Greatness is not always on the top

Submitted for Contest #48 in response to: Write the 'origin story' of a person who goes on to achieve great things.... view prompt

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This is the story of someone who started at the bottom and worked all his life to get to the top. Only, that’s not how it appears on the surface. If you or I were to look at him, we would see the exact opposite is true; that this person started at the top and descended to the very bottom. But that is because we do not know the whole truth. We do not understand this person’s perspective, and we judge his actions according to the merits of our own.

This story will hopefully shed some light on that person.

Ethan Ecks was destined for glory before his parents were even born, let alone before he himself was born. The Ecks family was a very prominent one, with a long and rich history of being at the right place at the right time, where big things happened. They had their noses involved in politics, world economy, technological advancements, oil industry, pharmaceuticals, and weapons manufacture. A little bit of everything, one might say.

This involvement gave them a certain status, a stability by standing on so many pillars of power and influence. In effect, they helped shape history to be as we know it today.

The Ecks family was around for so long and had its foothold entrenched so firmly in the world, that it was predetermined decades ago, that Ethan would continue the legacy. And when he finally came to this world, all red and wrinkly, everything was already in place for his life; what he was going to do, how he was going to live, and even who he was going to marry - the Ecks family needed to establish a union with another powerful family, and marriage, taken straight out of the medieval era, seemed like a good choice. 

And so, due to sheer coincidence of being born into such an influential family, Ethan the baby already had access to the top 1% of the world’s resources, education, connection, wealth, luxury and power, at only one day old. Hell, 1% is a bit too broad for Ethan’s exclusiveness. It was more like 0,00149% if we include the Johnsons having twins that same year.

Ethan had it all, before he even learned how to poop on his own, or walk or talk. Most people, when they are at that age, don’t even own the diaper in which they are wrapped, but Ethan already owned a multi-billion-dollar internet marketing company. Well, technically it was his father’s, but the man simply held on to it until Ethan would be old enough to run it by himself.

And old enough Ethan became. He grew like a sprout that has the best soil, the best amount of sunshine and water, no weeds, and no insects to pester it, only endless resources and space. The exclusive high-quality food Ethan could eat was genetically modified to enhance his growth process. It not only made him grow faster but expanded his naturally given capabilities, making his brain bigger and his organs stronger. Essentially, if we compared him with the rest of the population that lived off of burgers and fries, Ethan was a superhuman at age seven. 

At age 14 he was already educated enough that he would be entitled to a master's degree if attending the regular, sluggish school system for the masses. That was never an option for Ethan, though. His path was all about efficiency and optimum expenditure of time. No time wasted on childhood trauma from abusive parents, drama from schoolmates, or partying and whoring with friends. No, Ethan’s destiny was beyond those things.

At age sixteen his father gave Ethan his first million-dollar business to run, as practice for when he’d get the real deal. And boy, did Ethan run it. There was a fire in that young man’s eyes, heart, and soul. A thirst for greatness, a desire for glory. You could sense it off of him. Sure, there was a bit of arrogance and even ignorance, as he took his fortune for granted, but he made excellent use of his position. He was not a lazy and spoiled kid of rich parents, no. He was a hard-working young man with a vision and all the means to create that vision.

A real shining gem of the Ecks family.

His parents knew what treasure they had and they encouraged him in everything. He was going to bring the Ecks family to unprecedented heights, make them even more powerful than they already were, spread their tentacles to the latest political and technological developments.

Years passed and billions of dollars rained down on the Ecks family. Ethan took the enterprises his parents and ancestors had established before him and he forged an empire, a shining example of business mastery out of them. With every passing year, month, day, and even minute, that empire grew. More income, more employees, more businesses, more involvement in the power dynamics of the world. The Ecks owned whole governments and they were effectively working from behind the scenes to govern a part of humanity.

Ethan became almost like a god. He could have anything he wanted; as long as it was possible to produce or to exist physically or acquire, he could have it. If something wasn’t quite possible, he could have a team of experts try to make it possible. He had a beautiful and loving wife, bright and clever children, a horde of supporting friends, colleagues and business partners, a staff of millions, dozens of high-yield businesses, dozens of residences, cars, planes, VR-simulators, his private SpaceX rocket, and on and on to materialistic eternity.

He had it all.

He was at the very top, the peak of the human pyramid, looking down and not seeing that his height was made possible only by standing upon billions of shoulders.

Until one day, he realized it. He realized what was truly going on, that he was at the top and the only way to go from the top, was down. He looked at his possessions and saw right through them, as they were hollow. He looked at his wife and kids and he saw the truth of them - they were nothing more but insurance that the Ecks legacy continues. He didn’t love them, he didn’t really feel anything. Ethan realized he was empty inside. His heartbeats echoed like in a deep dark cavern, ominous and alone, slowly beating out his life. He had everything, yet he didn’t have the one thing that he truly wanted, the one thing that he so longed for.

