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Do You Want To Be The Greatest?

There have been some terrific tributes to Whitney Houston since her tragic and too early death.  From friends on Facebook posting old footage I have never heard of, to current musicians performing heart rendering renditions of her most famous songs, it is clear that her life was one that had a positive impact on many many lives.

So with that being said, what more can one contribute?

Well, one thing that caught my eye and made me think when it came to Whitney’s passing was that certain people were lamenting that she had “wasted” her gift.  Talent unfulfilled so to speak.  At first glance, that makes sense.  Her gift of voice was perhaps that greatest we’ve ever seen, but much of her career was squandered on drugs and other unhealthy behaviors, essentially ruining her gift.  If she had avoided these pitfalls, the thought is that she could have been the best that ever did it, unquestionably, instead of someone we remember as much as for her bizarre interviews with Diane Sawyer as her unparalleled rendition of The Star Spangled Banner (alright, it’s a tie with Marvin Gaye).  But “waste” is an unfair characterization to begin with.  Whitney had so many hits, and #1 songs, that they could fill social media newsfeeds for days…literally.  So she most clearly did not “waste” her talent.  Instead, admittedly, she could have done so much more than the great things she already did with them.  We tend to look at people and want them to maximize their gifts, especially when it is so rare and potentially impossible to replicate and it is frustrating when they don’t.  They are held to a higher standard.

This reminds me of discussions I’ve had about certain sports stars, and even myself (not that my talents are impossible to replicate for humble clarification).  For every Michael Jordan out there that maxes out his potential, we get upset when a Lebron James has more physical, god-given gifts, but doesn’t have the same drive, the same mental makeup to make the sacrifices to be numero uno…not just in comparison to his peers, but ever.  It really does feel like a “waste.”

Of course, that brings us to the sacrifices that are necessary.  I’ve always believed that to be the absolute alpha dog (in the sense that we define alpha dog in our societal context), requires neglecting other aspects of life to an unhealthy degree.  To play psychologist for a quick second, many times it requires neglecting family, friends, or health.  It requires a singular (some would say obsessive) focus on a craft that does not allow for other interests, desires, or vices to encroach and distract.  It frequently requires a smattering of paranoia, some pinches of insecurity, a level of arrogance and confidence that makes one not necessarily the nicest person in the world…and forcing others to make similar sacrifices…or else.

Think about it.  Who would you consider the best that ever did it in the areas that you care about the most.  MJ in basketball?  MJ as a performer?  Steve Jobs in design?  Bobby Fischer in chess?  Mozart as a pianist / composer?  All crazily obsessive…and in many ways, just plain assholish.  So then, how many of them would you say lived the healthy lives that you’d actually want to emulate?

Which brings me to me.  I want to live a healthy and balanced life, and therefore, can admittedly say that I have not maxed out my potential to be an alpha dog in our societal context like those that I just mentioned.  I think I have more focus and drive than most, but clearly not obsessive enough to be numero uno.  In fact, I was just joking about how I was more accomplished as a 16 year old than I am now.  Better basketball player, better piano player, better handwriting…and I could actually do algebra.  But jokes aside, I know that there are things that I let slip through the cracks (no pun intended) regularly and daily (and thus “wasting” my talent), for reasons that are likely far more “acceptable” than any that led Whitney to do the same.  But, like her, and many others, I am not completely maxing out my god-given gifts in the pursuit of one singular goal.

Nor do I necessarily want to.

My question is: Who actually does?



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