“Besides, isn’t it confoundedly easy to think you’re a great man if you aren’t burdened with the slightest idea that Rembrandt, Beethoven, Dante or Napoleon ever lived?“ — Stefan Zweig, Chess Story
My mind is still in Vienna as I write this—a city that’s had its fair share of high achievers walk her streets and contribute to humanity’s Great Conversation in their life’s work. Big names roamed those same streets, and you might feel a need to raise your game when you walk with that level of ghosts—I surely did. And shouldn’t we feel this compulsion to close the gap between the masters and where we currently reside?
The world offers precious few brilliant shining stars. Most of us burn less brilliantly. And yet we burn just the same, and cast our own light on the darkness in the world. We may recognize that we aren’t quite at the level of a master in our field yet still have something to offer anyway. And knowing that there are more brilliant lights in human history, we may choose to stoke our fire—feed it with the fuel necessary to one day burn more brilliantly still.
What provokes us towards greatness but comparison? We may never reach those levels, few do, but knowing there are heights we haven’t reached yet ought to inspire more. For mastery is a beacon.