He had money, but that was not it. He had success, but that was not it either. He had love and appreciation, status and fame, achievement, excellence, intelligence… but none of those things were what he truly wanted.

With a shock, Ethan realized he was not happy, and with greater shock, he realized that happiness was all he ever wanted. And standing there, on the very top of the pyramid, balancing on that precarious golden tip, happiness was nowhere to be found. He was at the top, yet he never felt more down. It was all wrong, it all felt backward, turned on its head, twisted inside out.

All he ever wanted, all everyone else ever wanted from him, was to be a somebody. But Ethan was tired of being a somebody. He’d rather be a nobody. He’d trade it all for happiness if he could. 

So, Ethan thought, if a man that has everything, doesn’t have that which he wants, then what he actually wants, is to have nothing. The realization was so simple and it made a lot of sense to him. It rang true. He remembered how satisfied he once felt when he gave up one of his businesses to a charity. It was of course a political maneuver, to gain a positive social image, but something about giving to others made his heart warm up like never before. 

Ethan realized that ‘giving’ was a million times more rewarding than ‘taking’. Taking was stressful. Giving was soothing. 

But if he simply gave it all away, would that make him happy? Ethan doubted it. No, blind charity would only be another hunt for happiness. What then? How could he not have anything, yet acquire happiness? If neither taking nor giving was it, what was?

Then it hit him. He was the richest man in the world with everything at his disposal. Surely he could conduct the grandest research on happiness to try and discover how to acquire it.

And so, Ethan did. He bought every book, every seminar, online course, movie, documentary on the topic of happiness. He hired coaches, psychologists, scientists, therapists, every expert that had at least a vague relevance to the topic of happiness. He talked to people that had near-death experiences, he joined communities that performed ancient rituals of healing and psychedelics. He traveled to meet with monks, priests, mystics, yogis, and enlightened people. And at the end, after years of research, he pieced together what he had found from all the different sources of information and experience.

And he smiled.

He realized that for as long as he was a somebody, as long as he had an identity, an ego, he would never be happy. Not truly.

Ethan divorced his wife and left his family, giving them a few billion dollars to live off. He gave all the businesses that were improving the world in some way to the friends and colleagues he trusted the most while shutting down those businesses that were only exploiting for profit. He sold his cars, his planes, his personal SpaceX rocket, and donated the money to non-profit organizations that worked for equality, the environments, and for better school systems. Within months, Ethan destroyed the empire he spent his whole life building. He collapsed the pyramid and brought its golden tip to the very bottom for all the slaves and grunt workers to take a piece. 

Ethan saved some money for himself and bought an old cabin somewhere in the woods, where he would be all alone. No Internet. No TV. No phone. And there he spent the next ten years of his life in meditation, doing nothing but searching deep within for that source where true happiness comes from. 

Of course, the public went berserk with Ethan’s actions. The news and tabloids were filled with articles stating that Ethan Ecks has gone mad, that there must have been some political game he was playing, or even that he was poisoned by his wife, so she could take his fortune. Ethan’s family and friends tried ‘talking sense’ into him, telling him not to abandon everything, worrying if he has gone insane. 

Almost every business Ethan shut down sued him. They threatened to throw him in jail. Some employees and partners even threatened to kill him, for the economical loss he caused them.

But, in the end, Ethan simply shrugged it off. They called him a madman, a lunatic, a selfish bastard, a horrible husband and a monster of a father, a psycho, a recluse, a hippie, a junkie, and all sorts of things to try and explain his odd behavior. No one believed Ethan when he told them he was going on a quest to find happiness. People laughed, shook their heads, scowled, and pitied him. 

His parents, who were now well in their eighties, denounced him. They were so ashamed of his actions that they threw him out of the family. Ethan simply smiled. He was no longer an Ecks, which meant he was one step closer to becoming a nobody. One less label to identify with.

Ten years passed, and the world forgot about him. The news settled down, turning their banners and loudspeakers to other hot topics. The businesses rearranged themselves and were competing with each other for dominance. Ethan’s wife remarried, his children went off into the world with the money he gave them.

The world forgot about Ethan and that meant Ethan could come back in peace. In his ten years of meditation, he had done it. He broke through all the layers of false identification he accumulated through his life - not only material possessions but mental and emotional identifications as well - and he reached the core of his being. He tapped into divine happiness.

The liberation was beyond him. He cried and laughed for days and weeks, and it was pure joy that shone from his face. He had done it. He reached enlightenment.

And once he finally understood what true happiness was, once he not only experienced it but lived and embodied it, he was ready to finally give back to the world. Now, that he had nothing and that he was nobody, he had the most to give and was the most himself he ever was.

He returned to society and became a guru, a coach of happiness, a mystic, a public speaker, a consultant on living. He came back to share what he had learned and to help other people find their happiness. 

