We all want to be remembered for something.
Whether it’s for our skills, companionship, intellect or sense of humor, we all want to know that somehow, we’ve contributed to something that is bigger than ourselves AND we want to do it in our own unique way.
On the face of it, this is harmless and pretty normal. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you want to be remembered. Not to sound morbid but, I’d like to think that when I’m gone, there will be a few people who have good memories of me. That in some way, I’ve been a positive influence and done something worthy of being remembered. And that’s where greatness and fame come into play – because both allow you (to some extent) to be remembered.
I genuinely believe that we all have the capacity to do great things. Whether we do them or not is a matter of willpower, determination and self-belief. And when you’ve managed to tap into that talent that’s within you and are able to combine that with doing something productive, that’s when great things can happen.
But, I’ve started to notice that there’s a huge problem – people have begun to confuse greatness with fame. Here’s how we define these two words:
The quality of being great; eminence or distinction.
The state of being known by many people.
In order to be great, you have to know a craft (like being a great teacher), develop a set of skills (like athletes do), or possibly show characteristics and traits that people often lack (that could make you a great friend, aunty or parent). Being ‘great’, is a matter of quality and substance. It takes time, can’t be rushed and most importantly, it does not need to be acknowledged by the whole world.
Fame is quite simply a lot of people knowing who you are. And I think we all know, that in the world we currently live in, you don’t have to do great things to be famous. You just have to be on a popular TV show for a few weeks, drop one track that gets put on repeat in any club or put your body on display for the world to see and the internet can make you famous in a hot second. Wanting fame is seeking self-acceptance through recognition from a lot of people… and that is dangerous because you’re placing your happiness in the hands of people who don’t know you.
Now that’s not to say that greatness and fame are mutually exclusive from each other. Muhammad Ali was both a great boxer and famous for his achievements, Usain Bolt is one of the greatest athletes in history. Billie Holiday, Oscar Wilde, Barak Obama, Michael Jackson and Malala Yousafzai are all both great and famous. But what all of these people (in my opinion) have in common is that their greatness led to their fame. They were not trying to be famous, they were all trying to be great at what they loved and use their talents to make a difference.
But somehow, in a time of instant gratification, it’s become ‘better’ for plenty of people to know your name than a few people to truly know and appreciate who you are; greatness has been exchanged for getting famous and fast. I’m not sure why, but it just feels like substance isn’t given the time of day and that’s not creating a world full of happy, healthy people. It’s feeding insecurities and a lot of hopelessness.
Take a moment and think about the people who have truly made a difference in your life. Who are they to you? What did they do or say to make you remember them? You’ll probably realise that the greatest people you know aren’t famous or celebrities. They are the people you speak to every day; the people who help you when you’re in trouble, motivate you when you’re feeling hurt or inspire you to do better as you see them strive through difficult times. You remember the people who have been present and added value to your life.
For me, one of the greatest people in my life was my grandad. He embodied all of the things that I truly value. Patience, gratitude, intellect and an endless amount of love for the people he cared for. There’s actually a Bible passage that reminds me of him every time I read it:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
— 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
By no definition was he famous, but he will always be one of the greatest men I knew. And for me, that is the kind of memory that’s worth leaving behind.
Greatness allows you to be remembered. But the real beauty of being great, is that it doesn’t mean you have to have a perfect career, the house with the white picket fence, the new car or a savings account with more zeros than a stopwatch. It just means trying to bring the best version of yourself to the table and that has nothing to do with the things that you have, but it’s everything to do with the person that you are.
You are the key to your greatness. Your personality, skills, temperament, aspirations and everything else that comes with you. All you have to do is find a way to connect that with making the world around you a better place. It means that you can channel your energy into being there for as many people as you can, instead of just trying to be visible to the whole world. Fame, might allow you to be known by a lot of people, but it does not guarantee that you will be remembered for very long.
But the choice is, and always will be yours. You can focus on fame and try to make sure that you’re ‘known’ by many. Or you can be great at whatever it is that you do and have an impact on the lives of those around you.
The real question is, which one are you aiming for?