For it is not what happens to me that makes me great but what I do, and certainty there is no one who believes that someone became great by winning the big lottery prize.
- Soren Kierkegaard
In Virginia you can visit Thomas Jefferson's plantation, finding amazement in the winding living room staircase that was built by soaking wood in water and bending it. Or, go to Santa Marta, Colombia and see Simeon Bolivar's home that overlooks the Mediterranean.
Anywhere you go you can find greatness immortalized, houses preserved as monuments, memorials, statues and more. Despite different politics, economies and cultures greatness is a universal concept. There is something humanizing and inspiring about seeing the grand achievements of others.
These achievements are also daunting. Take Bolivar, for example, who formalized many South American countries and even has the country of Bolivia named after him. Or Nikola Tesla who invented the radio and modern electricity. How can you ever expect to reach such great heights? And it is at this point, with self-deprecating thoughts that you flip on the television, lose yourself in the pages of Facebook and try escaping from the feeling of self-pity that comes with believing you can never achieve such things.
By putting greatness on a pedestal we forget to remember that these men and women were just ordinary individuals who decided to become great. They did not win some magical genetic jackpot.
I have seen the small place where Mozart was born. There was nothing exceptional about it. But the man himself became exceptional by conquering self doubt and failure.
Being great is an intentional choice. Greatness doesn't have to be a momentous thing, but it does have to change people. A father can be great, a mother or teacher too. There are many people in your own community who are doing great, life changing things. You do not need to be a war hero, inventor or architect to achieve greatness. You just need to show up and put in the time every day.
History and media lionizes people so that their achievements reach an unattainable level. This is good entertainment and inspiration, but not helpful in becoming great.
In the past we have explored many people of greatness, inventors like Tesla, artists like Gaudi and Michelangelo, explorers like Stark and Cousteau, and conquerors like Alexander the Great. From these people and many more we found a few common characteristics. If you want to be great at something you need only follow these simple steps, and while the steps are simple the process itself is a journey.
Guide to Greatness
1. Believe you can be great
Mindset is everything. Without believing in yourself you will never be great. Start practicing intentional greatness and make being great a habit. Aim for the exceptional, not the middle ground. As you think about what you would like to accomplish and be remembered for ask yourself, "can I do something bigger than this?"
2. Greatness is a journey not a magical transformation
Greatness does not occur over night, but as a slow process. Michelangelo started out working as a protege with many others. Andrew Carnegie was originally an errand boy for the railroad. We often see the end result of these men, and forget the long process they took to get there.
You must be calculated about the road you take. First, lay the foundation (education), then build the walls (a framework or perspective on the world), finally put on the roof (move forward towards that peak of greatness)
3. Focus on your goals by reverse engineering
What is your endgame? What do you want to do with your life or what do you want to become? Write down your end goal, making it as big and ambitious as possible. Then work backwards and lay out a plan of actionable steps starting from the endgame to right now.
Things to consider:
- Are you using your skills and passions?
- Are you working against reality or with it? (Are you pushing a boulder up the hill or down?)
- Best chances of success = aligning your gifts with the fulfillment of a need/ niche or problem you can solve
4. Think big but start small
Do not let the size of your goal discourage you. What seems insurmountable becomes manageable when things pick up momentum.
If you did your planning right you will have picked the path with the greatest chance of success with the least resistance.
5. Enjoy failure
Those who succeed also fail the most. Tesla has more failed experiments than successful ones. But it is only the successful ones we hear about. We learn from failures, and only through trial and error can we succeed. We often forget this in our polished, prepackaged corporate world.
For the plan you laid out above, also write down the worst things that will happen if you fail. Often times these failures grow to monsters when we don't verbalize them. But on paper they stand for what they are, minor bumps in the road.