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Being famous may seem glamorous and desirable. YouTube videos, Facebook, and Instagram posts clamber for followers, likes, and favorable comments. Although this technology is relativity new, the desire to be remembered and feel your life counted for something is not new. The truth is, no matter how hard you try or how much you want to at least be remembered or at best be famous, the vast majority of people who have lived on this planet, 108,000,000,000 of them, never achieve that goal in the usual way. As President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Most children grow up to be just ordinary people.” After a handful of decades, all that remains for ninety-nine-point-nine percent is perhaps a brief biography on Ancestry.com and a cement marker with fading dates on a cemetery hillside.
Marcy Heisler poetically expressed the universal desire to be remembered:
Let me knit yards and yards of yesterdays to gather round my knees,
And woven in the pattern is a message: “I was there.”
In the movie, Coco, twelve-year-old Miguel accidentally visits the land of the dead. He discovers the dead are the same people they were in life. Even though they don’t have physical bodies, they maintain their personalities, memories, and relationships. He comes to understand the importance of remembering the dead because the dead want to know their lives counted for something. As a subplot, the movie demonstrates the goal to be famous, at all costs, can be problematic in the afterlife.
Naomi Shihab Nye wrote, “Famous,” a poem about what it takes to be truly famous.
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence…
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky
children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
Magazines in doctors’ offices and in grocery store checkout lines feature famous people—CEOs, athletes, entertainers, and movie stars who are splashed on covers and throughout the colorful pages. Who is the richest? Who wears what? Who owns what? Who drives what? Who gives the most to charity? Who starred in what? Who made the most touchdowns, holes-in-one, or three-point shots? Who was seen with whom? Does it take a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or name in sports’ halls of fame to prove “I was famous.” Long term, does that make a person more famous than a river is to a fish?
Hard-hitting competition seems to be the way up the corporate ladder. On January 10, 2016, Lloyd Newell gave, as part of the Tabernacle Choir broadcast, a refreshing look at what it means to be famous. Brother Newell spoke about the pressures to succeed that can lead to becoming “aggressive, dominating, and overpowering.” He said the fiercely competitive may become ruthless. He suggested a better way to succeed, a sure way to truly find success, is to choose to live with humility. He said some large corporations that formerly hired the hard-hitting, super self-confident types are now beginning “to prize humble leaders over the brash, overbearing kind.”
Brother Newell quoted a Wall Street Journal article, The Case for Humble Executives: “Humble leaders listen well, admit mistakes, and share the limelight. They have helping hearts; they encourage teamwork and promote collaboration. They see themselves not as kings who issue orders but as coworkers in a worthwhile endeavor. Humble leaders see themselves authentically, with both strengths and weaknesses, and they recognize that leading others and serving them are not mutually exclusive efforts. One can be visionary and relentless, with the mind of a leader, and still be humble and teachable, with the heart of a servant.”
The true bottom-line of fame measures sincerity, modesty, and does not keep score. I can be famous to two-year-old Lucy, to my ninety-seven year old mother, and to my husband who likes me to watch gardening shows with him. That is how nursery leaders in Primary, families who clean the ward, Aaronic Priesthood young men who bless and pass the sacrament to the elderly and ill in their homes are famous. That is how you are famous to the people for whom you do laundry or for whom you make a sandwich or with whom you gather after a long day to share thoughts in “Come, Follow Me.”
You may never do anything to make the Guinness Book of World Records. Rather like the buttonhole you will just do your job. It’s the yards and yards of memories you are weaving in others’ hearts that can testify to you that your life has meaning and purpose.