Manifesto of Insignificance

How do you want to be remembered?

While in Turkey, I had a chance to explore the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the 15th Century home of the Ottoman sultans.

Amongst the stunning architecture and tiles, jewellery and amour there was one part of the complex dedicated to showing the vast collection of Ming Dynasty porcelain.

I couldn’t help reflect on how hundreds of years ago an anonymous Chinese potter had created this beautiful plate with its beautiful patterns of blue on white…

Which had travelled across land and seas to end up in Istanbul…

Where it humbly hosted the various dishes of the Sultan…

And where it provided inspiration for the Iznik potters, makers of the famous tiles that now adorn palaces and mosques…

And where it continues to provide inspiration for artists, tourists and Turks who visit the Palace.

Vanished

Later in the day, outside the Palace, I came across a small stub of stone by a tram stop. On it was a sign that had this poignant declaration:

“this stone pillar is all that remains of a Byzantine triumphal arch from which road distances to all corners of the empire were once measured.”

The arch, like the empire, had vanished.

The porcelain bowl had survived.

Will I matter?

What I took from this is not so much that the fragile survives and the seemingly immortal has vanished.

Rather, it strikes me how random and how unlikely it is that there will be any lasting legacy of who we are and what we do.

In The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun I ask “in a hundred years, will it matter?” I might as well ask, “in a hundred years, will I matter?”

The answer? Probably not.

Feeling a little down?

It would certainly be easy to sigh and shrug and ask “why bother?”

For me though, that answer is liberating.

It points to the paradox of our existence: both overwhelmingly meaningful and overwhelmingly insignificant.

It is also freeing. It means we can do the work that matters and that inspires us without the burden of it being perfect, or timeless or “right”.

In fact two thinkers that I’ve spoken to recently – David Allen and Michael Neill have both mentioned that part of their success has come from the lightness of their plans, a willingness not to take it too seriously AND to strive for Great Work.

And so, feeling liberated and inspired while I look out today at the morning bustle of Istanbul life, here is….

My manifesto of insignificance

Knowing that my death is certain and my time of death is uncertain

Knowing that the work I do matters and also will not last

I’ll strive to do Great Work

I won’t take things too seriously

I’ll strive to create things of beauty

I’ll enjoy today

I’ll love the people in my life

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One Response to Manifesto of Insignificance

  1. Joe Malloy says:

    Micahel,

    We met at the ECIS conference in Sorrento a few years back–I am in Turkey, Istanbul and now Ankara–I think you had.have family living here.

    I have always followed your emails, and found them so helpful, cleaver and encouraging. Smart, serious, not sappy.

    This Istanbul post certainly says a lot, and interesting because I can see then very places you are talking about.

    Anyway, I am stuck. Career, personal, doing a doctorate and can’t get motivated.

    I just ordered the STUCK program. Hope it gets here in 12 days; need to get UN stuck asap.

    Thanks for everything,

    Joe