Too often, we assume that it’s Just Not Enough:
[T]here’s something very insidious about the idea, which you sometimes hear, that someone who isn’t famous or hasn’t amassed a lot of money or who hasn’t written books or stuff like that doesn’t matter. I know I have said to myself on occasion, “You’re wasting your life” when I think of people who were born in the same year as I was and who have done much more well-known things with their lives (directed movies, written books on Proust) or when I think of people who have devoted their all to the single purpose of research and, as a result, have more or better-known publications than I do.
And I need to stop it. Not just because being jealous of another person blinds you to the blessings you do have … but because I do have something to contribute. Even if it’s something small. Even if it’s just baking a batch of jam bars and standing by the punchbowl serving people punch.
When I was younger, I got a whole lot of “Some day you’re going to be Great,” often with a Tony the Tiger inflection, because I was allegedly smart as a whip and highly motivated. I’ve spent much of the rest of my life demonstrating otherwise. I have, however, done my part to sustain the species, having passed down the genes to two offspring of, if you ask me, entirely too much fecundity, and I have a teensy but genuine fan base. Small accomplishments, maybe; but if they haven’t gotten me into Wikipedia, well, they haven’t gotten me into The Smoking Gun either.
And this is worth repeating:
[Y]ou never do know where your influence will take other people… Maybe you don’t find a cure for cancer … but maybe you teach someone who becomes a doctor who helps people recover from cancer. Or someone who helps them cope with it emotionally…
I have no idea if I’ve been a particularly positive influence. I do, however, strive to avoid being a negative influence. The question of whether that’s enough is left as an exercise for the student.