Greatness: From Witness to Participant

Serena grew up in Compton playing tennis in a park where gang activity and drug deals were commonplace. Her father Richard was notorious for going to questionable lengths to instill mental toughness into his kids; once organizing a bus load of school children to surround the court where young Serena and her sister Venus were playing and shout insults at them.


Watch Nadal position two water bottles in a precise configuration, take alternating sips from each one, and then re-arrange them with surgical precision. That’s just one of many meticulous routines, rituals, and superstitions (seriously- it’s worth a Google).  For all I know, he may very well leave all his obsessive-compulsive tendencies at the tennis court.  But I doubt it.  I don’t think life is easy for him either. 

The point is, greatness doesn’t come easy for anyone.  It’s not predestined at birth.  It’s not the sole result of that mystical ingredient we call talent.   In her groundbreaking book Grit, Angela Duckworth explains that while talent does factor into the total equation of achievement, it’s much less of a factor than we are inclined to believe.
Duckworth’s equation is simple and profound:



Notice that effort factors into the equation twice. First, effort builds skill.  Then, when paired with the skill it helped produce, effort leads to achievement.
“With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”
“Do not talk about giftendness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness; they became ‘geniuses’.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

You don’t have to be elite to be better

So the good news is this; Effort is available to all of us.  Observing Greatness from other mere mortals who have overcome thier own set of challenges, weaknesses, and manifestations of their humanity reminds us that it’s not just reserved for a special predestined few. It’s available to anyone who is willing to work at it. No one comes out of the womb fully formed. No one just steps into excellence.  They work for it.  
And please don’t get distracted by the idea of greatness. You may not be an all-time legend competing with the best in the world.  Your work may never be displayed behind bullet-proof glass and flanked by guards.  That’s ok.  You don’t have to be elite by the world’s standards, to simply be better by your own.

So what’s your personal definition of greatness?

What do you really care about?

Does your current level of effort match what you claim to want?

What would it take for you to kill your excuses and take action?


If you’ve decided that you’re already as good as you could possibly be, then these questions don’t apply to you.  You’ve already won.  Witnessing greatness for you is simply good entertainment- take it in & enjoy.  
As for the rest of us- the ones who aren’t even close to mining the depths of our potential, considering these questions has tremendous value.  The answers may surprise you.  They may even make you uncomfortable- they certainly do for me.
But a beautiful thing happens when you acknowledge how much you’ve got left in the tank.  Your perspective expands.  The experience of witnessing greatness evolves from entertainment to inspiration.  Greatness, however you choose to define it, immediately becomes just a little more accessible.  Look at that; another flawed, broken, ordinary human being is doing something extraordinary.  Why not you?
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Nathan Terborg

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