The intense subjects of purpose and legacy

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 1, 2023, 9:45 PM | comments: 0

In today's episode of Middle Age Theater, I find myself contemplating purpose and legacy. I've written countless times about the unfortunate conflation of career with purpose. I don't dislike work or my career, or find that it's universally unsatisfying. But I don't think many jobs have really felt like a calling or purpose. My current job is objectively awesome, and I adore the people that I work with. But expanding on purpose, am I working toward any particular legacy? Probably not. Does it matter? I don't really know. Purpose and legacy are two things I've never really though about together much until, well, today. Maybe subconsciously I have, but this is I think the first deliberate association that I've made.

I am wholly uninterested in wanting to be remembered when I'm dead. For real. I'm just another thing made from cosmic dust who will eventually be cosmic dust again, and I don't overstate my existence beyond that. It's cool. Billions and billions of beings before me are in that category. But while I don't feel the need to be remembered, as if I could control that anyway, I feel like purpose comes in part from the idea that your legacy is tangible. It's indirect recognition without the ego, right? "I'm anonymous, but what I left made things better." I've written about scope of impact before, and I still don't have a good answer to whether or not that matter.

Tonight I was watching the documentary Adrienne, about the actor/writer/director of Waitress, the movie that preceded the musical that I adore. She was murdered at the age of 40, before that movie was picked up at Sundance, so while she had appeared to have a rising trajectory before that in various movies and an indie film she directed, her genius was not truly recognized until she was gone. This of course is profoundly sad, but I don't think you can understate the legacy she created. Not only did she make a movie that ended up introducing us to actors we all know well now, especially Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, but it led to the musical of the same name, which went on to do thousands of performances between Broadway and tours, and grossed tens of millions of dollars, elevating lyrics/music composed by Sara Bareilles to a make her a next level artist.

Adrienne Shelly was taken from us at only 40-years-old, but the legacy that she left, the impact, the jobs, industry and art that she left, is immeasurable. Now, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to measure myself, or anyone, against that benchmark. Again, scope is relative. I believe if you can change the lives of any people at all, that's a win. Some of my volleyball "kids" say I was that for them, and I'll take that to the grave. But for whatever reason, I can't help but think that I should do more. That I must do more. I don't know how that works.

The place that my brain keeps going back to is that artists are the people that makes life worth living, that make the world better. There's so much awfulness in the world... war, fascists, people who thrive on hate... but artists ground us in our humanity. I feel like that is a noble and just existence, and it's not what I am. So I wonder if it could be. When I was a kid, I believed that I was creative and could be, and it led me being a radio DJ, for however short a time that was. Then I started making television, again briefly, but I felt like it was art even if I was making it for local government. Today, I don't have that same sense of purpose. My ADHD and ASD brain meanwhile is trying a hundred things at the same time to see if it could serve an artistic purpose. I write most days, I've written fragments of a screenplay, I have at least one story to tell that I can't reconcile, I'm making a documentary, I want to be a lighting designer in some capacity... it's all potential and not real.

I feel like the clock is ticking to figure this out. If I got hit by a bus, I could objectively say that despite my perceived shortcomings of my life, largely not a product of my own doing, I could end feeling pretty good about what I had. But I can't shake this burden in the urgency of midlife to believe I need to do more. Again, I don't seek recognition, I seek the satisfaction of knowing that I left made a difference. What a weird place to be.

(Postscript: I reject the notion from the Type-A who believe they're critical business leaders or, worse, fitness "coaches," that it's just a simple notion of will and desire. That's the worst fucking nonsense. If there were any truth to that, we'd all be rich and/or famous.)


No comments yet.

Post your comment: