We all long to live significant lives. The difference is how we define, “significance.” For one it might be zooming in career, for another it might be zooming away from career. And on it goes. What makes significance simultaneously harder and easier today is the access that we have to each other. Five hundred years ago most of us would not have been known beyond our small town or village. Those who were known beyond their own town, would have been more myth than anything. Today though, if you do something amazing or stupid, presto, you can be known–at least for a while.
This is wonderful because we have a greater appreciation for what’s happening in the various human expressions occurring in the world. It’s troubling because it makes significance more about being “seen” rather than about being “amazing.” Or, as Seth Godin wrote a number of years ago, “remarkable.”
Albert Einstein put it this way,
The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives.
Amazing but obscure. That’s the message in the quote. And, Einstein seems to think that’s a good idea. I’m mixed about it. First, I’m mixed because I want to be “amazing” and “seen.” Which is probably exactly what Einstein is lamenting as a problem. The problem, according to the quote is twofold. It’s wanting to be “seen” as the goal. And, it’s societies obsession with “seeing” certain ones (like celebrities).
Basically, the “seen” part is messing with the “amazing” part. The desire to be amazing shouldn’t be born out of the desire to be seen. Being “seen” as significant should be bestowed by others because they recognize your brilliance (which you have), not because you’re trying to get them to (bestow, that is). This has been a lifelong struggle of mine.
Now, before you say, Oh Dave, that’s just not my issue. I don’t want to be seen. Really? You don’t want to be significant in the eyes of those who value what you value? Remember, we all want to be significant; we just have different ideas of what that is. I suppose Einstein would say, be amazing and let the Universe take care of the rest. Well but then again, where does ambition come into play? Is ambition a bad thing? Abraham Lincoln had the ambition of three men. Would we label his ambition as “bad.”
This is tricky.