Immolation & Greatness

What if you want to make your mark-- to become remarkable-- but you also want a family and friends? A few months, back I was talking with a friend/boss about how make a great accomplishment. I said to him that you had to "immolate yourself in your craft" to pull off that greatness. He actually didn't know what "immolate" meant (not a big deal, there are many many words and everyone should be fine missing out the odd one). By immolate, I mean create a fiery brightness at the cost of using yourself as fuel. I saw a recent article that referred to programmers at Electronic Arts basically as widows. I am reading through a book called, "Zenith Angle" by Bruce Sterling. The central character is a computer scientist who submerges into the post 9/11 world of security and disappears from his family.
This topic has come up many times:
Josepth Campbell wrote that the role of sacrifice is alive and well in our society. Every day that a man commutes to a do-nothing job to provide for his family he is sacrificing. His goal of greatness is a strong and stable family. He sacrfices daily-- small nails on a low cross.
The book, "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" was all about the office environment and the corporate ladder. Would you sacrifice your life to achieve your goal? I think it's ironic that career achievement can outflank happiness in your life-- career acheivement should be a part of the orchestra and not the conductor.
You can't fall off a log into greatness. For every iceberg of achievement, there is a much larger mass of unseen support. The trick is to either lottery ticket your way to achievement-- you don't apply yourself you just luck into a position of prominence (e.g. Paris Hilton: do you think she has done anything more spectacular than get flung from the loins of a rich trophy wife?) Good luck. Otherwise you can take the sum of your work and combine it into a cohesive whole. That's trickier but not impossible. If you're a scientist/avid moutain climber/photographer maybe those three unconnected talents could fuse into documenting obscure phenomenon on a cliff face. If you're a writer/McDonalds drone/big mouth maybe you can write the next telling essay on fast food.
Despite all this, there are people I know who have achieved great things without immolation. A friend's dad, Dr. Geoff Mills is a linguist. He did a lot of important work-- including working with a First Nations band in BC recording their language so that it could exist in some permanent form. He was present for his family and overall, well balanced. I think that is a really uncommon and admirable result of the formula.
As the end of the day, life is a bell curve. Most of the line is in the middle-- the average-- the edges are rarified and uncommon. Not everyone can get out to the edge and for those who do, getting there has a big price tag.


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