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Soulful Sundays: Great Expectations

"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." -Friedrich Nietzsche

What are we all doing here? Seriously, what's the point of doing anything knowing that in under a century, we'll all most likely be dead, buried, and forgotten? I'm almost certain that you have asked yourself questions like these. They usually come up during darker times, but it's healthy to ask them during bright times too. These existential quandaries point to the rather paradoxical nature of life itself: finite but complex, insignificant but full of potential, known but mostly unknown.

One of the more interesting characteristics of the human mind is its ability to perceive temporal boundaries (to see cause and effect across time and to simulate future events). This part gave us an evolutionary advantage because it allowed us to plan our survival and flourishing rather than merely relying on instinct or immediate environmental signals. Hunting, agriculture, food storage, structure building, monetary systems, and even language arose because of our ancestors' understanding that what happens today affects tomorrow.

Did our ancestors ponder their cosmic significance? You bet they did. Art, mythology, astrology, and language are all reflections of this ancient struggle. Humans have always wanted to know that their toiling would not be in vain. Some took this to the extreme (Napoleon, Alexander the Great, etc.) and focused merely on legacy without considering substance. Others found no point in living at all and decided to check out early. Most of the rest are somewhere in between.

You matter to at least one person (yourself) so that is where we will start. Self-respect and self-love are the bedrock for all that is to follow. You matter to your family, your partner, and your kids. You matter at work and to the various places that you frequent. You matter to the greater culture as a whole. You matter in the historic and geologic timelines, even if you feel insignificant. The reason why you matter? You have great expectations to live up to.

Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most talented philosophers of all time, was dogged about the greatness of mankind. He believed that a person was not merely the sum of what they had achieved, but also the sum of their potential achievements. He emphasized our future selves just as much as our current selves. He was an optimist, not a nihilist, as he is often portrayed.

A keen interest in the future. Positive intent. These are both antidotes to suffering. Even though the world seems backward at times and things don't always seem fair, we must remember that while we breathe we can change. Even the most insignificant improvements in our lifetimes can have compounding effects over many generations. Your and my life would not be as rich (or even possible) had the first humans not planned for the winter, or cooperated with one another.

As a human you are great, but you can be even greater. You should strive to be the greatest in whatever realm that you choose. This will not be easy. You will be lambasted from all sides. You will ultimately fail, but if you keep moving forward, you will also ultimately succeed. The most powerful gift that you possess is your will. Don't waste it on trifles. Aim as high as possible.

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