Opinions, Column

You Are Replaceable

The other day, I was driving on the highway in lane four when I got caught behind a car going the posted speed limit. In lane four.

My initial reaction was to mutter, “I’ve seen cops let people go 90 in this lane, buddy, move it or lose it.” Once I did, some swears and some angry tailing followed. Then came a moment of self-reflection. After all that effort, I realized the driver in front of me couldn’t hear me whatsoever.  To them, my angry signals such as my tailgating were just as insignificant as the 231st stranger I walked by in Boston last week was to me. To one another, our isolated interactions are often nothing more than a trivial blip on the radar of a day, let alone someone’s life.

Remember, you’re always replaceable.

I remember frequently hearing these words in my household growing up. No, it wasn’t hatred from my sisters or hotheadedness from my friends. Rather, it was a distinct form of love from my mother.

Whenever I’d tell my mother about some special interview I had, a tryout coming up, or a competition I was participating in, it was always, “Remember, you’re replaceable.” Whenever I’d have a second interview, call back, or move on to further rounds, “You’re replaceable” would inevitably come reverberating.

Now before child services comes for her, let me defend my mother because, in hindsight, those words are the most valuable words I’ve ever been told. 

Growing up I was never a cocky kid until one daysometime around high school—when I just was. For all the confidence and courage I lacked, I overcompensated for it with arrogance. I told myself I was the funniest, the best-looking, the humblest, and the coolest kid in every room I walked into. And it sort of stuck. 

Yet, while this disposition overcame my persona, my mother noticed it. Being the great parent that she is, my mother decided to work with this character trait of mine rather than fight against it. And thus the phrase, “You’re replaceable,” was born. 

She never said, “You’re replaceable to me,” just “You’re replaceable.” I mean, I knew I was never replaceable to her. I was the funniest, best-looking, humblest, and coolest son she could have ever asked for. And, this isn’t just because I was her only son—we had a male dog in the house too, so competition was tight. 

Now, whenever I get ahead of myself, like I did the other day complaining about the posted speed limit, I hear my mom’s voice echoing in the back of my head, “Remember you’re replaceable.” See, these two words brought me down a road of self-awareness and taught me a life lesson that I think more people should learn.

As important as you think and know you are and as much as you think you deserve to drive above the speed limit, you are still so insignificant to the greater world. 

I am merely the 232nd stranger you passed on the sidewalk last week. But interestingly, once I finally accept this, my world becomes a whole lot easier. My worries become bearable. I humble myself so much that I see how much more to life there is than my selfish self in lane four. And, the problems in life get a new spin. 

Instead of beating myself up for having no plans on a Saturday night, I use the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed, reflective time. I get to know myself better. Then I see just how good my friends really are, depending on if they accept my hiatus. Just because I’m in on a Saturday does not mean I should feel pity for myself. It’s not only one Saturday night in my life, but it is also just one Saturday night in a world of billions of other people’s Saturday nights. 

Yeah, life is tough and all, but you’re replaceable. Each one of us is so insignificant that every feat you accomplish is miniscule on the larger stage. 

Now this does not mean you are not unique or shouldn’t ever put any effort into anything. Rather, it is a call to rethink your decision-making rationale. Don’t waste effort cussing out the guy in front of you on the highway, strive for greatness instead. Try something new, look at life in a new way, and do everything to the fullest of your capabilities. If you’re embarrassed at failing, no one’s going to know. You’re replaceable. 

With this mindset, you’ll find the highs within the lows of life, and soon there will be very few lows. After all, the driver in front of you is keeping you from getting a speeding ticket, right? So, I hope you’ll find your uniqueness and irreplaceability just as I have.

April 4, 2024