This week, I discuss the necessity of asking “Am I replaceable?” when looking at your relationships.

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How Replaceable Are You?

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation, but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To be replaceable is when your role in a relationship is easily interchangeable with someone else without much fuss or fanfare.

For example, if you work on an assembly line, then quit, your employer can train your replacement within three to four days. Within the context of factory work, you are expendable.

Realistically, in most of your relationships and scenarios, you are replaceable, such as casual flings or corporate work. However, I argue that you should not despair. Firstly, we’ll discuss why individuals value relationships where they are expendable. Then, I want to discuss how to seek and invest in relationships where you are irreplaceable.

Why Do We Value Relationships Where We Are Replaceable?

virtuous friendship

Relationships built on virtue are hard to uphold, but others cannot easily replace you.

In our broken world, we put too much time, energy, and stock into relationships where we are easily replaceable. For example, many people, particularly young people, make work-life their identity. However, employees dedicate most of their lives to corporations where employers can easily replace workers. Even the CEO can be replaced by someone else fairly quickly.

Why would we value relationships and scenarios where our immense dedication and investment produce little loyalty from others? Because these relationships are easy and require little from us. A corporate job only requires us to engage productively in mind-numbing work. It does not require virtue, moral consistency, or exceptionally high standards. All we have to do is align our actions and emotions with the “values” of the shallow corporate environment. Such a task is painfully easy once you understand the rules.

Another example is that a loving marriage is more challenging to maintain than casual flings. But in a casual fling, you are easily replaceable with the next willing partner. Of course, casual flings require nothing but a lack of dignity. Thus, they are easy to engage in and need no virtue or self-improvement.

You Have To Invest Time Wisely

Investing in what doesn’t care for you is depressing and will lead to a nihilistic worldview. Why would you view life as meaningful if every relationship you cultivate views you as interchangeable? Or if you overwork yourself at a job that sees you as only a number? In such a life, there is no exchange of loyalty for loyalty. You bring all the effort and receive nothing in return.

Therefore, we must reinvest into relationships where we are valued. That is the only way to defeat the tide of meaninglessness.

Invest In Relationships Where You Are Not Replaceable

If you want to be irreplaceable, you must do two things. Firstly, invest in relationships where you are unique and virtuous. Secondly, develop into a person who is cherished and valued.

1) Go Where You Are Unique and Irreplaceable

“That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!” – Margaret Mitchell

Putting extra hours into your corporate job will not change that you are replaceable. Putting extra hours into your marriage will take the relationship to the next level and solidify your uniqueness. Therefore, invest in and pursue relationships where you are unique.

Take stock of your life as it is. Are you married? Do you have a relationship with your parents? Your children? In these relationships where you have a unique role, such as husband, wife, mother, father, son, or daughter, seek to excel at your function. Meet people’s rational needs and help them achieve their virtuous ends. Individuals will value you.

If you do not have these relationships, then seek them. Repair your relationship with your parents (within reason), find a partner, and have children. Creating virtuous, long-term relationships will ensure you have a strong, communal foundation that cannot be replaced.

2) Become More Virtuous, Cherished, and Valued

virtue | man's silhouette

Most of your life’s problems can be solved by simply being more virtuous. Feeling replaceable is just another problem virtue solves.

Secondly, become a virtuous individual. Although virtue is difficult to cultivate, it distinguishes you from others and ensures whoever you interact with will respect and cherish you. Virtuous individuals are valued, helpful, and others miss them when such individuals are gone. Even at a corporate job, if you are hard-working, easy to get along with, and dutiful, you will be harder to replace than not (but remember, you are still replaceable).

Stop going to the bar with your work friends; call your mother. Don’t spend more time watching television where you are just another anonymous viewer; play with your children where your role in their lives will never be unvalued. Don’t pursue relationships that offer comfort and vice where you are replaceable with another good time; focus on relationships where you are loved and cherished because you pursue virtue at the expense of your comforts.

Pursue Individuals Who Value You

Your life has room for relationships and scenarios where others can replace you. Yes, we all need to work, and we are not all blessed with a job where we are unique and heavily valued. Yes, we do form friendships out of necessity or happenstance that have nothing to do with the pursuit of virtue. Yes, we all shop at businesses that only view us only as a number.

However, we should not invest too much time in these relationships. Wherever you are unique and irreplaceable, place your time, energy, and efforts there. Let the other aspects of your life take care of themselves.


  1. How do you maximize your results at your job while minimizing your efforts? First, start by outlining your responsibilities. Then, create systems that allow you to work smarter—for example, setting only a few times a day to check your messages—or deepening your knowledge of relevant skills so you can perform faster. After a few weeks, your time investment should remain the same, but your productivity should improve.
  2. Outline your replaceable relationships and the irreplaceable ones. Additionally, outline areas where you can easily replace other people without much fanfare. How do the lists fare? How do you feel about the lists?
  3. Which virtues do you struggle with? Your goal here is to improve on those virtues. First, outline your struggles. Second, imagine how much better your life would be if you could master the virtue you struggle with. Third, work on removing anything that drains you of focus, emotional energy, and time. Lastly, take your newfound time and energy and direct it towards improving the virtue where you lack. This process will take time, at least a few months. However, the results will be an improvement in your character.

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.