If I fill my life with fungible things, what does that make me?

fungible duck

Every now and again my mind stutters as it processes a word and I find myself taking a left turn in my thinking and arriving somewhere unexpected.

It happened today while I was researching the relationship between cryptocurrencies, blockchain and machine learning (No wonder my mind wandered, huh. What can I tell you? This is what they pay me for). I meandered into a discussion on fungible goods as an alternative to currency. I had to go and look up fungible. I read the definition and found myself letting go of the research and wondering if I’d found one of the sources of dissatisfaction in my life.

www.etymonline.com, my favourite online etymological dictionary, defined fungible as:

fungible (adj.) Look up fungible at Dictionary.com
“capable of being used in place of another; capable of being replaced,” 1818, a word in law originally, from Medieval Latin fungibilis, from Latin fungi “perform” (see function (n.)) via phrases such as fungi vice “to take the place.” Earlier as a noun (1765).

In the topic I was originally researching, fungible goods are things like crude oil or grade A corn that can be traded and combined from multiple sources.

I found myself not caring about that (it’s only exciting if you’re a commodities trader).

Instead, I began to think about how the word applied to me and I realised that I spend much of my working life in a fungible world.

I travel on the same airlines and wait in almost indistinguishable Business Lounges as I travel to offices that all look pretty much the same regardless of which country I’m in. I spend upwards of 100 nights a year in chain hotels that are so similar that when I wake, I know which chain I’m in but not which city. Increasingly I find that the coffee shops and restaurants we go to are part of international chains that pride themselves on the consistency of their “consumer experience”.

My life is bland. My days are fungible.

Which makes me wonder, “How fungible am I?”

In many ways, I’m just another product of a Big Five consulting culture that shapes how I frame and solve problems, how I work with colleagues and how I relate to clients.  We’re so similar, we recognise one another in the bars of chain hotels all over the world.

We tend to be global, or at least international. We either peddle globalisation or we help deal with its consequences. If we have a passport, a mobile phone and a credit card, we’re ready to go. We tell ourselves we’re agile, adaptable, digital nomads. Sometimes that even seems to be true.

Then the word FUNGIBLE smashes into the glass bubble I travel in like a raven hitting a window and I find myself fascinated by the cracks its impact leaves behind and the scents from the outside world that waft into my air-conditioned, sanitised life.

So I devised a test for fungibility: what in my life is memorable because nothing else could take its place?

Only one word passed the test: HOME.

If I want to have a life less fungible, if I want to BE less fungible, I need to spend more time there.

When I can’t spend time there, I need to leave my chain hotel and go and eat somewhere that is unique to the city I’m in. I need to listen harder to my colleagues and learn to see what makes them more than the job we do. I need to learn to find and treasure the things that will make my days memorable.

3 thoughts on “If I fill my life with fungible things, what does that make me?

  1. Wow. Interesting essay. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt this way. Perhaps because I never fit in well enough to find myself in a position like this. Or perhaps because I’ve always been outside. Always been incredibly curious about the complexities and variations in other people. I do hope you find your way to singularities.


    • It’s odd because in this life you’re still on the outside but in a facilitated global corporate bubble of airports such and hotels and rental cars and and taxis and offices in tall towers.
      It’s like travelling in those glass bottom boats that let’s you see exotic fish without ever getting wet.
      Still, I’m working on it. No more corporate anything for me after this year.


      • “It’s like travelling in those glass bottom boats that let’s you see exotic fish without ever getting wet”

        I think that’s a really meaty metaphor. And yes, I get it. I felt that way when I was living in London working for a media company. It was a huge part of why I moved to Vietnam.


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