Through history there have been dreamers, builders, thinkers and runners – hundreds of thousands of extraordinary humans who have done something so incredible that they catapulted themselves to renown and greatness. None of which are you. Because you are not special.
In life, everyone knows that there are two types of people. There are the knowers, who go from day to day having great ideas and advancing humanity. They are destined for greatness – the best among us will be looked up to for generations to come, revered both in their lifetimes and after.
Then, there is everyone else. Feckless plebs like you or I who slog through life going from plan to misguided plan. Those who will never be anything of note, born to die as cannon fodder of the race whilst the gears of industry grind away in some unreachable genius’ mind. Right? Right…?
This is Sergei Korolev. You’ve probably never heard of him. In 1933 he pioneered the first liquid fuel rocket to take off in the USSR. He was promptly rewarded with accusations of deliberately slowing the work of the research institute and was arrested in spring 1938. His efforts had earned him a year in prison and a year in the gulag, but by some miracle he survived and was eventually released. Free, he went on to mastermind the first ever man made satellite in space, the first dog – and of course – the flight of Yuri Gagarin, who on the 12 of April 1961 became the first of the homo sapiens to leave earth, orbiting the earth for 108 minutes in Vostok 1.
Sergei Korolev would die 5 years later, probably thanks to injuries and illness sustained in the Gulag.
As history marches on our period will shrink and blur into the countless others – behind and ahead. We are not special, but some moments will be remembered forever. This will be remembered forever. It was the first time we ever touched the heavens, and it was in a large part brought to us by a man grossly brutalized in his own time and nearly entirely unknown today.
So, among his other extensive achievements, Korolev can help us to understand greatness. His story presents us with a succinct, clear and tangible explanation of the exact nature of human greatness. From him, we can say with complete certainty that …. it simply doesn’t exist! Humans are ignorant, and violent. If we fail to even remember the man who paved the way for inter-planetary travel, and we glorify unremarkable sportsmen to the point of near worship it becomes very clear that the entire concept of greatness is a myth.
When it comes to wisdom and happiness; meaning of life style thinking – no one has a clue at they’re talking about – not your heroes, not the ‘greats’, not the smartest among us! When it comes to matters of advancing the species it’s open season, and this is a great thing because it means that as far as innovation is concerned, the world is anarchy, and whilst you may have convinced yourself that there’s no point trying to do anything groundbreaking or novel because someone else will always do it better, whoever the greats are that you respect obviously had the same doubts and they pushed through it.
They were intensely interested in and devoted to something, whilst simultaneously feeling lost and inadequate all the time. A long period of confusion isn’t a side effect of inadequacy; it’s the price of admission into true greatness – and the only way to pay it is to keep hold of it, to endure the turmoil until you finally make your breakthrough. We forget that Darwin was considered by his masters and father “a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect”, and that Van Gough was 27 before he even tried to paint properly.
Every ‘great’ was beset on all sides with critics – or the worst critic of all – themselves. Nearly always, the critique isn’t at all constructive or useful – letters and words of vacuous, jaded rubbish. The best response to being informed that you will never do anything with your life? Allow me to humbly recommend;
With an average lifespan of 80 years, you’ve got around 22,000 days of life. By the time you’re 18, you’re already 6570 days through and none of these days are ever coming back; there’s not enough time to listen to cynics. Look at where we are, technologically, galactically, philosophically- none of this came about through the words of those who said “You can’t”, but through the actions of those who dared to make it happen.
If you are cautious about pursuing an unusual path, it may help to remember that the cynics will be forgotten just as readily as your mistakes will, and when in time our century blends with the others, it will be those who deviated from the norm that will be remembered. There has never been a better time to do a thing. There are still a trillion things undone, unmade and unsaid. Life is a wilderness for everyone; it always was.
In your pursuits of passion, stupid plans and failed ideas, I wish you the very best of luck.