Coffee Shop Chats Part 1: "I'm Irrelevant, and that's ok"

"What's your greatest fear?" he asked me. I looked up as he poured the contents of the cold drip bottle into the waiting glass below. The thick dark liquid becoming a delicious coffee brown as it spread through the milk and ice cubes.

"Irrelevancy", I replied. It was the first thought that I had and I cursed silently as I realised what I had said.

"What about it scares you?" he asked. I continued to berate myself internally.
"Well, the idea that no one might care about the work I do or that no one will know what I do... The fear of irrelevancy was just this thing of not wanting to be someone who had no bigger impact". I continued on this thought, "I've known plenty of people, and honestly, most of us have this as our greatest fear in some way or another".

I went back to thinking about my fears. I started saying, "but now that I think about it, death is my greatest fear...". I meant that. A child and a beautiful wife you can't bear to lose suddenly puts mortality into a new perspective. The fact remained though that I picked irrelevancy first. Damn. What a slip-up. And my friend pointed that out to me too.

He cut off my musings on death midway. "It's your first thoughts that matter". With that, he launched into a summary of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink". In the book, Gladwell talks of his view on "thin slicing". The idea that our thoughts are often better when spontaneous as opposed to being carefully planned out. And so we sat there philosophizing over why and how our first thoughts emerge. The conversation grew with enthusiasm as a crumb fried fish and beef lasagna diminished in size. But I couldn't let my slip up go unexplained.

"I know it was my first thought, but irrelevancy is what used to be my greatest fear. I don't want to fear it anymore" I blurted out.

The quizzical look I received told me that I had his interest. French fry in hand I double dipped and began.

I asked him if he'd heard of Jonathon Blow, or Phil Fish. He had. Odds are, most people haven't. These are two VERY successful independent game developers. Jonathon is a trail blazer in this industry no less. The might seem "relevant" to us (or at least, "not irrelevant" to the less kind). But to most people, they are irrelevant. Just another name out there. Even if you are in software, the odds are, you haven't heard of Phil Fish.

"To most people out there, no matter what we do, the odds are, we'll never be relevant to them in a way that we imagine. And that's what bothers me. Look at the people who are most relevant in our IT industry. Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg. I make an assumption here, but I don't believe that any of them set out to be household names. They just became that as a result of their work. They set out to solve problems they felt were important to them and to solve it with love. Their 'relevancy', was a side effect."

"It's also fascinating that the human mind, is extremely difficult to be satisfied. And relevancy, is probably never complete. You can't be somebody to everybody. The pursuit of relevancy for the sake of relevancy, feels like a path that will leave you unhappy inside even after you've 'made it'."

I paused to consider what I had just finished saying and my friend continued to look at me as if expecting more. So I continued,

"At the end of the day, what do I really want? There's so much to choose from. I want to be a super productive developer. I want to be a writer. A professional YouTube host. Maybe a semi pro game reviewer. I want to be a good father, a good husband. Deep down though, what is it I really want? What is really enough? And those words are key. It's to be content with what I have."

"You can't find contentment in trying to be relevant. I already said that. I find contentment in doing what I love though. And do I have to be some well known open source developer to do that? Do I need to be a founder of some hot startup to feel like I'm doing work I love? I'd rather pick a few small goals and pour myself into those."

"You see, you are right. My first thought was indeed, 'irrelevancy'. I picked another fear after that though because like I said, I don't want irrelevancy to be my fear anymore. I just need to be content with what I have. Everything else is a side effect. If I can do work I love, provide for my family, be a good husband and father, I'm content. If my wife and child are happy with who I am, that's good enough for me. I'm finally working a dream job at Buffer. I don't even work directly on the product but I do work I love. Relatively, it helps a microcosm of people. To the world at large, I'm a nobody, but in my world, what more do I want? At this point anything more is garnish. The icing and the cherry on the cake. And if nothing more comes from here, I'm fine with that too. I don't want to fear irrelevancy. I'd rather embrace it".

I held the last french fry for a moment, dabbed it in sauce, smiled, and declared,

"I'm irrelevant man. And that's ok."

Posted on March 24 2016 by Adnan Issadeen