I don’t like preachy articles, and I hope this one is not counted as one, but if it is… OK!
I hope we can all one day see the God in us. Most of us will probably never find out what our grandest selves are like, so I sometimes write idealistic articles such as this one.
Do allow me the pleasure of this self-indulgence.
A couple of months ago, I read an interview online about Quincy Jones which was published back in 2010 via US Weekly magazine. I was scheming through it, likely out of boredom. But as the conversation progressed, the interviewer attempted to compare Quincy to Kanye West, a producer and rapper in urban culture, for those who may not know.
Quincy’s response was swift and curt.
“How man? No way. Did he write for a symphony orchestra? Does he write for a jazz orchestra? Come on, man. He’s just a rapper. There’s no comparison. I’m not putting him down or making a judgement or anything, but we come from two different sides of the planet. I spent 28 years learning my first skill. I don’t rap. It’s not the same thing. A producer has to have some sort of skills that enable him to be a producer. It’s totally different to know what to do with 16 woodwinds you know from piccolos down to bass clarinet. It’s a whole different mindset. No comparison. None.”
Sure, he may have come off as arrogant, narrow-minded, overly critical, you name it, but in his response, what really struck me was this sentence:
“I spent 28 years learning my first skill.”
I immediately thought, “WOW! I’ve spent 28 years of my life… getting older!”
Quincy Jones, the incomparable maestro who produced Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” at the age of 49 – an album which went on to sell 110 million albums to date – started his career in music when he was 18 years old. He has worked with musical icons, has amassed over 70 grammy awards amongst many other acolades and is recognized the world over for his incredible work as both an artist. His drive was clear: coming from poverty, watching his mother being taken to a mental institution (in a strait jacket) at the age of 7, and having an abusive step-mother, he decided to make music his mother. And so he began, and never looked back.
What does greatness mean to you?
I look at the individuals I consider icons in their own rights, the social activists, religious and spiritual figures, musicians and globally recognized individuals in the arts, business and sports giants, the great inventors of the world, and I realize that the biggest reason why they are put in such incredibly high pedestals is because of one thing:
They chose their path, and paid the price for it. Many of them, eventually, paid for it with their lives.
It is a frightening and overwhelming path to consciously choose; the path to constantly break down barriers, stare in the face of adversity and choose to be a pioneer, the first person ever to stand up for something, to call status quo into question, or to create something so new, so revolutionary everyone thinks you have gone completely insane.
It is a tall order!
I asked myself the other day what I understood true greatness to be, and I came up with 12 definitions: –
- Greatness means total and unwavering dedication to what your highest goal and purpose is
- It means sacrificing copious amounts of time towards this vision, be it practising a skill or spending days, months, even years on end away from comfort in order to fulfil a burning cause or desire
- It means committing your entire life to this endeavour.
- It means isolation, or sometimes, banding together with a small group of people who see and understand your vision, because the majority will never understand your level of passion until you go down in history as one of the greats.
- Never ever settling for anything less than what your vision is, and pursuing it relentlessly till it is fulfilled or until your death
- It means showing profound vulnerability to yourself and others, especially during times when you don’t know where you are headed and where your vision is taking you.
- It means facing days of incredible darkness, when your fears come at you with ferocious determination, torturing you and seducing you into quitting, especially when you have given every part of yourself to your passion, to your cause. It means deciding to get up and keep going anyway.
- It means agonizing with the reality that you will have to leave behind those individuals who can no longer grow with you; people who may have known your whole life, who you have formed the deepest and closest bonds with. At a certain point in your evolution, they cannot come with you, because they no longer understand what you truly stand for.
- It means sometimes not recognizing the person you see in the mirror, because of how quickly you are growing and how much change you are going through. It makes you scared of the person staring back at you, because of your ultimate fear of whether you are truly evolving, or you will one day be exposed for the fraud that you are, because of your weaknesses and your mistakes.
10. It means taking on the monumental task of being a true leader to those who look up to you. They have never seen a light shine so brightly inside an individual, and feel compelled to follow you and your example. It means leading with wisdom, with service, with honesty and with integrity.
11. It means being completely honest with yourself. Living authentically. It also means keeping those people around you that you sometimes hate so much, because they are the only ones who will keep you grounded and tell you the brutal truth that you need to hear.
12. It means attaining new values and principles along your journey, because you realize that greatness is not about the achievements, but it is about constantly evolution of the self, and most notably, constant evolution of your soul.
These are my definitions of greatness.
I heard someone say that whenever we see something we love and admire in someone, it is because we recognize those same qualities in ourselves. I wondered for a long time if this was true. We spend so much time drowning ourselves in our flaws and shortcomings.
But what if it is true? What if it is not our shortcomings, but our strengths, our greatest contributions that we are most terrified to show the world, for fear of being ridiculed, for concern that we will become a targets? What would be so wrong with showing our own light? What would be so bad about showing our own version of greatness? The problem is, we are too scared.
I conclude this article with the words of Marrianne Williamson from her book “A Return To Love”, words that Nelson Mandela quoted in his inauguration speech in 1994:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”