The first Google image when searching "facepalm." From this place.
Not trying to be all deep-minded or anything. Just started typing out some thoughts and then thought maybe they'd resonate with someone else, too, so I decided to share. Sharing is fun. Note: I offer this with imaginary grains of salt, one because I am human and thus, quite prone to faulty thinking, and two, because I wrote a lot of this last night, when I'm pretty sure I had a fever. Okay, I think that's all the disclaimers necessary. Onward, if you dare.
This is probably in part just a young man hubris sort of thing—and it's also pretty embarassing to admit—but I think that sometimes I want to be great just for the sake of being great. This is a problem for many reasons. It's really arbirtary, for one. What does that mean, anyway? "I want to be great." Okay, well, great. Also, it can be like a poison, man. If you're bent on becoming great you're probably not going to feel like you're actually great. Like, ever. If you find peace in being average, then I think we can see with greater clarity our moments of true greatness.
Like it or not, this human life is a long game, and it's not really something we can just up and win one day. Consistency means more than bright shining moments. One of my blessings and curses is that I am a grand dreamer and ambition-chaser. Lately I've had to learn to relax and stop thinking about trying to make everything happen all at once and just do good work in whatever my present opportunity. I want to win magazine writing awards and I want to write bestselling books and novels and get into film and write and maybe even one day help make Oscar-contending movies and ... I get out of breath just typing that. (Although maybe I just need to go to the gym.)
So I get caught up in all the grandeur of what I want to do and it all at once adrenalizes and paralyzes me. I find my peace again when I remember the core thing I am most passionately pursuing:
I am after a good story well told.
At the deepest core of my being, that's what I care about the most. That's what I've always cared about the most.
If I pour my passion into telling the story in front of me at the moment as well as I can, and then I do that over and over and over again, then the breaks will come. But as all the best advice always says, the most important thing in trying to achieve something great is in taking the things we might deem minor and giving them our great effort.
You ever seen the movie The Aviator? It's about Howard Hughes, the guy who make commercial flight possible. It's also long and pretty boring in a lot of parts, but I remember one scene like I was in the room: Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Hughes, running his hand along the hull of the plane, his fingers passing over the screws that fasten the aircraft together. His character obsesses over streamlining flight. He makes the engineers and airplane builders (I don't know the technical term. Airplanitects?) rebuild a plane over and over until they get the screws absolutely flush with the metal. At first they say it's impossible, it can't be done, he must be a madman. But he says to hell with that. That's the kind of thinking that's held us back forever.
And now I'm getting off track, but my point is: Hughes didn't become a legend in aviation because he wanted to be a legend in aviation, or a legend at all. He became a legend in aviation because he cared more about what he believed possible, about what he wanted to see made possible, than anybody else at the time.
So really, it all comes down to answering two questions:
What do I care about?
And once you know that:
How can I get better at what I do?
* * *
I think many of us dream of greatness because we ache to feel significant, we long to be remembered once our time is up, whether our time in high school or our time in college or our time in grad school or our time at entry level work or our time on Earth.
I think the problem with modern America is that we only feel like we're truly great if a great number of people take notice. We have come to quantify our greatness with the amount of eyeballs we attract for whatever it is we are attempting to be great at. Which really just breeds this terrifying race of Snookis and Kardashians, if you think about it. It breeds a mentality that tries to be good at getting attention rather than being good at ... something worthwhile.
(The fantastic irony of that statement, of course, is that I am posting thoughts on how we've become a nation of attention-getters on a blog for people to read, so that I can get attention. Trippy.)
Now in a commercial sense, if we are trying to build a brand or a business or something like that, then yes, obviously, to be successful you need to attract attention. But much of that will likely be birthed out of the quality of your product or the service you offer. Like how channeling your obsessive-compulsive disorder into building the perfect commercial airplane, which will spawn an entirely new way of life.
But here's what I think the even greater truth might be: We will be remembered, each and every one of us, by those closest to us. We bear significance in their lives. We have impact in their lives. We mean something to them. For some of us, that's family. For others, it's friends. For others, it's some other social group. But we all mean something to somebody, and if we pour our efforts into simply being the best version of ourselves at whatever it is we are doing, then we can leave for others memories and love and meaning that are truly great.