He told his life story. And the world remembered him. Isn’t that the whacko who threw it all away and went living in the woods, people asked. And the news made sure the people got their answer - an eye-catching answer, not the truth. It was a storm when Ethan came back. Old grudges resurfaced and people who lost money because of Ethan’s departure came back seeking revenge and justice.

But as they saw Ethan, they did not recognize him. In those ten years he was gone, he now seemed not ten years older, but ten years younger. His eyes shone acceptance and his smile bore freedom. His posture was relaxed and his voice calm. The wisdom he shared with those who listened to him was invaluable. Pretty soon, the world forgot all about Ethan Ecks, the businessman, and embraced Guru Ethan, the Happiness Coach, as they dubbed him.

Those whom his actions hurt in the past came to see him, seeking some sort of resolution or vengeance. And Ethan apologized to all of them. He asked their forgiveness and offered them his full acceptance.

There were still those who refused to see Ethan for the new man he was and kept throwing old labels at him. But those people were vastly outnumbered by the hordes of others, who saw in Ethan that which they lacked in their lives. They saw a man that was fully happy, no matter what was going on. It could be raining or snowing and Ethan would smile. People could call him names when he was in public, and Ethan would smile. Once, a bitter and broke CEO who lost everything 10 years ago due to Ethan, came to one of the Happiness Coach’s public talks and stabbed him in the gut.

By some miracle, Ethan survived the stab. And the people who saw it happen, report him not once cursing in fear or crying in pain. They say that when he got stabbed, Ethan simply looked up at the man and said; “Good thing I’m not wearing my favorite robes today. Would be a shame to get them all covered with my blood.”

They caught the attacker and after two days in custody, he broke down and begged to see Ethan, to beg forgiveness. And since the police didn’t allow him anywhere near Ethan, the Happiness Coach came to him in jail. “Look what you’ve done to yourself,” Ethan would say to the man, not one bit angry at him, but a little sad. “You stabbed me, but did you ruin my life? No, you ruined your own. Now you’ll spend your life in prison, one made of concrete and guilt. Perfect time to start meditating, if you ask me!”

The world became a brighter, happier place, thanks to Ethan. He went on to teach people how to be happy and he reveled in his own joy to the end of his days. Surprisingly, after Ethan’s death, the man who stabbed him became his successor, the next Happiness Coach, having listened to Ethan’s advice and meditating in prison. After the twenty years he spent behind bars, charged with a murder attempt, he came out a changed man. A better man. A happier man. And he took up Ethan’s banner, where the Happiness Coach dropped it.

What can Ethan’s story teach us, you might ask. We often think that greatness is measured in a person’s achievements, success, or impact. And while those things are perhaps important, at least substantially more so than one’s material possessions, they aren’t what makes someone great. Greatness does not mean climbing the top, jumping head over heel over other people to get there before the position of number one is taken by someone else. 

No, greatness is not a competition, neither is it accumulation of victories, be then deserved or not.

Greatness is the courage to love yourself. 

To be the best version you can be, because only then can you truly help others. Only if you take care of yourself first, are you capable of taking care of someone else. Only if you are happy on your own, can you share that happiness with others. And while it might seem selfish on the surface, to put yourself first, it is really not. What is selfish is to claim that you can love someone else without loving yourself first, because no one has that superpower. Those who claim so are just lying to you and themselves.

True greatness is never flashy and does not wear a big red S on its chest. It is subtle and most likely you won’t see it in action, even if it stands right next to you. 

But it is there, in every one of us. It is a personal decision, a daily commitment to be just a little bit better than yesterday. A little bit more authentic, genuine, and sincere. A little bit more yourself.

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5 comments

15:42 Jul 09, 2020

This was one of my Critique Circle pieces, and I'm glad I found it! Interesting choice for narrative voice/tone. The beginning really reminded me of Artemis Fowl (mega-rich family with a finger in every pie vibes). I'm glad Ethan found happiness, though (and this is just my raw opinion) meditation seemed like a way too simple answer. I was sure Ethan would have to go through some kind of pain/growth experience beyond just toppling his pyramid (though that was a great metaphor!)

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Harken Void
17:25 Jul 09, 2020

Hey Emilie, thanks for reviewing :) I'm flatered my story reminded you a bit of Artemis Fowl (I love that series!). And I'm glad you liked the story. Hehe, well, if you ever try doing some serious meditation you'll discover it's one of the worst pains for the psyche, forcing your mind to stay still and do nothing, think about nothing, not get distracted by the tons of stimulations available to us. And the answer to happiness is very simple. We just over-complicate it, hence our hectic, unhappy lives ;)

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Shirley Medhurst
22:15 Jun 30, 2020

WOW - very deep philosophical story Loved it 👍👍👍

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Harken Void
06:57 Jul 01, 2020

Thanks, Shirley :) I'm glad you liked it.

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Corey Melin
05:44 Jun 30, 2020

Very good lesson on life. So many on top come tumbling down. Financial hit, mental breakdown, suicide. Have a solid foundation to suceed.

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