Let me confess, and please don’t laugh. I thought I’d be famous by now.
In second grade Ms. Sylvia Bent told me that she’d read my books someday. I took Ms. Bent quite seriously, and I’ve expected to write books – acclaimed books – ever since.
I took the stage for the first time at age four, and throughout my youth I dreamed of stardom.
Fortunately, it didn’t bother me to lay down the dream of being a famous performer in order to teach music and direct theater. I enjoyed the applause without needing to stand in the spotlight. Meanwhile, in the margins of my life I was writing, sure that my students and colleagues would someday say they knew me when.
I penned a novel manuscript in my late twenties. My year of freelance writing didn’t go as planned, but I began a young adult novel and pinned my hopes on that. Sometimes I’ve written for an hour a day; other times (like lately) I’ve put it aside. Still – it’s been there. The project that might vault me to celebrity status.
I feel abashed to admit my ambition, because I objectively, intellectually know that true success is not about conspicuous achievements, but about giving and receiving love. I’ve had many moments in my life when I’ve thought, I could die right now. I have been lavished with love; I have given myself fully.
I was voted “Most Likely to Solve Humanity’s Problems” when I was a senior in high school. For a long time I kept that on my resume. I thought it might make potential employers smile. I also sort of wanted them to know that I was the kind of person who might accomplish valiant, wide-reaching feats.
I’ve just been accepted to Salem State University’s Master of Social Work program. I’m super excited – I’ve been following a trail of vocational breadcrumbs for some time now, and this feels right. Still, part of me wonders if venturing forth into this new, unglamorous calling means I’m giving up on my dream.
When you’re a hard-working, high-achieving young person, people tell you that you can be anything you want. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve found this isn’t true – at least not in my life. Indeed, over the past several years one door after another has closed to me. Perhaps there are many things I could do if circumstances demanded. But my soul answers to a call that my mind rarely hears. I’m lucky to have the luxury of heeding that call, even if it doesn’t lead to the fame I thought was my destiny.
Lately I’ve spoken to a number of friends about my dream of fame. I’ve felt ashamed to admit it. Do I sound like a fool, duped into our culture’s celebrity obsession? I don’t want to be a social media maven or a reality TV star. As a friend said, I want to be “classy famous.” In talking and laughing about it, I’ve realized that the dream wasn’t entirely about acclaim and attention. More so I’ve always wanted to make an impact in the world; I imagined that fame would conclusively prove that impact.
So never mind if my dreams have sounded vain and childish, even to my own ears. Admitting them has been a great relief. I’ve realized that they had come to feel more like obligations than dreams, like I’d be letting someone (God? myself? the world?) down if I didn’t accomplish them. Now the pressure’s off. I want to live a life of love and service and growth; it doesn’t matter how many people know my name.
Perhaps when we are children, we are like shoots from the earth. People say we can become anything because it’s hard to know what a plant could become by looking at a millimeter of green in the soil. But we actually have an internal blueprint that wants to be revealed as we grow. Rather than “You can be anything,” I’d rather tell a child, “I’m so excited to watch you become yourself.” I want to tell me that, too.
Hannah, you have already made such an impact on the world. You have shared your light and your joy and your love with so many who have been lucky enough to cross paths with you. I’m excited for you as you embark on this new journey where I know you will continue to change the world for the better.
Steph, thank you so much! This means a lot coming from a former student – now a much-loved friend. I want to see you for a cup of coffee someday soon!
? Yesss. I never had any desire to be famous famous, but I’ve always wanted to be, like, low-key anonymously famous for something I made/started/worked on. Like, nobody knows my name or face, but they’d know/love/be impressed by the thing I was responsible for, and somebody might be having a conversation about it and I tell them I did that and they’re like ?
I totally get what you mean about feeling like your letting somebody (but who?) down if you don’t accomplish that dream! sometimes I definitely feel like I should have done something impressive by now, or at least be on track towards it, and gotta keep reminding myself a) I probably am on track, just can’t see the destination yet, and b) the people I love love me for me, not my accomplishments! (Probably, anyway! ?)
Lauren, your feelings mirror mine on this! I like your a) & b) reminders to yourself. I’m going to use those! I indeed love you for you, not any accomplishments. I feel that a friend’s accomplishments are soooo uninteresting compared to her intrinsic value and beauty. It’s funny how it can be hard to apply that to my sense of myself!
I’ve loved watching you become yourself. I anticipate that continuing. Thanks for sharing yourself so freely and honestly.
Jonnie Lyn, thank you so much! You are a light in my world.
I loved this story Hannah, and can certainly relate in regards to my artistic and creative ambitions. And as I’ve grown older I’ve wondered the same thing as you did about if ” I’d be letting someone (God? myself? the world?) down if I didn’t accomplish them.” I worry about that too.
In that light, it’s because we CARE. We care that there really is a lot of pain and suffering in our small world. And whether it’s next door or on the other side of the planet, we wish there was something we could do about it, and the more the better! When I think about that aspect… I don’t need recognition and certainly not fame. I just want to know I left the world a better place than I found it. Actually, that I do know is true.
I also know it’s definitely true for you too. You already have made MANY children and adults a lot happier than they were before they met you. But wouldn’t it be great to know it was even more than the aspects we can easily see? Yes, it really would. That’s the place I think you’re probably coming from. We just want more and that’s a good thing really. 🙂
Doug, thank you for resonating with me on this. Thanks for your frame on wanting fame – “it’s because we CARE.” And I agree that there are more aspects than we can easily see.
What a sweet post. It’s definitely hard not to assume that “classy fame” would be the stamp of approval on a life well used.
But I wonder if Mother Theresa wasn’t put in the spotlight by someone if she would have considered her work any less precious in the sight of God. Except her example has inspire many others to good works, too, so fame can have its place. But God who made us knows what we shall be. And he makes flowers grow on mountainsides no one will ever see. But we can bring him joy by being as were designed to be.
Ben, you articulate deep and beautiful truth. Thank you for this reminder…and thank you for reading!