The Secret Behind a Great Person

A while ago I found a YouTube video of Josh Groban singing Vincent. It’s a beautiful song and the performance was also beautiful. I loved it. But then I got interested in what the song is about.
The song is about a 19th-century Dutch painter named Vincent van Gogh. I’m sure you know about him; he is a famous painter whose paintings are among the most expensive in the world. According to Wikipedia, his top seven paintings alone were sold for over $700 million. Incredible!
Unfortunately, the painter himself didn’t enjoy all the fame and wealth that his paintings generate. He died when he was only 37 years old. At that time only a few people knew his work and even fewer appreciated it.
Moreover, he went through a lot of difficulties in his life. For years he suffered from painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness. He suffered from nightmares, insomnia, and stupor, among others. This is not to mention his financial difficulties. He was only able to sell one painting in his lifetime and needed financial support to make ends meet.
Considering the phenomenal fame of his work later on, it’s tragic. So tragic, in fact, that it inspired the song Vincent to be written.
But I found something interesting: despite all the difficulties in his life, he still managed to create a lot of great paintings. How could that be? What was it that made it possible?
The answer is that he had a strong supporter, his younger brother Theo.
Unlike his older brother, Theo van Gogh isn’t famous. Only a few people know about him. But he was the person behind Vincent van Gogh who allowed the latter to produce many great works.
Theo was a constant supporter of Vincent throughout all his difficulties. He supported Vincent financially, but more important, he supported him emotionally. His letters to Vincent were full of praise and encouragement. He continued to believe in his brother no matter what. I think it’s safe to say that Vincent was able to become the great artist he was because of this constant and unfailing support from his brother.
There is an important lesson here: never underestimate the value of a supporter. No matter how strong you think you are, you need a supporter who believes in you. Life isn’t always nice. There are always tough times. Having someone who believes in you through all the troughs makes a lot of difference.
If you have such a supporter now, be grateful for them. Don’t take them for granted. You might not realize it, but much of what you achieve now is most likely because of your supporters. They are the ones who lift you up when you are down.
But then you must also do your part: be a constant supporter for someone else. Believe in what he or she does and give your unfailing support. Be a “Theo” for your “Vincent.” You never know how far things could go.
Photo by deflam


  1. Great post. Many worldly famous people are only made possible by equally many if not more seemingly ordinarily people, such as wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, teachers, colleagues, friends, etc. Without some of these supporters, none of those great people could have achieved much. I guess that’s why everyone’s life has meaning and purpose, even if we’re just an ordinary person nobody knows about.

  2. so true, we need really some back up to lift you up, we cannot do it alone. but anyway, if you believe that God alone can make it happen.

  3. This is so true !! they say “behind eery successful man is a woman” .. Through all our life stages we always had a support. Starting from childhood when our parents used to support us all the time .. till the time when we grow up and have friends then it keeps on till the time you get married … Support is a MUST !

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I agree with you. Isn’t it great if we can have the support we need in our lives? It’s something to be grateful for.

    • Yea, it’s nice when we have Support from our loved one’s. Most people these days are cut off from each other because of egos and stupid wishes. Some constantly search for green grass amongst weeds; then they tire, get mad at the World because they can’t have what they spend so much of their lives searching for. They need to realize some things belong to some, and some things belong to others.

  5. There are many lessons in the Van Gogh story. Not only that supporters help us, but that often you can’t see someone’s potential if you think short term. Many people have had great impact later in history that didn’t even imagine what their lives would lead to while they lived. We are part of a long story.
    It also shows the impact that can come from authenticity. Van Gogh was a tortured soul but he poured his feelings out in his art and so many years later people still get benefit from it. And also from the song he inspired.

  6. A good post. I had heared someting about Vincent van Gogh before I read this article.But I never hear anything about his younger brother.The story about his younger brother move me also. He is a part of the achievement of the fame paints.
    Other question,I found that the number of the posts was went down gradually month by month from 2006,all in all.Are you busy in your life,or maybe you are losing your interest in it.Thank you for what you did.

    • Yes, overall the number of posts per month is decreasing. The reason is that I have other projects going on and it’s becoming more difficult to find a topic to write about. But I still have a passion for the blog.

  7. Thank you for your posts. It’s true we all need support and encouragement. Your posts help me. If you were looking for a patron/supporter that was lesser known, Theo is not the example to go with, after all there are The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, a two volume set of the let letters between Vincent and Theo, books written about their relationship, and movies made about their relationship. Barbara McClintock was the only woman to ever win the Nobel Prize unshared, her father encouraged her and supporter her decision to go to college when her mother wanted to hold her back for fear she would never find a husband. She won it in gene research. Behind every great woman is a great person.

  8. Amazing post Donald and great title too. This is actually a part of Vincent’s life I didn’t know about. If only he was recognized then. Anyway, as they say, genius are never appreciated in their time. Look at Galileo

  9. Donald: That is tragic! Another story where a genius isn’t recogonized for their genius until they die. I hate that the world is full of hate and people that would rather hate on a person while he is living then give him his much due respect.
    I have never heard of Vincent, but his story is really interesting. I hope that someday people respect my hard work.
    Anyways, support goes a long way and I need to start giving more of it out freely!

  10. For too long I believed in the myth of self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is not the ideal that society often makes it out to be, I believe that it is actually undesirable.
    This is a great, unexpected lesson.

  11. Dear Donald,
    I enjoyed reading your post.
    I agree with your main thema.
    However I find that in my experience that when you do not have a supporter you have to be this one and support yourself.
    Amir Shani, Author

  12. […] Donald at Life Optimizer shared the oft-forgotten secret behind a great person. […]

  13. This is very tragic story the way things went when Vincent was alive,but he contributed to the humanity with his creativity ,he gave us a better world with his creativity.

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