On "Greatness": Seeing It, Knowing It, Building It, Being It.

When I sit down to write for any purpose other than academia, it’s usually with a very abstract idea of a topic.

Honestly, I’m not a powerful writer; I never turn my words toward elegance, but rather directness. As long as I pound the point home by the conclusion, who cares? I may have a theme in mind that I plan to address, but, without fail, each article, letter, or essay turns out differently than I expect.

I’ve learned to stop expecting specifics from my writing, apart from the “finished/sent”, “generally comprehensible”, and “no typos” criteria.

(To be honest, I’ll be happy with this post if “finished” is the only criteria it meets.)

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Several months ago, I was asked to contribute to an amazing project by my friends and colleagues at Convos With Coaches called “Dear Her”; they planned to assemble and publish a series of letters from female strength coaches and distribute it to young athletes. A brilliant idea, I thought.

The topics were general; mindset, goal-setting, performance, work ethic, and more. They were all things that we address daily while coaching or consulting with athletes, with the overarching theme being “the journey to Greatness”.

How hard can it be?

Spoiler Alert: it was hard enough that it took me all of those several months until yesterday, 07 December 2018, to send my letter. The last possible second to submit. (Leslie, I’m so sorry!)

It’s not that I had nothing to tell young athletes. Shoot, I’m running my mouth with them every day. I’ve been one myself. They DM me on Instagram or Twitter regularly. I’m not so far away from them in age or experience that I’ve nothing to share.

“Greatness” isn’t easy. It’s a buzzword right now, with inspiring public figures Lewis Howes and motivational speakers like T. Robbins adding it to every second sentence.

The problem is that “Greatness” is something I’ve thought about my whole life. I’ve seen it, heard about it, wanted it, thought about it, searched for it since I was a kid. My “journey to Greatness” was literally been about trying to define Greatness itself.

It seemed too grandiose a topic and I too incapable of a writer to do it true justice.

What was I supposed to say?

Like a good scientist who has and probably will forever spend her life attached to academia, the time crunch of “send that sh*t or don’t!” finally made me spill onto paper (or Google Translate, bye!). For better or for worse.

Here are my thoughts, and I would love to hear yours.

Standing amongst the highest peaks in Europe with one of my life-long friends was pure Greatness to me. Beautiful, invigorating, and forever carve in my mind!  Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Standing amongst the highest peaks in Europe with one of my life-long friends was pure Greatness to me. Beautiful, invigorating, and forever carve in my mind!

Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Seeing It.

Where do you notice Greatness?

For me, it’s in the places where feats of human courage, perseverance, and talent happen.
It’s in the presence of people who are passionate about creating more good in the world.
It’s amongst the most beautiful, most picturesque place on earth.

It’s sometimes impressive, and sometimes it’s inspiration.

Greatness is not always on display.

Contrary to society’s common belief that louder and more flamboyant is better and greater, that’s not the case. Sometimes it just is. Sometimes it’s the quietest thing in the room.

Why do you think so many “great” people are recognised after they’re gone?
Jane Austen.
Kafka.
Van Gogh.
Bach.

These people are household names to us now, known for the exquisite talents that left beautiful masterpieces behind them, but they had no scale of fame while they were alive. But aren’t they great?

When you see Greatness, big or small, acknowledge it.

Don’t pass over it because it’s not already on a pedestal or excessively and colourfully plastered everywhere in sight.

Knowing It.

What do you feel in the presence of Greatness? 

Are you called to action by it?
Are you inspired by it?
Are you convicted by it?
How does it move you?

Popular serial entrepreneur and CEO of VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk, once said that Greatness “invokes a feeling in the stomach at the sound of a name.”

For me, sometimes it is. Just hearing a name or a story alone can move me. A stirring and motivation so deep, it threatens to change my biochemistry and drives me to act. 

When you’ve been in the presence of something or someone who’s truly great, I believe that it changes you.

Remaining the same is now out of the question. You’ve somehow been changed forever.

In my life, it’s been stories like that of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, the Von Trapp Family’s escape from war-torn Europe to the US, the Ten Boom Family in Holland during WWII, Matthew Shepard and how his death changed the world, and many more.

It’s been names like Brené Brown, like Julie Andrews, like Beyoncé, like my mentors and my undergraduate and graduate advisors, and so many female athletes and coaches, I can’t even begin to list them all here.

They move me. Inspire me. Drive me to more.

Wherever and however you experience someone or something’s Greatness, don’t pass that over. It’s important.

Building It.

How does one acquire greatness?

Let me be honest about my shallowness: since the first day I remember being alive, I have dreamed about being great.

There I was on graduation day, masking my complete terror and insecurity of what to do next and how with my fancy honours.  We thank God and the Universe that my eyebrows have been redeemed since then.

