Each of us can be great — in our own way. Great human beings don’t spring full-blown from Zeus’ head like Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and inspiration. The trick lies in uncovering, then nurturing its seed.
Thanks to technology (and I include publishing), we’ve no shortage of examples — in business, the arts and politics. We can read, see and hear the stories of people who discovered their gift and then overcame their circumstances, doubts and fears to be bigger, broader and richer (if that’s what they wanted).
Work at being great — in your own way. (Courtesy of Greg Bartley/Camera Press, via Redux, The New York Times)
Many of us have to dig to find our seed of greatness. Maybe it’s writing, or developing great relationships or designing gardens. But believing in ourselves — and our unique greatness — is pivotal. Otherwise, our hands are tied. We fail to act. So we have to look for examples and learn from others.
Take entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are energizers. They charge us up with their self-confidence and sheer drive. Last week I sat in on a talk by John Arrow, the brilliant young CEO of Mutual Mobile. Arrow told about his first entrepreneurial effort, a grammar school newsletter that was shut down for profiling students’ popularity. (Sounds a little like a Facebook prototype, yes?) While his co-conspirators were punished by their parents, he was praised for his business acumen. That chutzpah — and vision — has taken him far.
Or statesmen. Nelson Mandela believed in a cause so great it dwarfed the failure and suffering he endured to become an icon of humanitarianism. Bill Keller‘s coverage drew from a 2007 interview. Mandela was asked how he kept his hatred in check: “… his answer was almost dismissive: “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.” My sense is Mandela, although born the son of a tribal chief, was not always so adept a diplomat. I listened to a former colleague describe him as a “head knocker.” If that’s the case, then Mandela had to master his anger to achieve his goals.
Or musicians. A quote from the late, great Lou Reed, who as a young man had been through electroshock therapy, and in his music never seemed too concerned about popular opinion. He followed his muse:
I’ve never thought of music as a challenge — you always figure the audience is at least as smart as you are. You do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful. And if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they think it’s beautiful.
As we wind down another year, rushing madly along, let’s go for one thing: Let’s try for greatness. Or as Steven Pressfield puts it, … Follow your unconventional, crazy heart. Do the work.