Edit: Thank you to the 80k people who have read this piece. It looks like many people are struggling with the concept of "greatness". Let"s continue to support one another on the journey there.
Over the years, we’ve all encountered our fair share of successes and failures. As I’ve acquired more of both under my name, I’ve started to contemplate which experiences were truly “great” and why.
You are watching: What it takes to be great
Interestingly enough, I realized that it was not the sporadic highs that were exceptional, but instead the long hauls; the sequences of events that seemed minimal at each juncture, but compounded into major gains. This led me to think further about what greatness truly means. I’ve come to learn that it’s not about overnight successes or flashes of excellence, but periods of repeatable habits.Perhaps “great’, is just “good”, but repeatable.
Before stepping into the bulk of this article, I want to clarify two things:Greatness is not instantaneousGreatness is earned
The first step in becoming great is recognizing that you’re likely not already great. In fact, it comes from recognizing that there is no such thing as greatness at a specific instance in time. Greatness is instead a reflection of a period of effort, since greatness in a single instance can be reduced to luck.
Moreover, being “great” is not about being better than someone else. It is about being dependable and disciplined, and ultimately it is earned.
Many people, in theory, want to be “great”. In fact, each month 1000 people search “how to be great”, 260 people search “how to become perfect”, and 2400 people search “how to be the best”, looking for discrete answers on how to get from 0 to 1. Yet, many people in life realistically do not want to put in the effort over a sustained period of time to actually get to 1. They are looking for the “secrets to success” that in many ways, do not exist. You know what brings success? Hard work brings success.
So before proceeding forward in this article, I implore each of you to consider that if greatness truly is a reflection of non-instantaneous, earned effort, ask yourself if that’s the life you’d like to live. Ask yourself whether you’d like to spend your days, weeks, months, and years in a constant uphill battle.
If you ultimately find that you don’t want to do that, that’s fine! It doesn’t make you less of a person. At least you’ve broken from the holding pattern of thinking you want to do X but not understanding why you haven’t gotten there yet. And if that’s the case, go enjoy your Netflix and chill completely guilt-free.
With that in mind, let’s dive into what truly makes someone “great’.
It’s Hard to be Consistent
There’s a false impression that success or notoriety comes with being flashy. This notion comes from the media focusing on outliers, whether it be events or personalities which diverge from the norm. Not only can this encourage people to aim for notoriety just for the sake of it (think Elizabeth Holmes), but it makes the rest of us believe that correlation (of those outliers) is causation; in other words, success of those individuals is due to their offbeat ways. But here’s another storyline: the most sure and therefore the best way to “success” is through consistency.“Until you work as hard as those you admire, don’t explain away their success as luck.” - James Clear, Atomic Habits
To be clear, consistency isn’t necessarily the easiest way to success, but one that can be achieved with a higher level of certainty, rather than hoping for a lottery win or someone to “discover” you. Continuous effort is a more thoughtful approach that leads to greatness when the following statements are true:Inputs are consistent over timeIntentional inputs lead to expected outputs
Consistency“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich” - Outliers
There is a famous saying from Napolean Hill which says, “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way”. I would actually argue the quote should be, “If you cannot do great things, do small things a great number of times”.
If you don’t have the opportunity to “do great things”, focus on consistently achieving small wins. These small things in fact do not need to be done in a great way, but a good way, repeatably. In fact, I would advise not to focus on perfection, as it is often the enemy of the successful.
There’s glimmer and hoopla around unpredictability, but in reality, it’s much more difficult and therefore impressive, to be predictably good. For example:It’s easy to wake up whenever you “feel like it”. It’s hard to stick to a routine of getting up at 6AM.It’s easy to pivot from side project to side project, focusing on the new shiny object of the month.It’s hard to stick with a side project for years, many of which may not be profitable for a long while. It’s easy to give up on someone when you hit a roadblock or the next potential partner becomes available. It’s hard to be faithful and invest in a relationship for decades.
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We normally set out in life with good intentions. We intend to set a morning routine or work on a business until it"s profitable or to “love someone forever”. We imagine that as we invest in something, we will naturally continue to move in the right direction. If anything, things will get easier, right?
The described trajectory is what we perceive on the left. Predictable, linear, and a direct reflection of effort put in.
Rarely does success in anything look like that. Life is a series of tiny nodes that tend to look more like the right hand side. There two key elements worth calling out in the more realistic graph on the right:Compounding is always present. The earlier steps in any process will be more strenuous, yet it’s difficult to imagine the potential compounding that comes later on. With the ups, there are always downs. This seems obvious, but we often forget this when we are in periods of down. We quit at these local minimums (the highlighted sections in red above), because we cannot see the next peak right around the corner.
a friend just emailed me this note in response to my 'burn out' video. wanted to share;'the addiction to having success is what makes you feel unsuccessful at the times when you're not feeling the immediate dopamine hit of your work 'succeeding' at that precise moment.'