Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote long ago about fame. He said, "Fame, we may understand, is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such: It is an accident, not a property of man."
Fast forward to now, when fame bears almost no relation to merit. You can be an instant celebrity online with no more than a knack for getting people's attention. What's the relationship, really, between widespread attention and what we know, deep down, to be success?
True success resides, first and foremost, in who we are, not in what other people say about us, or even in whether they know we exist. The deepest form of success is always a result of three things: (1) Discovering our talents, (2) Developing those talents, and (3) Deploying them into the world for the good of others as well as ourselves. I call this “The 3-D Approach to Life.” It's first about being, second about doing and becoming, and only third about getting or having.
We live in a culture obsessed with fame. It's the famous who get our attention and too often fuel our imaginations. But back in the nineteenth century, Tom Carlyle saw more deeply. Fame may or may not signal real accomplishment of substance, and even when it does, it does so accidently. A person’s real properties, the accomplishments they truly own in virtue of who they are and what they’ve done, are always distinct from any recognition they’ve received.
Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with fame, however heavily it may weigh on many shoulders. Like most things, it can be a resource or an obstacle. But it should never be pursued in absence of worthier aims that are more intrinsically within our control. In fact, the world is full of good things done to no acclaim whatsoever. And they are often the things that make the most difference.
Today, think about doing something good anonymously, with no thought about how it makes you look, and however small it might be. There, as Carlyle might say, is where you'll find true merit, and a small piece of true success.