The world’s attention is not on you. And that is no bad thing. You have the space, the time and the freedom to focus on being and doing better.
If you went by just his Twitter feed, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ed Latimore is a gent of few words. But those few words tend to be well chosen. A tweet shared by Mr Latimore on Good Friday (2 April 2021) stopped me in my tracks. It has given me much food for thought ever since. It read thus:
“Remember this when the world feels unfair
That the world doesn’t even know that you’re there”
Ed Latimore is an extraordinary gentleman. A retired boxer, a physicist, and an author of books and of a Twitter feed that consistently provokes and challenges thought in the fewest words possible. I became aware of his work via a tweeted recommendation from Charles Assisi (in response to my post listing some of my favourite podcasts of 2019) that I should listen to Mr Latimore on Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street Knowledge Project podcast post haste. I did. I am thankful to Mr Assisi for this excellent recommendation. We will return to Farnam Street in a moment. But first, a question to you , gentle reader…
How does Latimore’s reminder that “the world doesn’t even know that you’re there” make you feel?
Just one solitary life
For some people, the suggestion that the world not only does not revolve around them but is unaware of them might be a depressing or upsetting statement. For others it might be freeing.
Ed Latimore’s tweet reminded me of some words from Ice-T, another deep thinking gent who is generous in how he shares his wisdom (not least via his occasional daily game and ICE cold fact tweets). In his book Ice, Ice-T talks about moving into his first apartment in LA, and being able to look at his life from a different perspective for the first time. Solitude gave him time to think, and lead him to a realisation:
“My mind went into this zone. In my mind, I called myself a ‘spot’. Meaning if you looked at a crowd from the roof of a football stadium each person would be a spot – one tiny speck – and nobody gives a fuck about a spot. A spot is just one solitary life. If one of those spots, one of those people, comes up missing – who gives a shit? The stadium is still full. An anonymous speck. You don’t mean shit. Even now – I’ve achieved some things, and got my share of money and fame – but if I died today, I’m not kidding myself. New York keeps moving. I realised really young that my survival was all about me maintaining composure. At the end of the day, my survival was really only important to me.”
Survival is all about maintaining composure. This is a striking perspective on life.
New York keeps moving
I love Ice-T’s use of the phrase “New York keeps moving” there. It’s a long time since I was last in NYC. But from my memories, the city is relentless when you are at street level. New York really does put you in your place. Immediately. It never stops moving, never quiets itself (at least in non-pandemic times, of course). I last got to visit NYC in early 1993, when I was an exchange student at Rutgers University in Ice-T’s original home state of New Jersey. The Big Apple was just an hour’s train ride away. I have an abiding memory of emerging from Penn Station and feeling stunned at the gargantuan scale of the buildings in Manhattan, and of the sheer noise of the streets. London would be both physically dwarfed and sonically drowned out by New York, were the two cities ever to cross paths (although I will grant that – to quote Jeeves – the contingency is a remote one).
But take the exceedingly fast elevator to the top of the Empire State building and the city is transformed. The infernal street level noise is all but muted. The layout of the city and the crowded, intricate beauty of its architecture are laid out before you. The taxis are tiny blobs of yellow. The people are spots.
A change of perspective – whether from atop the Empire State Building or above a stadium, or from reading simple but powerful words that give you pause to think – can make you starkly aware of your place in the grand scheme of things.
Motivation is finite
My mind alive with these thoughts, I returned to Ed Latimore’s appearance on the Farnam Street podcast on Easter Sunday (4 April 2021). This conversation is a feast of ideas. Latimore is a fascinating speaker. A different part of what he has to say will grab you each time you listen.
This time around, I was particularly struck by Latimore’s argument that happiness can come through having something to work towards and the change that comes while pursuing it:
“Once that change isn’t happening anymore, you’re back to being unhappy. Your whole life, if you want to be happy, you’ve got to push towards something. It doesn’t matter what you push towards, it doesn’t matter what you want to be, what you’re trying to become. But you’ve got to try to become something.”
So how best to achieve change? “Motivation is finite”, he believes. Being motivated will only get you so far. Far better to pursue change by building constructive habits and sticking to them. Good habits can range from washing the dishes as soon as you are done eating to hitting the gym every day for intensive boxing training. Good habits will likely not be enjoyable in the doing. But it is best to get them done, and to concentrate on enjoying the benefits that they will bring.
He discusses the importance of composure and perspective as the bedrock for good habits. His words here echo (or pre-echo, I suppose, as this podcast dates from a few years back) his April 2021 tweet that “the world doesn’t even know that you’re there”. Latimore discusses how he finds and maintains composure in the boxing ring:
“As long as you think people care what you do – as long as you think that somehow your little existence is going to make a big ripple in the long grand scheme of things, you’re going to be terrified to act. But once you understand, once you realise, it’s freedom, it’s freeing once you see that no-one cares, no-one thinks about it except maybe the people there in the moment. No-one cares anymore. I don’t care anymore. I can say I got stopped, I got knocked down on TV, and it doesn’t bother me because it’s an event that I’ve learnt from and I’ve taken the best parts of it to make myself better. Most people get too attached, too fixated on the same old thing so they cannot be confident.”
The light of the sun
Gentle reader: I hope that you are one of the lucky ones who will find something freeing in Mr Latimore’s reminder that “the world doesn’t even know that you’re there”.
New York keeps moving. The world keeps moving and evolving. You can move and evolve with it. Survival is about maintaining composure.
You have the space, the time and the freedom to focus on being and doing better.
The world’s attention is not on you. That need not be a bad thing. The world may not revolve around you. But you still get to enjoy the light of the sun.
- Burns-Johnson boxing contest, December 26th 1908 photographed by Charles Kerry via Wikimedia Commons.
- Body Count feat. Ice-T With Full Force 2018 via Wikimedia Commons.
- Lightning striking the Empire State Building. From “A Triumph of Thunderstorm Photography” via Wikimedia Commons.
- Shadow of the Empire State Building, taken by MJCarty in 1993.
- Total solar eclipse via Wikimedia Commons.
- Sunrise with linear reflection via Wikimedia Commons.