Greatness, Stillness, Character
“I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.”Whiplash, 2014
I was 22, just fresh out of college, when I first watched Whiplash.
The pursuit of excellence and greatness in the movie had given me goosebumps.
Since then, I wished to have that mad, raw desire for greatness.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I have never been able to cultivate it within me.
Yes, I have been obsessed with things in the past.
For example, I remember how much I wanted a liberal arts program despite the failure in the first attempt and despite the fact that everyone kept telling me to give another try for MBA because it will help my career and get me ‘a good job’.
However, barring that incident, the burning desire for success or greatness has mostly eluded me.
Sometimes I hate that because it makes me regret and feel like a failure.
This week, I came across an article that stands opposite to the lesson I took from Whiplash.
Article of the Week– The Greatest Man You’ve Never Known by Joseph Wells
The article compares the 36th US President, Lyndon Johnson, and his political competitor at that time, Coke Stevenson.
The author talks about the opposite philosophies of both.
Lyndon Johnson achieved political greatness but at tremendous costs. On the other hand, Stevenson was successful on many levels yet never reached the apex of politics.”Johnson achieved greatness in the narrow sense, but Stevenson had happiness. His source of happiness was his stillness. He was content to walk alone in the wilderness.”
The article contrasts greatness as outer accomplishment vs stillness and character as inner, quieter rewards.
Of course, they are not mutually exclusive yet more often than not, the pursuit of greatness is at the expense of happiness, character, and stillness.
This is where Joseph as an author stands in opposition to the philosophy of Whiplash, “I would rather fall short of greatness if it meant I had the respect of my friends and family. If statues are never raised in my honor but I can sit comfortably with my thoughts, I’ll consider that success.”
To be honest, I feel really conflicted by this.
It goes against what I have dearly craved to imbibe in my life so far – that pure, raw ambition for success and greatness at all costs.
It makes me extremely cautious that this type of thinking could severely hamper my ability to succeed.
On top of it, I don’t think I have ever cared about whether my friends or family respect me. I mean I am on good terms with most of them but more often than not, we tend to disagree. 😀
Maybe it is also about what does success means to an individual.
Deep inside, I know that I won’t call myself successful if I died drunk or broke while people talked about me. For Joseph, success is simply if he “can sit comfortably with my thoughts”.
But, what about greatness?
Is there a way to achieve greatness while cultivating stillness and character?
Like Joseph says in the article above, it is a balance between external and internal. Greatness is an outward accomplishment while stillness and character are inward-facing.
But I am not sure if that balance is really possible.
Everything has a price, so does greatness.
What do you think?
Until next time,
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