“I want to be great or nothing.” – Joe Marsh
Anyone who has seen the recent movie adaptation of Little Women or who has read the novel will be familiar with this quote. The line captures Joe Marsh’s desire for greatness. Perhaps Joe Marsh’s attitude transcends beyond the desire of one individual to be great and instead can be seen as reflecting a bigger societal issue: our inability to accept mediocrity—but, if we are not great, does that really mean we have to be nothing?
Collectively, we tend to put pressure upon ourselves and others to attain the highest levels of achievement. Only those that reach this highest level of greatness are publicly honoured within our society. There are no accolades and awards given out to those who only meet our expectations; the awards are reserved for those who exceed them. There is a bigger issue that stems from the emphasis that we place on greatness. We have become apathetic in cases when we feel that we cannot do great things. In the modern narrative of “I want to be great or nothing,” people who feel they cannot be great, have instead chosen the option of nothing.
I am not suggesting that we start to hand out participation ribbons and trophies to everyone who decides to show up. I still feel that we should be honouring those who do truly great things. However, just because we may not be the one to receive the award or public recognition does not mean that we should become apathetic in our lives.
As a student, I have often come face-to-face with this dilemma. When I feel that there is still so much for me to learn in order to contribute to the academic community in a meaningful way, I am tempted to stop trying. When there are so many steps that need to be done before you can achieve greatness, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It is easier to walk away and curl up on the couch and watch Netflix then it is to face the mountain of self-doubt and fear that lays before you. However, if in those moments when you are close to quitting you can remind yourself of why you are doing what you’re doing or find something that ignites that little spark inside of you, then you will be one step closer to greatness. Let’s change our attitude from “I want to be great or nothing” to “I want to be great and if I’m not there yet then I will keep trying.”