Lessons from Greatness

Great work is done by people who are not afraid to be great.

– Fernando Flores

I use to be envious of great people.

By “great”, I mean people who have achieved things so noteworthy they become famous for it. Some do it early in life, like athletes. Tiger Woods is an example of this. Others take more time reach their success through business. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have both risen to the top with their business achievements.

Still others achieve their prominence through service to others. The Reverend Billy Graham and Mother Teresa are living legends for their service to people. Our world is full of people who have accomplished greatness with their lives. It’s easy for any of us to name five or ten great people we admire.

Like I said, I used to regard them with envy. But, the older I get, the more I realize why we have great people in our world. They exist to teach us. Here are things I’ve learned from these teachers.

Sacrifice

Great people make sacrifices to achieve their greatness. Too often we consider sacrifice bad.

It’s not.

We make sacrifices with every decision. Even if we do not decide we still make a sacrifice. It’s a basic law of reality; you can’t do or be everything. You need to choose. When you choose one course of action, you automatically sacrifice the opportunity to choose any other course of action.

That’s all right. It’s better to make a bad choice than to never choose. When you fail to choose, you’re saying nothing is important enough for you to make it a priority. If nothing in your life is important, what kind of life is that?

You risk an empty life if you spend too much time failing to choose.

Faith

Great people make choices because they believe they are the right choices. They have unyielding faith in the path they choose. Don’t think they’re always right, though. Great people are probably wrong more often than the rest of us. This is because they take risks without fear of failing. They know failure is not bad. It’s simply a way to learn. So, they take more risks.

Faith that you’re making the right choice will help you make the choice. That’s the first step.

Persistence

Once you choose a course of action, you will face obstacles. You will face resistance. Whether you’re learning a new skill, developing a new relationship, building a business, starting a new job, you will always face “speed bumps” on your journey. Willie Jollie likes to say “Murphy has a piece of paper with your name and address on it and he WILL be paying you a visit!” Willie is right and that’s okay because that’s simply how life works.

Persistence is what keeps you on task. It reminds you that you made a choice for the right reasons so a few obstacles shouldn’t stop you. Persistence helps you keep doing what you’re supposed to do so you accomplish what you want. It keeps you motivated and energized every day so the speed bumps don’t knock you off course.

Great people understand the power of persistence. They use it every day.

Courage

When you choose a course of action and you follow it, you often are doing something new. Maybe it’s new and strange to you. Because it’s new and strange it seem dangerous. It might cause you fear. One of the biggest reasons we don’t try new things is our fear of the unknown and fear of failure.

We have fear, which is good because it causes us to examine and evaluate before we jump in. Diving headfirst into shallow water might be a life-threatening decision. Fear of splitting our head open keeps us from jumping in without checking first to make sure it’s safe.

But fear can be an obstacle too. Fear is the foot that applies the brakes. Courage is the foot that presses down on the accelerator. It keeps us moving in the right direction.

In great people, the foot with courage is much stronger than the foot with fear.

Focus

Many people get criticized for not multi-tasking. “You have to learn to do several things at once” they’re told (usually by a supervisor or manager). Too often we fall into this trap. We think we can accomplish more by doing two, three or more unrelated tasks at the same time. So, we talk on the phone while we drive to work. We eat lunch at our desks while we work on an important project. We watch TV while we chat with our spouse or kids.

Great people understand the flaw in this.

When you try to do too many unrelated things at once you do none well. Your attention is split among many tasks. The power of your focus is watered down because it’s spread over too many things that demand your attention.

Think of focus as a ray of sunshine through a magnifying glass. On a sunny summer day it’s easy to burn a piece of paper with a magnifying glass if you hold it close enough. By focusing the light on a tiny area, you intensify the amount of energy applied to the paper. This increases the heat and can cause the paper to smolder if you hold it there long enough. If you pull the magnifying glass away, the focal point spreads out. It becomes less intense. It never produces enough heat to burn the paper because the light is spread too thin.

When you focus on one task instead of many, your energy is just like the sunlight passing through the magnifying glass. It intensifies and has a greater effect on whatever you’re doing.

Great people understand this. They focus. And it works.

Purpose

People who accomplish great things have found their purpose in life. We all have a unique set of skills and talents. Part of our purpose is to use our talents and skills the best we can. Our challenge is to discover what our talents are and how we should use them.

Great people have a knack for discovering this. They figure out what they’re good at and they do it. I think most come to this discovery naturally and without much thought. It’s instinctive. This is the most important lesson for anyone to learn. We need to find and follow our purpose. A man whose intellect is far superior to mine once said: “You gain points by following your unique purpose. You lose points if you follow some else’s purpose.”

Proof

The above lessons are helpful. With them, we can understand better how great people are able to accomplish so much. They give us a road-map to help us on our own journey. So, one reason we have great people, who become famous, is to help the rest of us understand some of these “lessons of greatness”. They help us understand how they accomplish great things.

But there is another, more important reason. Great people show us what is possible. They show the power of human potential. They give us real life examples of the potential our world has to offer. They are flesh and blood just like us, yet they have done things most people don’t even dare to dream of.

Here’s an example:

For centuries, people assumed the four-minute mile was impossible. The “experts” believed humans simply did not have the physical ability to run that fast.

Then in 1954, Roger Bannister did the impossible. He ran a mile in less than four minutes. Six weeks later, another person broke the four-minute barrier. Since then dozens of runners have done the same thing.

Once one person broke through the magical barrier, it was easier for others to do the same thing. They knew it was possible because another person had already done it.

We put great people on pedestals. We do this so they can remind us we can all be great. They are real-life examples that we all have a purpose. We all have unique talents and skills. We all have the ability to accomplish great things in our lives.

They help us see what does not yet exist for us. They help us see our dreams by achieving theirs. They help us have the faith and courage and persistence and focus we need to make our dreams happen. The great people in our world do a great service to the rest of us.

So, next time you meet someone famous who has accomplished great things, shake their hand and thank them. I know I will.

(Photo credit: Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels)

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