I’ve been thinking about greatness. Maybe it’s the Olympics, or it could be my Peloton instructor. If Kendall Toole can see greatness in me, why can't I see that within myself? I’m reminded of the four words my friend Dairien said when we worked together, “Make time for greatness.” These four words are simple but a difficult challenge to accomplish. “Greatness” is reserved for those who have statues molded in their image—commemorating their achievements. What about greatness we aspire for ourselves? Before we can make time for greatness, we must define it. Greatness can be broken down in two aspects:
1. Unleashing personal greatness—how do you become the best version of yourself?
2. Long-lasting greatness—an impact that exceeds beyond your life
Unleashing personal greatness
What does "becoming the best version of yourself mean exactly? The phrase gets used a lot without clarity. If you don’t define what this means for yourself, it’s meaningless if you don’t know what best is and how progress will be made. Personal greatness spans anything in your life and it does not have to be career-related. You might strive to be the best parent, best world traveler, best hobbyist…whatever motivates you.
Greatness can be defined by modeling after people who embody such attributes. This aides you in understanding the attributes of what makes them great so you can set your own standard. The purpose of modeling greatness is not to do the exact same thing. One of my former managers made a suggestion to me to journal when new leaders at companies join. The purpose was to see how they establish their leadership and take notes on what resonates with you. It didn’t mean I was going to copy every phrase the new incoming leaders would say rather capture the essence of what makes them great leaders. It’s similar to how athletes watch film of other players to study their moves and incorporate it for themself.
In order to be the best version of yourself, you have to adopt a growth mindset. The concept of a growth mindset and fixed mindset is a person’s characteristics can be developed (growth) or static (fixed).
When you have a fixed mindset, you may think you’ll never achieve greatness, or even worse, you view yourself as already great. What can be scary about adopting a growth mindset is you’ll realize how much work there is to do and how much more you can grow. A fixed mindset is much easier to adopt. I wrote in one of my earliest issues about striving for imperfection which connects with the willingness to grow and fail.
One of my favorite NIKE commercials is Michael Jordan’s “Failure” commercial. The narration goes:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
If unleashing personal greatness is about your growth in becoming the best version of yourself, long-lasting greatness is the compound effect and the long-term achievement. I first heard the yardstick of greatness for people describing golf great Ben Hogan. This means the person who set the standard for greatness in their craft and everyone is chasing them.
The Simpsons Episode “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” begins with Homer becoming discouraged as he realized he’s lived past the halfway point of the life expectancy of men. Not even a cameo from KITT from Knight Rider could cheer him up. During a moment of frustratingly fixing his projector, Lisa tells him that it was invented by Thomas Edison, which took Homer down a rabbit hole to learn about the inventor. Inspired to be an inventor, Homer put up a chart to chase Edison’s greatness.
I once did a yardstick exercise like this, plotting the careers of some of the greatest creative people, designers, and investors. It was a humbling experience to say the least, realizing how far away I am. the yard stick exercise knocks you off Mt. Rushmore to remind you that you are merely a spec of dust in the universe.
Greatness is often portrayed as instant success when it’s the opposite. I wish instead of doing a 30 Under 30, Forbes would do a 60 Over 60 issue. I’ll share myself second favorite Michael Jordan commercial called “Maybe It’s My Fault.”
“Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I led you to believe it was easy, when it wasn’t. Maybe I made you think my highlights started at the free throw line, and not in the gym. Maybe I made you think that every shot I took was a game winner. That my game was built on flash, and not fire. Maybe it’s my fault that you didn’t see that failure gave me strength, that my pain was my motivation. Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God given gift, and not something I worked for, every single day of my life. Maybe I destroyed the game. Or maybe, you just making excuses.”
Let go of the ego, put the work in, strive for daily greatness
To achieve greatness, you have to let go of the ego. Don’t get it twisted, everyone has an ego, and it’s natural to desire a sense of self-importance. As NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo said in a post-game interview of the finals, “When you focus on your past, that’s your ego. When you focus on your future, that’s your pride. When you focus on the present, that’s humility.” NBA champions don’t sit and talk about the previous championships they won. Instead, they focus on the next one.
I want to be the greatest designer, investor, leader, friend, significant other, and so much more. I am so far from achieving any of this and may never get there in my life, and that’s what is so exciting.
As the famous quote by Norman Vincent Peale goes, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." We all have our own standard for greatness. Define it. Chase it.
Make time for greatness.
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