There I was on graduation day, masking my complete terror and insecurity of what to do next and how with my fancy honours.

We thank God and the Universe that my eyebrows have been redeemed since then.

I thought that if I could…
have a rocket IQ
get straight As and take honours and AP classes
learn more languages
have a wider vocal range
captain my soccer team
play more advanced classical pieces
make the travel or high school team
lead the band at church
have the name brand saddle for my horse
get into a prestigious college
serve in public office or intelligence
get published young
go to medical school
run a multi-million dollar start-up

I’d finally be great. I’d be special. I’d have “made it”.

The funny thing is, I did (or started to do) a lot of those things.

Languages? Got it. Honours and prestigious schools? Done. Music and sports? Check and double check. Work for the military? Roger. Build a company? Yep. I achieved what I wanted to do in order to be great… but that’s just what it was.

It was achievement.

I guess I could hang my diplomas on my wall and tell my friends about all my degrees. I could haul my prizes and trophies and medals and distinctions overseas and put them on a shelf. I could change my Twitter bio to “Entrepreneur. Consultant. Soon-To-Be Doctor”.

Congrats to me. I have an alphabet soup behind my name and a four-page CV, and it’s worthless.

Here’s what I learned:

Most of us are insecure. We can’t let our insecurities redefine Greatness as something we must achieve or that we must earn.

Action is great. It moves us and the world forward.

It can also be immensely fruitless and frustrating when the goal is unrealistic and the journey is relentlessly critical. When we focus our eyes on decorating our “I Love Me” Walls, we lose the simplicity and beauty of what this is all about.

Achievement can be immensely selfish. Oftentimes we are just trying to mask our fear and feelings of unworthiness by somehow proving our value to others through money, fame, and titles. That’s an awfully self-focused definition, and this fear keeps us from truly stepping forward into our true Greatness.

“How very little can be done under a spirit of fear.”

Florence Nightingale

At the same time, achievement can be impressive and inspiring. No one disputes that Olympic medals, owning a mansion in LA, and winning an Oscar aren’t incredible accomplishments.

It’s great to score goals. It’s great to break records. But that Greatness will be surpassed by the next person and someday forgotten. It’s very nice to have your name listed among others in a book. But did the world change, were people moved, and was society impacted by this alone?

Greatness is inherent to each of us, and it’s not about us at all. It’s about other people. We don’t have to pay our dues to society or a higher power or an institution or other people to tap into it.

Being It.

What are the qualities of the people and stories that we see Greatness in?

The core of Greatness is consistent goodness in action. It’s Goodness Multiplied.

It’s courage. It’s humility. It’s gratefulness. It’s kindness. It’s honesty and graciousness and generosity.

Whether it’s loud or quiet or recognised or not, it matters.

Dr. Mike Young is someone I met this year who embodies Greatness when you meet him.

Dr. Mike Young is someone I met this year who embodies Greatness when you meet him.

Some people are impressive and motivational in their achievements and messages, but the practice of true Greatness is a rarity.

It takes bravery.
Endurance.
Authenticity.
Patience.
Work.
Community.
Service.
Openness.
Empathy.
Truth.

Those things move and change others. Those qualities inspire and call people to action to change the world. Those characteristics are already yours.

Whoever and wherever you are, whether you are stuck believing achievement will finally prove you are worthy or if you’ve already cleared out those disruptive cobwebs, you were given a unique package of gifts, ideas, experiences, and personality to impact the world for the better. You can’t express your fullest capacity of Greatness without knowing, excepting, and being your fullest self first.

Exercise this special collection of traits in the most honest, humble, open, and kind way that you can, and find others who practice this to accompany you.

That’s being great.

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As for me, I finally figured out, after 23 years, that money and titles wouldn’t make me happy. They wouldn’t make me worthy. They wouldn’t do anything at all, except decorate my house and leave me feeling more frustrated and lost than before.

Even though Greatness is already in us and can’t be achieved, it isn’t free. It costs us time, energy, sweat and blood and tears to figure out how we become and express it.

It takes some growing pains to figure out who we truly are, what our purposes, and what our unique impact on the world is before we reach Greatness.

I’m hard-headed, and it took me several serious losses, betrayals, and a lot of time spent alone in reflection while “making it” to realise that Greatness is not a destination - it’s found on the path to wherever we’re going.

So, as we head into 2019, I’d like to thank 2017-2018 for completely humbling and stripping me of my achievements. It made me get to know myself very well, become much less focused on my own power and platform, and so much more dedicated to serving and teaching, helping and healing, listening and giving, and expressing my own completeness and Greatness to the world.

I hope that, whatever your New Years Resolution may be for next year, you focus less on “do this” and more on “be this”.

"You were born with potential. 
You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. 
You were born with wings. 
You are not meant for crawling, so don't. 
You have wings. 
Learn to use them and fly.”

Rumi