Eckert Tolle has said, and it bears repeating, "Greatness' is a mental abstraction and a favorite fantasy of the ego." If you're like me, this one sentence will cause you to stop and think about what is greatness, and who decides how to measure it? Ms. DeAngelis thought about it, too, and tells us that if it ultimately doesn't matter whether or not others are impressed with our efforts, then what is left "is absolute creative freedom." That's a kind of carte blanche to try new things without caring what others might think. We are free to choose our own path. That's so refreshing in a world that's become increasingly cookie-cutter!
Greatness, then, is an illusion. We confuse recognition with inherent value. Many artists and inventors never give thought to whether or not their creation is going to be of "great importance." Instead, they have an idea, get on with their work of creating and, in many instances, become famous for their efforts. But becoming famous was not their ultimate goal. The beauty and freedom of creative expression was.
Ms. DeAngelis tells us that "greatness" and "mediocrity" are words that are not only misunderstood, but that they should also be wiped from our minds and vocabulary. It's important here to remember that there's no one person who's in charge of deciding what's great or isn't; that includes your mother, your high school art teacher...even your boss. What they tell you is simply a matter of their opinion, or the opinion of someone they respect. But it isn't the end-all and be-all of opinions. When you think about it, everyone has opinions. They're not bestowed only on the great thinkers of the world. Okay, so we now know that "greatness" is subjective. Let that sink in for a few moment.
Greatness and mediocrity aren't about comparing your work, your creativity, or your intelligence to others. When we do that, we invariably come up short. This leads to feeling lousy about ourselves on the inside. Ms. DeAngelis warns us that this isn't about feeling mediocre; it's about a lack of humility. Yep. Humility. When we speak about being great, of doing great things, we are implicitly setting ourselves above others. We see ourselves as being "chosen" whereas others are not. And let's face it, haven't we seen a whole lot of narcissism going on around us recently? Do we really want to add to it? Is it really perfectly fine to just be us? To do the best we can?
Here's whole new way to look at ordinary and extraordinary...greatness and mediocrity. Let's take a plumber, for example. If he comes home from work and discusses the book he's reading, "Power of the Myth" by Joseph Campbell, with his wife while they dine on homemade pasta, is he living an ordinary or an extraordinary life? According to philologist Franklin Edgerton, the plumber is leading an extraordinary life. Why? Because he's thinking. He's using his mind to expand his world and his views. And that is truly extraordinary! Conversely, the celebrity dining at the newest and poshest restaurant, while admiring himself in the mirror and dissing on other celebrities isn't that pretty ordinary? Greatness, then, lies in using what we've been given; "of pushing our frontiers and redrawing our borders." If that's truly the case, and I'd like to think it is, then human (and frog) achievement is possible for everyone. Even those whom science has labeled has abnormal or inadequate in some way. In this light, mediocrity is habit...not a life sentence.
With a new-found sense of creative freedom, I will begin looking at future projects from a completely different perspective. I will no longer concern myself with becoming the next great author, or worrying about winning the Nobel or Pulitzer prizes. From here on, I will think only in terms of how that project might stretch me and expand my abilities as a writer. I will begin measuring me against me...and no one else. I will measure who I am against who I can be; the frog I can become if I am willing to grow and stick my neck out day after day. When all is said and done, if I can look back over my life and my career and know that I've grown as a writer...and as a frog; that I've served a useful purpose, and that I've stood up for all the things that I believe in...then I'll know that I've done well. And that's because "my judgement will have nothing to do with anyone else's standards and everything to do with my own." And isn't that the way it should be?
Want to know more? May I suggest the ground-breaking book, "Life Without Envy," by Camille DeAngelis.