I have such conflicting feelings on the subject of “greatness.” What is it? What makes something great, or greater than? Surely it is highly subjective, yet most people can agree on some universal examples of greatness. Is there anyone who thinks Leonardo DaVinci was a cloddish hack, Franz Kafka was inelegant in his expression, or that Albert Einstein was silly? OK, Einstein was a little silly, but that only adds to his greatness. So, is “greatness” genius? Is it rare and random? Is it formed, molded, nurtured? Or is “greatness” much larger in scope than the output of the profoundly gifted? The Beatles were great, millions agree. Yet millions do not, and applying the term “genius” to pop musicians is always a bit dodgy. Don’t tell me Lady Gaga is a genius because I will frown you into fiery oblivion.

Are you great? Could you be great? Do you want to be great? This seems to be a serious motivation and dream for so many people. To leave your mark, timeless and heavy, sinking into the earth like a grand iron sculpture, to be admired by generations and never moved. It can be just as strong a desire as the compelling need to procreate, and is essentially the same thing, but usually not as enjoyable in the process. Your you-ness still is around, which has some comfort. We are only here for a short time, and that is an impossible thought to process. To achieve greatness during your life is to lessen the harshness of your ending, yes? So you can say with your last breath, “I may be short and unattractive to members of the opposite sex, but dammit, I designed the Trapper Keeper!”

Now this is where greatness and I have a problem: if the only measurement of greatness can come from judgment of others. Oh, the waste and sadness this leaves. The Great American Novel Writer, the toiling composer of operatic opii, the inventor who tinkers to perfection in his garage, the mother who spends her life making damn sure her children are the best – if all of them are solely in search for praise and recognition for their efforts to be great, it is quite seriously unlikely they will ever get the amount they need, for many reasons. There will remain an emptiness in the soul, because (wait for it…) there is no best, and there is no endpoint in achievement. You can catch the brass ring sometimes, but there is someone right behind you to catch the next. Your greatness in what you have made is only one thing about you, not everything, and you know it. You knowyour Oscar doesn’t mean very much when you have a secret alcohol problem or hit your wife, or just don’t really believe them when they say you are great.

Greatness! It’s everywhere and nowhere, or maybe just over there in a small box marked “fragile.” Should we strive for it? I will say a qualified “yes.” You are wasting your time here if you don’t make the most of everything you are and everything you have. There is nothing sadder than lost potential, the what-ifs, and the world would be a very different place if we all tried harder to be better in all aspects of our lives. It is this idea of “greatness” that I cherish: that you have sincerely and with a good heart done the best you could, noticed or not. To be truly something wonderful, you have to shine even when there is no spotlight on you.