Here is a striking passage from a letter of George Washington that I found in Ron Chernow’s biography of the man:
“I have often thought about how much happier I should have been if, instead of accepting of a command under such circumstances, I had taken my musket upon my shoulder and entered the ranks or…had retired to the backcountry and lived in a wigwam.” (1776, while Commander in Chief of the Continental Army)
This kind of sentiment is not alone in history: notable people having doubt about the moments in their lives that would lead them to their lauded positions in history. If they had a choice with the knowledge of what struggle would take place, they would not want to take up such responsibilities. And who would?
But then I am reminded of a bit from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
I wonder if we think we look up to people like Washington because they rose to their expectations of life; that they had a goal and strove until it was achieved. But reading Washington’s letter made me realize that even his expectations from life were minimal. He would have wanted to live without the pressures of leading an entire army. He would have rather been home with his family at Mount Vernon.
Maybe it’s the other way around: we look up to people like Washington because they rose to the occasion of what life expected from them. Even if there was doubt and reluctance along the way, they learned to answer the call. Perhaps we can all learn how to.