Society admires dead heroes.
Great statues, famous painting, modern books, and federal holidays pay homage to great figures from the past. These historical heroes are held in high esteem, so people today admire and sometimes envy their position. People alive today decide that they too want to be remembered by history.
This urge to be remembered is based on a prediction that it would feel good to be in that position. We desire the position of status and esteem, because of an imagined feeling. A projection of what it would be like to be held in the same regard. Without thinking about it deeply, we unconsciously feel that it would feel good to be remembered by history. But we forget that when you’re dead you don’t feel anything.
A clear example of this is Franz Kafka. Kafka is one of the most popular and significant authors of the 20th century. If you visit Prague today you can visit the Kafka museum, you can see where he grew up, you can read plaques about him around the city, and take tours that tell the story of his life. He is remembered by history, but he died before publishing any of his work.
He was incredibly self-critical, didn’t like his work, and before he died he requested that a friend dispose of his manuscripts.
Many artists admire Kafka, they aspire to reach a position of similar esteem. To be considered great. To revolutionize the trajectory of their craft. But to Franz Kafka, all of this remembrance is worthless. He died unhappy and with no knowledge of the impact that his work would have. He did not take any pleasure from his work.
Doing something significant in your lifetime often means that you are remembered when you’re gone. But being remembered should never be the goal. It is a side effect of living a life of meaning and having a positive impact on the people around you. But when you’re dead it doesn’t matter how many people know your name. What matters is the fulfillment and meaning you derive from your work while you are living.