as living in the tension. Tough.

    • http://twitter.com/PaulAngone Paul Angone

      Gosh, I am thankful for the comments left on this post. Thank you Lauren for elaborating on this tension so beautifully. Delicious ambiguity, for sure.

  • Dennis

    I struggled with this as well until I learned that what I have felt about my self can be turned into an asset. By having the only scientifically proven assessment tool that confirms that it is ok to be who I am wired to be and not feel as if I need to be someone else. Why wait until you are 20 yrs, 15 yrs, 10 yrs, 5 yrs or even 1 yr into your “career”? Take the Taylor Protocols http://www.TaylorProtocols.com Core Value Index (CVI) assessment that has an over 94% repeat score reliability. Which means it is consistent over time and goes below the personality levels to the innate unchanging nature in how you are wired. Then go make an impact, be who you are wired to be, be the significant individual you are designed to be, be passionate about life, your life!

  • Daniel

    There is so much truth here.
    I’m in the process of going through medical school, and even though my
    end result may have [for some] that ever-coveted shiny gold star and smiley face on it,
    it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It can be just as mundane: patients, labs,
    charts, tests, healthcare reform debates, notes, rotations, and lectures in
    exchange for sleep, a healthy relationship, and hundreds of thousands of dollars
    in loan debt. Is it worth it? With so much controversy in my discipline, is it
    even possible for me to make a difference at this point? Yes. It’s my vocation;
    I wake up every morning thinking about it. It is my voice. I say that in the
    mirror every day to remind me. Maybe I’m
    lucky because I know what my passion is, but holding on to it is nonetheless
    just as difficult when I see friends and siblings buying houses, getting
    married, having children, moving up the career ladders and all those other
    sparkly things that I’ve put off. If I get to a point where my career voice
    starts cracking through puberty, then that’ll just be a whole new life crisis
    to deal with. Awesome! Nonetheless, I think the point made is that we
    DO want to fulfill a higher purpose, but the struggle is this: what’s more
    important? The purpose, or us knowing we’re a part of it? We all look at Nancy,
    Fred, and Jack and how successful their lives are going, and we consider our
    lives in their shoes, questioning if we’re the right size, color, or style. It
    comes down to self-esteem, I think. It’s easy to put so much value on what others are doing and the impact
    you see they’re creating in the world, so much that your own insecurities
    develop. Well, I don’t like shoes; I like
    flip-flops, and I evaluate how I’m doing based off my own flip-flop approval
    checklist. Einstein said if you judge
    a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing
    that it is stupid. What everyone else is doing may indeed be significant, but
    just because you can’t immediately see the impact of what you’re doing doesn’t
    mean it doesn’t exist. That’s the thing to let go of, the barrier to push
    through— the idea that everyone else must deem what you’re doing as important in
    order for you to consider it as such, too, and that your impact needs to
    produce something you see. Satisfaction
    and happiness are choices, not miraculous epiphanies that just happen one day. So
    I’ll continue charting, and you can push over the paperweight to finish the
    weekly billing reports to your supervisor. As Paul says, you are right now, in
    this moment, exactly where you need to be. You’ll just only be able to see that
    five years from today.

  • http://twitter.com/shalom08 Shalom

    Peter’s story is my story too! LOL

    This September – I am actually going back to school to gain more education in hopes of attaining a more “significant” job. I will be taking on more student debt, but I know I am making the right decision.

    This article reminds of a time when I am lying on my bed, not quite sleepy yet, and just marveling on the realization that there’s no such thing as a perfect job. This September – at 28 years young – I will be heading back to the classroom with a more mature perspective education and job hunting. I realized that if I hate my job (lousy job and lousy pay), then I need to do something about it. I have always prayed about this job situation of mine, but I know God wants me to do my part AND to put the rest on Him – simply a test of faith. I realized that I will not be receiving whatever I want in my life in a silver platter – that’s not how prayer works. God wants me (or us) to simply do whatever we need to do and trust Him, and in the process of doing so, we end up with a stronger faith.

    God is faithful – whatever He started in our lives, He will finish it.

  • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

    I love this.

  • Tony

    I quit my job mid-year as a middle school teacher and moved to china….that is how this problem hit me.