The greatest poet in the English language was blind when he composed his masterpiece, "Paradise Lost". John Milton's pen was held by several rotating secretaries. These young men who wrote as Milton dictated lines were not great poets, but for a brief time, they were in the proximity of greatness. Because of their willingness to serve, we all may enjoy one of the great epics.
When using your Apple device you think of Steve Jobs, not the thousands of people who contributed in big and small ways to make the device possible. But without countless individual contributions, these great tools, these great works would never reach the masses.
There are those among us born with abundant talent, but even they require teaching, assistance, and support for their talent to be realized and shared. There are those among us who will have a great idea, but they also will require the efforts of others to give birth to their vision. It should also be noted how we build upon the great ideas and works created or discovered by the people who lived long before us. Without Homer, Virgil and Dante there would be no John Milton. Without Pascal, Turing and Tesla there would be no Steve Jobs.
Greatness has a price. If we look into the lives of John Milton or Steve Jobs we will find them wanting. We cannot hold them up as models of great parenting or for patterns of kindness. It could even be said what they sought brought them to greatness, but took them far from goodness. I believe goodness should never be sacrificed for greatness. Paul Johnson delves into a lack of goodness among great men in his book, "Intellectuals". Johnson offers a portrait of the minds that have formed the modern world: "Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, and Noam Chomsky, among others," are revealed as intellectuals both brilliant and very dangerous.
In my career I have stood with incredible entrepreneurs and learned much from them. However, while I am an entrepreneurial employee, I am not the same as these talented risk takers I served. In their fields and circles many would say they have achieved greatness. This is not something of which to be jealous, but to celebrate their willingness to include me in their life's work. Each permitted the opportunity to employ my gifts and lessons to support their visions. While serving them I have learned much.
It is no small thing to hold the pen and trust of these entrepreneurs and artists. I would gladly hold John Milton's pen. To be in the room as he used prolepsis for this first time in an epic simile, or to read back the lines and learn of his corrections and adjustments. Would I not leave a better poet?
We are to serve the great ideas, and in doing so we may discover we are serving great people. The names remembered in history are few, while those in service to great women and men, and those that benefit from their ideas and works are numerous.
This is not to say you will not one day create your own masterpiece, or that you should not aspire to create one, but you should realize the great joy, pleasure, and fortune when you discover you are, or were, in the proximity of greatness.
"Som natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way."
- Paradise Lost, Book 12, John Milton
An update to this post. In 2018 I set a goal to memorize Milton's "Lycidas" - here's the video: