You’re not that important.

gearsA couple months ago, I took a rare weekend off from work at the church and left town. It was fun but also stressful! Though I had left clear instructions- I hoped- with the guys who said they’d fill in, I still felt very uneasy about leaving “the baby with the sitter”. Notice that I even got guy’S’ (plural) to replace me. Obviously, no one person could do the things I do on Sunday except me. Waking up Sunday morning more than a hundred miles away wore me out with stress. I was just waiting to get the call. They would be frantically asking how this worked, and what that was for, and who is taking care of the other thing. But you know what? No one called.

A couple weeks ago, There was a big change at the office supply store where I work. We were going to move all of the tech department around… all of it. When I heard, I started to get my game face on. This is going to be a tough move but one that I can make happen! I always do. When the manager told me that he was letting anyone do the change that wanted to, and that the shift was over night on wednesday, I froze. There is no way I can work all day, all night, and all the next day in a row. I had to decline. “That’s ok. I understand.” He said. What? I was a little confused. He knows that most of the other workers can’t work at my pace. And that job is going to take some serious pace! Thursday morning, I got and headed out to work. I just knew we would be playing catch up today. The store would be a wreck, I would get started on making it right, and I would fall behind on my normal tasks because of it. Thanks, guys. Actually no, I didn’t have to catch up. It was done. all of it. Just two workers came in with plenty rest and knocked it all out in one night. And it looked great!

I’m not nearly as important as I think I am.

We tend to think the things we understand about our tasks are so brilliant that no one could possibly replace us. We think that we can work hard enough and fast enough to become irreplaceable. The sad yet liberating truth is that anything that you do someone else can do. Maybe even better. Just because we haven’t met them yet, doesn’t mean that they aren’t right on our door step, ready to call our value into question. This news scares the mess out of people, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. you may be the best cog you know. Cogs are little gears that keep the watch, or machine, or company, or church running. But cogs are replaceable. If the engine is to run, someone will keep it running. So if your afraid that your life as a cog may come to an end, then stop doing cog-work. There is a huge freedom in letting go from the control that you think you have in your life. It that very illusion of control that robs us of our humanity.

What you do may be replaceable, but who you are isn’t.

Yesterday, I came home at lunch to find my wife sitting on the couch. She had a look of exhaustion on her face. She was in the middle of a weekend that involved a lot of cog-work. She just taken a break when I walked in the door. As I sat down we went through her list of things she had done and things she needed to do. After reading the list she did none of those things. She just sat with me and talked. I remember thinking that little moment was worth more than any of the cog-work she or I had done all day.

A few days ago, we had some friends over. It wasn’t anything elaborate, but there was cake. We cooked hot dogs in the fire place and talked. Then we ate and talked. Then we sat and talked. The day had been long. Cogs had turned. Some of us had brought our A-game that day, and some of us just had the energy to phone some of our tasks in. But we had made it. The end of the day had come and now, instead of tasks waiting to be done, there were stories waiting to be shared. However, some friends had been turning their cogs so hard that day that they didn’t make it. They were missed. In fact, I remember thinking that it was weird that even though we weren’t working and it was the least productive part of the day, the ones who were there and the ones who were missing were all more irreplaceable in that moment than any of us ever is working our day jobs.

You are more valuable than you think you are.

When we think that our value comes from anything we can do for another person, we forget about why we value the most important people in our lives. It has nothing to do with your level of productivity because, honestly, there are people out there more productive than you. But your biggest assets as a person will always be the things that cogs don’t have: honesty, friendship, humanity, little quirks that make you a little imperfect, but still wonderfully human.

After all, we are called human beings, not human doings.

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4 thoughts on “You’re not that important.”

  1. Great article. I have started many jobs were the person who was to train me did not because he or she was afraid I would take his/her job. The reason they got along without your help is because they were trained right. That speaks volumes.

    1. True stuff! Another unfortunate work-related effect of staying irreplaceable being also unpromotable. learned that one on a couple occasions. It goes something like “I know you’d rather be doing this, but unfortunately you’re the only one who can do what you’re already doing.”

  2. I was always taught that if you want to know just how much difference your absence makes.
    1.Put your hand in a 5 gallon bucket.
    2.Fill it up with water.
    3.Mark the level of the water.
    4.Take your hand out and mark the level again.

    Note the difference.
    Then you see how little effort it takes to replace you.

    I have lived with that my whole life.

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