Greatness is defined by the Oxford dictionary as the quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent. Being distinguished or eminent is clear to understand but what is being great further to the other two definitions? Seeking further clarity on the definition of great, the aforementioned dictionary says great is one of ability, quality, or intensity above the normal or average. My thesis is that each of us have certain skills and/or attributes that we can develop, if nurtured, to take us from normal or average, to being great. For the sake of this article, I overlay a condition to the definition of greatness that requires the individual to experience a sense of fulfillment in performing said activity. For what benefit is there in being eminent or distinguished in a given activity or field, if it comes with sorrow or a sense of feeling void. Everything that is here in this article is aimed at helping each of us develop habits which can drive us to greatness but in a healthy and sustainable fashion. With this caveat aside, let’s proceed to understand why I purport that each of us have God-given attributes which can take us from average or normal to being great.
The first condition for putting yourself on a path to greatness is not looking for excuses of why you have been unable to rise above the norm. One might say, only if I had been born a better athlete, or maybe in a privileged family, or in another country where opportunities abound, my life would have been different, I could have been someone great… Sometimes we look for reasons to justify why we did not achieve something that was truly important to us as individuals. And whilst it is true that some individuals are naturally gifted, it is also true that each of us are uniquely equipped to be more than conquerors. The difference between common people and high-achievers is not that one has innately more talent than the other, but that one found what they can excel in and have applied effort and discipline to rise above the norm.
The second success factor to becoming great is having a plan of action. Take Eliud Kipchoge, likely history’s greatest marathoner, who wanted to be a world-class runner, quite an ambition for a young man coming from a humble background and with scarce resources. The differentiation in Eliud is he did not dwell on what he lacked but instead he invested time and thought of devising a plan of action for getting what he needed! For one 16-year-old Eliud was aware that the famous Kenyan runner Patrick Sang trained nearby at a local track; thus forth, he figured that approaching him might get him access to valuable training routines or mentorship which would aid him in developing his calling. Eliud approached Patrick Sang but was quickly ignored, over and over again. Notwithstanding the rejection, young Eliud kept coming back to the dirt track in Nandi County where he repeatedly pestered him for guidance and training tips. Patrick Sang finally succumbed to the request and provided the young man a two-week training program. The rest is history. Through having a plan and being relentless in the execution, Eliud was able to start a journey of greatness which took him to greater highs than any other runner in history.
Greatness takes many forms, even in long-distance running hence it’s good not to pressure yourself to be like someone else, but pursue your own personal greatness. Take for instance the runner Yuki Kawauchi, a former full-time government worker in Japan that trained in his time off and had no sponsorships, yet he has a number of Guinness World Records including most career sub 2:20 marathons, totaling 101 of them! Which runner is greater, Eliud or Yuki? Both of them are amazing and to be admired because independent of their own conditions and realities (economic, geographic, race), they achieved greatness. As such my argument is that greatness is in each of us and that it is not the “right” DNA sequence that predicts greatness albeit there are studies that show genetic variants that correlate to 10% to 15% of educational success. But being “book-smart” in isolation does not imply greatness, greatness is determined by a set of factors including perseverance, having a plan, being able to adapt to adversity, being disciplined, possessing unwavering faith, to cite a few attributes.
Another angle to see man’s innate potential for greatness is from a spiritual point of view. Scripture says in Psalm 8:5 “yet you have made him a little lower than God, And you crown him with glory and majesty”. Romans 8:37 says “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us”. Conquerors overcome by definition. From the Garden of Eden we were commanded to be fruitful and to multiply, to replenish the earth and to subdue it. Each of these passages suggest a position of dominion, of leadership, of fruitfulness. Our calling as mankind is to be above and not below, to be the head and not the tail, collectively and individually. You might ask yourself, if these passages are true, why are so many people living a mediocre life, much below their true potential? I attribute this to environmental conditions that have affected you knowingly or unknowingly. How do you ask? Many people have heard that there is power in words. Well this thesis is supported by scripture as the bible says “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those that love it will its fruit”. Maybe you have been unable to achieve personal greatness, in part given self-doubt or because of feeling incapable or unworthy. Could it be possible that you have been a victim to a flurry of negative words expelled over you by a parent or someone in your life, possibly saying, “you are useless”, “why can’t you be like your sibling”, “you are going to amount to nothing”, “idiot”, or whatnot. We have to be careful of the words we use around people because words can build up or destroy, they can edify or they can erode self-confidence. My desire if nothing else is that you realize that God’s eternal truths supersede human confines. Heaven and earth will pass but my words will not pass away, says the Lord. Be comforted by His words and even though you might have been a victim of pejorative attitudes, embrace yet another angle that affirms that you can achieve something great in your life, after all, you are a conqueror.
