Oblivion Is the Default

Around 117 billion people have ever been alive. How many of their names do we remember? 5%? 10%? The latter is a generous estimate, given we can barely track the names of all the eight billion people alive today. That’s to say nothing of their deeds, mannerisms, and relationships while they were alive.

When I first started writing, I was big on legacy. I downed that Gary Vee Kool-Aid. I was going to write the next Four-Hour Workweek, the next Harry Potter, or bust! Now I’m happy whenever I can carve out some time to write a nice, long essay that means something to me but probably won’t make any dollars.

Even Gary Vee is talking less about legacy than he used to do five, six, seven years ago. Why? Perhaps, he, too, has realized that oblivion is the default. Most people will not be remembered. Not for long, anyway, and not outside of their immediate, close relationships — and that’s perfectly okay.

To be fair, I don’t think Gary is doing bad work: People are kinder, and often better, when they consider the long term instead of the short term. In that sense, thinking about your legacy has some immediate, positive effects. But it’s also a lot of pressure. So. Much. Pressure.

So what if your town won’t build a statue after you die? That doesn’t make any of your contributions less valuable at the time when you made them.

There’s a balance to be struck: You don’t want to make mostly selfish, very short-term decisions, but you don’t want to grind away your life hoping for brownie points you’ll never get to spend either.

Remembering that oblivion is the default can be a great equalizer. Yes, you’re unique, special, and a singular instance of humanity, but you’re also just one of 117 billion — and yet, it is on the shoulders of all those billions we can stand, because they each played their part in the great story that is humankind.

Be human. Be kind. And leave your legacy to us.