When I was young, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I grow up. The answer to that question shifted and changed over the years. For a while, I wanted to be a detective, like Sherlock Holmes. I wanted to dazzle people with my deductive powers and solve crimes that no one could solve. Then, I wanted to be an astronomer, and spend my nights looking into the sky, learning about the stars, and discovering new celestial objects. Then, I wanted to be a physicist, and I wanted to discover the ever-elusive “Theory of Everything.” There were many other variants, but almost all of them involved me doing something that has never been done before, or going somewhere no one’s been before. Whatever it was that I did, I wanted to be a pioneer in the field, and to be known for it. Like the rest of humankind, I’ve always had the desire to be great.
Eventually, I chose to study psychology, and for the most part, nothing changed. My desire has been to be a pioneer, to make a difference, to change the world in some way. In the past, I’ve envisioned myself writing books that eventually become as influential as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. I’ve envisioned myself publishing papers that change the way people think about human nature. I’ve envisioned myself becoming a catalyst that changes the way people do psychology (at least, within the LDS community). And I don’t think these goals are entirely outside of my grasp. Maybe I have too much self-confidence, but I’ve never really failed at something that I’ve stuck with to the end (at least, anything that really mattered to me). I don’t want to just be good at what I do. I want to be great at it. Mediocrity is failure.
However, I’m coming to wonder if we’ve mis-defined greatness. Our society measures greatness in terms of power. I’m not talking about political power. Great artists can get millions of people to views their works. Great writers can influence the minds of an entire generation. Great scholars are handed the reigns of the university. The measure of power is notability. Neal Armstrong’s name is known by virtually everyone, and his actions will have the power to inspire school children for generations to come. Even Gandhi is known today because he had power. It was his ability to change the political landscape of India that has put his name in the history books. Society has trained me to value being at the top rung of the ladder and etching my name on the world in a way that will be remembered. These people are certainly role models. However, if they are our only role models, then we as a society will inevitably value notability, fame, and power more than I believe we should. I believe that this has filtered into my own life, and in the past, it has defined what it means to be great at what I do.
My perspective and desires have undergone some dramatic revisions over the past 4 months. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to think of how to communicate the thoughts that I’ve had. So far I’ve had a really hard time expressing myself. Let me give it a stab. For some reason, I stopped caring about all the things I used to. If I never publish a single paper for the rest of my life, I honestly wouldn’t shed a tear. If my name gets lost and the world doesn’t remember me, I wouldn’t really care. I don’t value being a great scholar, a great psychologist, or a great writer anymore (at least, measured in terms of notability and power).
I just want to be a great husband and father.
I’m not married. I’m not even necessarily in a hurry to get married. I’m going to let that happen when it is time, and not a moment sooner. However, learning how to be a great husband to my future wife, and a great father to my future kids, has suddenly become the single desire of my heart. When it comes to being a husband and a father, mediocrity is still failure. And being a great husband and father is not measured by notability or power. It is measured in goodness and love. And for that reason, I can say that I don’t want to be great (as defined by the world). I just want to be good (as in, goodness). And if any of my previous dreams of notability come true, it will be incidental to my efforts to provide for my family and be the best man I can be for them.
This doesn’t mean that I think it’s wrong to strive for and eventually reach the top rung of the ladder. If someone chooses business as a career, they should become a master of the trade. If someone chooses singing as a career, they should become a master of the trade. And becoming a master of the trade may often lead to notability and greatness, as defined by society. There is no sin in this whatsoever. I plan to become a master of my trade. If I become a teacher, I will master the art of teaching. If I become a writer, I will master the art of writing. To do anything less would be dishonest. But it suddenly and inexplicably doesn’t matter to me whether I end up at the top rung of the ladder, or become “successful” as defined by society. I won’t master my trade in order to get notability and fame, or define my success in those terms. Rather, my happiness and my success will be in how good of a husband and father I become for my future wife and children.
For some reason, at this stage in my life, my aspirations now lie almost entirely within the walls of my future home. I want to build a home that is a sanctuary from the world, and I want that to be the project of my life. And that will never get me into the history books. But now I don’t value getting into history books as much as I used to.
For some reason, I’m happier now.