It’s not often that I read or listen to something that stops me in my tracks because it resonates so deeply. It happened yesterday.
It came from Tim Ferriss’s latest podcast with Naval Ravikant (CEO and a co-founder of AngelList and successful investor). Naval was back to answer ten questions from listeners and he took on one about a life insight he has.
It was so awesome and is something I am going to remember when I find myself worrying too much about the future.
I transcribed that part of it below. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. It’s only an hour long and the whole thing is excellent.
Q: What insight about life have you acquired that seems obvious to you, but might not be obvious to everyone else?
Naval: This one is a tough one, its a deep question. I do have one fundamental, recent belief that I’ve acquired in the last few years that I don’t think most people would agree with. But it’s such a personal thing and it came about in such personal circumstances that I’m not sure anyone else will get there in the same line of reasoning. That said, I’ll lay it out anyway.
Which is, I’m not afraid of death anymore. And I think a lot of the struggle that we have in life comes from a deep, deep fear of death. And it can take form in many ways. One can be that we want to write the great American novel, or we really want to achieve something in this world, we want to build something, we want to build a great piece of technology or we want to start an amazing business or we want to run for office and make a difference.
And a lot of that just comes from sort of this fear that we’re going to die, so we have to build something that lasts beyond us. Obviously also the obsession that parents have with their children. I mean a lot of that is warranted and biological love, but some of that is also the quest for immortality. Even some of the beliefs or some of the more outlandish parts of organized religion, I think fall into that.
And I don’t have that quest for immortality anymore. And I think I came to this fundamental conclusion. I thought about it a lot and the Universe has been around for a long time. The Universe is a very, very large place. If you study even the smallest bit of science, you’ll realise that for all practical purposes, we are nothing. We’re like, we are amoeba. We’re bacteria to the Universe. We’re basically monkeys on a small rock, orbiting a small backwards star in a huge galaxy which is in an absolutely staggering gigantic Universe which itself is likely part of a gigantic multi-verse. And this universe has been around probably for ten billion years or more and will be around for tens of billions of years afterwards. So your existence, my existence is just infinitesimal.
It’s like a firefly blinking once in the night. So we’re not really here very long and we don’t really matter that much. And nothing that we do lasts. So eventually you will fade. Your works will fade. Your children will fade. Your thoughts will fade. This planet will fade. The sun will fade. It will all be gone. There are entire civilizations that we just remember now with one or two words. Like Samarian or Mayan. Do you know any Samarians or Mayans? Do you hold any of them in high regard or esteem? Have they outlived their natural life span somehow? No.
So I think we’re just here for an extremely short period of time. Now from here you can choose to believe in an afterlife or not. And if you really do believe in an afterlife, then that should give you comfort and make you realize that maybe everything that goes on in this life is not that consequential.
On the other hand if you don’t believe in an afterlife, then you should also come to a similar conclusion which you realize that this is such a short and precious life, that it’s really important that you don’t spend it being unhappy. There is no excuse for spending most of your life in misery. You’ve only got seventy years out of the fifty billion or so that the universe is going to be around. Whatever your natural state is, it’s probably not this. This is your living state, your dead state. It’s true over a much longer time frame. So when I think about the world that way, I sort of realize that it’s just kind of a game. Which is not say that you go to a dark place and you start acting unethically and unmorally — quite the contrary.
You realize just how precious life is and how it’s important to make sure that you enjoy yourself, you sleep well at night, you’re a good moral person, you’re generally happy, you take care of other people, you help out. But you can’t take it too seriously, you can’t get too hung up over it, you can’t make yourself miserable and unhappy over it. You just have a very short period of time here on this Earth. Nothing you do is going to matter that much in the long run. Don’t take yourself so seriously. And then that just kind of helps make everything else work.
So yeah. That’s that’s an insight about life that I’ve acquired that now seems obvious to me. But it’s really not I think obvious to most people.