(Mom, G.O.A.T. stands for “greatest of all time.”)
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 remember who I was.
Andrew —Miles Teller’s character in the movie “Whiplash”—makes this argument during a family gathering.
His family doesn’t agree with him because regardless of what someone is pursuing, what family would encourage reckless behavior? In the film, Andrew shows inspirational (and at times, mind-boggling) hustle, in pursuit of becoming one of the greatest musicians of all time. But while I respect his drive, I can’t help but think his goal was naive.
At 26, I already know I’m not going to be one of the greatest anythings of all time. It’s just not a realistic ambition. Our society is hesitant to anoint anyone the greatest. Everything has been done, and it’s been done well.
Regardless of how unique or innovative your art is, you’re piggybacking off of the classics. Regardless of how groundbreaking your theory or findings are, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Regardless of how many points you score, touchdowns you throw, or home runs you hit, the game isn’t the same as it was “back then.”
You can’t be the G.O.A.T., and if you do become great, you may never know about it. But that’s the goal, isn’t it? To have people talk about you even after you die? To have people think about your life and what you did while you were here? To have them draw inspiration from it?
For many creatives, life is a persistent struggle to stay relevant. I’ll admit, it’s often a self-imposed pressure, but for an artist, there’s no greater feeling than having somebody else connect with your work. When your writing, design, painting, or music resonates… Boy, that’s the good stuff.
That’s why reckless behavior – as Andrew displays in “Whiplash” – is sometimes necessary. You need material to work off of … something human and tangible. Your audience doesn’t have a monopoly on inspiration. I often find myself doing things for the story, relishing in the experience rather than fretting about the potential regret. There’s a lesson in everything — a lesson I want to share with everyone I know and plenty of people I don’t. Rarely is an endeavor completely worthless. Sure, sometimes we don’t recognize the value until days, months, maybe years later. But there’s always an opportunity to learn from your actions, especially the mistakes.
I wrote for my high school newspaper (super cool, right?), and I touched on the idea of relevance in my last column before I graduated:
I want to be sure I had the ability to make people smile, to change the way people think, act, perceive… I just want to know I left some type of footprint on this school and its students and staff — something that forces a teacher to tell a story just because a certain word or phrase reminds her of me. Something that forces someone somewhere to mention me and think, “I wonder how he is now.”
I’ve promised myself I wouldn’t let this struggle to stay relevant consume me over the years, and I don’t believe it has. But from countless nights of self-reflection and the willingness to wonder – “What is great?” – I’ve built myself a safety net for devastating realizations, such as knowing I’ll never be the greatest anything.
Instead of striving for G.O.A.T. status, I work to be the greatest version of myself, hoping that incredibly cool, smart, funny, friendly, nice, flawed, and 100% human individual will inspire others to do the same.
Originally posted on Medium.
Photo: Getty Images