The world is full of paradox. Chock-full of counter-intuitive mental conundrums.
And one more to the litany of paradoxes is this idea of greatness.
Growing up–when I realized I wasn’t good enough at baseball to be the next Ozzie Smith–I decided for a more docile pursuit. After reading Tolkien, and then Hemingway, and then Salinger, I deemed writing to be a pursuit nearer to the mark. I read that TS Eliot loved cats and I loved cats! It was all so perfect–the way I was wired to write and all!
Of course, there were a few problems. First, I wasn’t that good. Sure, I was a passable humor writer when compared to others in my high school Composition class, but one in twenty is not the stuff of Pulitzers. Especially when many of those twenty were asleep.
I jaunted (because writers “jaunt” or “stroll” or “saunter”; they do not just WALK) off to college with greatness in mind. There, upon the banks of the Mississippi, I would become Twain. Later I would move to England, and Dickens became the target.
But seldom–and possibly never–was it ever about writing in and of itself. No, more often than not it was about glory. It was about self-exultant greatness that I could boast to others about and display on my mahogany shelves in my mahogany library while thumping my mahogany heart.
And that is the paradox whether your ambition is for writing or business or science . . . any field really. If my aim is to be a great teacher, I will only be as great as my own pride will let me. Greatness will become the aim, and the craft will sit idly by suffering while you toil along at promotion and clamor for the soul-sucking spotlight.
Simpy put, greatness should be a byproduct. And true greatness always is. The greatest thinkers, accountants, writers, chefs, parents, loan officers, are not great–at least not truly so–because they set out for greatness. They are great because they set out on mission. They wrote beautifully because their passion for writing wouldn’t let them pen it any other way. They close deals because, dang it, that is what they are put on this earth to do.
To be excellent at anything requires the sacrifice many things–pride and self-glory chief among them.
I don’t want my life to be about being great. That’s a cruel, losing chore. I want to be great at the things I put my mind, soul, and body to because I love such things, because I strive for excellence, and because a deeper motive lies behind each and every endeavor I put my hand to, both great and small. And that motive, for lack of a better word, is worship. Not the kind that seeks to put myself on a self-made pedestal nor that which trades out the maker for the medium, but that which causes me to disappear behind a pursuit that points emphatically at the Creator.
And there is where greatness–the truly fulfilling kind–lives.