It is also important to realize that “Greatness” does not necessarily imply or equate to wealth, so please don’t measure your ability to rise above the norm or average by your financial condition. If you query the most influential people of the last millennium, as of 1999 we find:
1 Johann Gutenberg (mass media–movable type for printing)
2 Isaac Newton (physics: gravity, laws of motion)
3 Martin Luther (Protestant Reformation)
4 Charles Darwin (evolutionist writer)
5 William Shakespeare (Renaissance playwright)
The above is but an excerpt of the Top 100 but a careful review of the full list will yield a lack of correlation between greatness and wealth. Many of the world’s most influential people were just like many of us but what they had was an over-indexed level of perseverance and discipline that led to them rising above the averages. Greatness is more of a state-of-being more than the number of 000’s in your bank account. As a teenager I did not have a plan for my life and I lived without a clear purpose. By chance I became a Banker in a top Wall Street firm. During the course of my 25 years in banking I came to know many extremely wealthy individuals within the Bank, and objectively I can say that many of these senior Managing Directors, CEOs, or such, were plainly uninspiring folks, including myself. Amassing riches and being a failed husband/wife, or an absent father/mother is pathetic. I know of several top bankers that went from the mouse-wheel of Wall Street to the grave leaving no apparent legacy. Don’t get me wrong, whilst at the bank I also met many people I admired and were excellent in their own way but it was not because of their tiles nor their wealth. Greatness is measured in how you positively influenced others, how you came to be an accretive asset to society and what you did with your gifts and talents. Greatness is in many ways like freedom is costly, someone has to pay the price, it comes with blood, sweat and tears. And like most truly valuable things in life, greatness cannot be acquired with money, akin to health, a good reputation, joy, and fulfillment. Greatness is a state of inner peace, in knowing as Paul of Tarsus once said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I kept the faith”.
Don’t fight technology but subdue it, that is, use it to close your developmental gaps as you rise to greatness. I might add that the conditions are ripe nowadays since the access to information is staggering. The amount of information at our disposal is vast, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, the world’s largest index of the Internet, estimated the size at roughly 5 million terabytes of data. That’s over 5 billion gigabytes of data, or 5 trillion megabytes. For most anything that interests you, the likelihood of having vast documented resources are significant. The challenge today is to not become unproductive given the plethora of things that can distract you, starting with social media and our smart phone. So whilst it is a blessing to have such vast information at our disposal, it is also a detriment since a lack of focus will yield to personal unproductivity. What to do then? Be disciplined in your approach to managing your time. There is play time and there is work time. If you want to be the world’s best marathoner, then you train with that mindset, and you invest the time. But be smart as well in how you train, leverage the information best suited for you, i.e., know your areas of development and use education and information to close the gap. Education, even ad-hoc, is useful. Using the same example of the marathoner, maybe it is access to different training routines used by world-class athletes that you need, maybe it is reading medical research on the use of supplements for enhanced muscle recuperation post a work-out, maybe it is reading what equipment is best for your style of running. Whatever you need, and want, in terms of information is there at your fingertips.
With so much as access to information, one must learn to be a voracious reader. In an article written in INC.com, it was stated that top CEOs are avid readers, consuming up to a book per week. Not surprising, with the vast information that is available we would be unwise not leveraging all the nuggets of wisdom that is there for us to consume. Reading generates many benefits for us including potentially increasing our lifespan, as well as increasing our empathy, reducing our stress levels, alleviating depression, preventing cognitive decline, and aiding in sleeping. Awesome collateral benefits from reading whilst working your way to personal greatness.
Greatness is not as easy as obtaining an inheritance or winning a lottery. There is also no cookie-cutter or magic short-cut but there are Greatness principles which I summarize for you here, think of these as your Cliffs Notes to greatness.
- Don’t make excuses why you are average
- Determine your calling
- Believe you are uniquely created to be more than a conqueror
- Build a plan of action
- Be relentless in executing your plan
- Manage your time wisely
- Know your developmental needs
- Learn to Learn, i.e., leverage information
- Be a voracious reader
- Have perseverance, learn from failures.
Kathryn Paige Harden: ‘Studies have found genetic variants that correlate with going further in school’—The Guardian ↑
Most CEOs Read A Book A Week. This Is How You Can Too (According To This Renowned Brain Coach) | Inc.com ↑
A Chapter a Day – Association of Book Reading with Longevity – PMC (nih.gov) ↑