Famous and Important

There was a young boy whose teacher asked him what he was going to be when he grew up. He said, “I’m going to be famous and important!” And his teacher told him that it’s difficult to be famous and important, and he would have to work hard to do it. And the boy took her seriously: he worked hard at school, always getting his assignments done on time, always earning good grades. Because of his hard work, he was recognized by the mayor of his small town for an outstanding civics project. The mayor asked him why he worked so hard, and the boy said that he wanted to be famous and important when he grew up. The mayor told him, “It’s not enough to work hard, you also have to make many friends to be famous and important.” So the boy continued to work hard at school, but he also began being kind to his classmates and gained many friends. When he was in high school, a businessman came to speak about choosing a career. Our friend was chosen to introduce him to the rest of the class because of his popularity and intelligence. Before the presentation, the businessman told him, “I’m inspired by how hard you’ve worked and how well everyone here likes you. What makes you work so hard?” And the boy told him. So the businessman said, “It’s not enough to work hard and have friends, you also have to make a lot of money to be famous and important in this world.” So the boy chose a career that would earn him a lot of money. The boy grew into a man, got married, had a large family, and continued to work hard, make friends, and earn money. But he was not happy. He never felt smart enough, he never had enough money, and his friends and family were nothing more to him than trophies. For all his skill and wealth, he was not yet famous and important. One night, sitting at his desk working late yet again, his daughter came up to him and said, “why are you working so hard?” Putting down his papers, he said, with sadness and frustration, “because one day I want to be famous and important.” And then, as children do, she asked him, “Why?” He was at a loss for words. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I guess I thought it would make me happy.” His daughter was confused. She asked him, “Don’t I make you happy?”

From then on, he began to work on seeing the happiness all around him. He found his purpose not in improving on his own success, but in improving the lives of others. His friends were no longer trophies, but companions, and their number expanded to include unsuccessful people that before weren’t worth his time. And although his friends always spoke highly of him, though his business was successful, though he did his work with great skill, he was never known by many outside his own town. With his money he donated to parks and clubs around town, and help keep his friends’ businesses afloat. With his friendliness he brightened the lives of people around him. With his intelligence and work ethic he inspired his family and friends to do greater things with their lives. He never had much money; he gave too much away. He was never outstanding in his work, because he spent too much time with his family. He was never the most popular person in town, because he made lowlifes his friends. But he was happy.

One day, many years later, he asked his grandson what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “I’m going to be famous and important!” He smiled sadly and said, “That’s what I wanted to be when I was your age. But it never worked out for me. Maybe you’ll do better!” He looked at him strangely and said, “But grandpa, you are famous and important.” And it was true.