Have your own Agenda

MR JOHN SMITH
STORYTELLER OF THE [LARGE AREA]
PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM
HIS WIFE
MRS JANE SMITH
SHE WAS EVER LOYAL
Gravestone inscription of a famous author (and his wife), names anonymized

You know you have made it as a creative person when you are called “Storyteller of the [LARGE AREA]” on your gravestone and you have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (see quote above). But what about the wife? Would a gravestone sentence like “she was ever loyal” resonate positively with you?

For me, it would be a punch in the face. Being loyal as the main attribute that echos in eternity? Am I a dog?

Hmm, I wonder — after all, many creative individuals have … charisma, a certain aura or energy (in a completely non-parapsychological sense). It can be very attractive for a lot of people. It can be very stimulating — for both sides. The creative person gets unconditional support, which might help him/her through a drought. The loyal person gets stimulation, being close to a flame that burns very brightly.

But in the long run? I think it’s similar to the short-term pleasures versus the long-term payoffs — for the follower. The creative person has support, a fallback. But what do the followers, groupies, partners, friends have? People whose primary function it life seems to be “to make themselves useful to others” (to quote Dumas). What is their contribution? Their long-term payoff? What did they do with their lives? Were they used to improve the work of others, or did they produce works of their own?

And it’s not only with artists, or rather, the artist’s partners and groupies. The same thing can happen in Academia, perhaps even more so. There are a lot of people in Academia who work long hours — in the lab getting data or in their offices writing proposals — only for their superiors to get the credit. They themselves are like little green men: behind the scenes, heavily at work, but never seen (and after they’ve been gutted they are thrown away). And while they have the self-satisfaction that they did good work (and their immediate colleagues know), their career stagnate, because most colleagues and possible employers do not.

I don’t know, the loyal person on the gravestone might actually have liked it this way. But it would conflict with my goals in life to be remembered this way. I think it’s more meaningful in life to have an agenda of one’s own — and pursue it.

Not to end existential, but after all:

“And when the hourglass has run out, the hourglass of temporality, when the noise of secular life has grown silent and its restless or ineffectual activism has come to an end, when everything around you is still, as it is in eternity, then eternity asks you and every individual in these millions and millions about only one thing: whether you have lived in despair or not.”
Søren Kierkegaard

Note: Despite the example of the famous storyteller and his wife, I would not see this issue from a perspective of feminism just because it was “the wife” who comes off (in my perspective) as addendum. First, she might have liked it this way — and as far as I am concerned, feminism is about women doing what makes them happy (within reason, à la golden rule/SSC/RACK and the like). Second, because this problem is gender-irrelevant. Just because successful people might be more often male than female does not mean that its just women who are left in the dust. It can happen to everyone — independent of gender.

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