A Blueprint for Greatness.
I wanted to see if I could turn greatness into a blueprint; something that could be adopted by anyone. In studying great people such as Lao Tzu, Martin Luther King, Elon Musk, Gandhi, The Wright Brothers, Oprah, Mother Teresa and a many others, I found some key factors they all shared. All of them possess the following six traits, which I call The Blueprint for Greatness. If you can adopt all six into your life, you may be able to achieve all they did as well.
Greatness Blueprint #1:
Great people value hard work and determination.
This one was obvious, like the free space on the Bingo card. Hard work and determination is the first step in doing anything great. However, if that were all it took to do amazing things, we’d see a lot more of the Steve Jobs kind of greatness everywhere. There are plenty of hard working people out there, but there aren’t a lot of Oprahs. So yes on the hard work, but there is something more the true greats do when they work hard.
In looking at Gandhi and Martin Luther King, I considered how they become so prominent when a lot of other people were promoting their own civil rights agendas. It had to be more than determination. How did MLK gain national status when so many other civil rights leaders were doing much of the same great work? It was inspiration! They inspired others by displaying a level of commitment to their cause that few others could match or anyone had ever done. This lead me to Greatness Blueprint point number two.
Greatness Blueprint #2:
Great people are committed to their beliefs and they show it.
When Elon Musk started SpaceX and Tesla, he didn’t just run around looking for investors so he didn’t have to take on any financial risk. He had made 180 million from the sale of PayPal and he put every dollar of it into these companies. Mother Teresa didn’t urge people to give to the poor while sitting comfortably in a church office. She moved to Calcutta and lived with the people in the same squalor they did. Those who take on monumental challenges don’t point to the skinny limb of life and urge their followers to go there, they head out there first. They are the first to take the big leap of faith and they often are the first to suffer the most harmful blows for their beliefs. They have the cuts and bruises to prove their commitment to the cause. They set a very high standard for others to follow and those who do are asked to make similar sacrifices. In fact, having followers is our next point on the Greatness Blueprint.
Greatness Blueprint #3:
Great people enroll others into their cause.
Great people don’t just enroll others, they ask them to engage in behavior they normally would never do. Great people often ask their followers to work long hours for no pay, to take the back seat while others get the glory, to put themselves into danger and even potentially die for their ideals. People may accuse followers of being drawn into a cult and, frankly sometimes it seems like they are. Consider the parents of the young people engaged in Gandhi’s movement. It’s unlikely they would have considered Gandhi a great man when they visited their children in the hospital or jail. Great people have the courage to make these bold requests because they have a commitment to their vision that cannot be budged. Thusly, they hold their followers to a very high standard. They are unbending in their ask and often unreasonable. This causes them to come off as abrasive, hard edged and they often seem like jerks. Strangely enough, that’s another point on the Greatness Blueprint.
Greatness Blueprint #4:
Great people are jerks.
Does greatness really require being a jerk? Was Gandhi a jerk? Was MLK a jerk? Was Mother Teresa a jerk? Actually, yes, yes and yes. This is a hard one to swallow so let’s examine the qualities of a ‘jerk’. A jerk doesn’t care what people think about them. They are singularly focused. They believe they deserve everything and shouldn’t have to compromise. They think that they are right and they aren’t too interested in your point of view. Most of all, they don’t engage in what we consider to be common courtesy.
The reason great people are jerks (as described above) is due to the insurmountable odds they have to face every day to achieve their objectives. They are constantly barraged with unsolicited advice from people telling them how their movement should be run. They are criticized by those who aren’t focused on achieving a vision but instead are looking for approval or their own glory. They have to hold steadfast to their ideals because so many people around them are trying to water down those ideals for their own selfish purposes. People judge them constantly and therefore they have to put a bubble around themselves where they aren’t afraid of being judged or even labeled as crazy. In fact, going a little crazy is an essential of the Greatness Blueprint.
Greatness Blueprint #5:
They walk the line of insanity and occasionally step over it.
Greatness and crazy go hand in hand. When you think about it, there really isn’t much difference between The Wright Brothers, a couple of bicycle shop owners attempting to invent the airplane, and a guy who says he’s going to dig a hole to China. Both have an objective that most would say is impossible to achieve. Both would have friends who try to talk them out of it. Both would have a great deal of experts pointing out the logical flaws of their plans. Both would have invested a great deal of time, money and their personal reputations into their endeavors. Perhaps the only difference between doing something crazy and doing something great is the outcome. Had the Wrights failed, they may have been history’s cautionary tale rather than a story of great achievement. People might have said, “Don’t take on that crazy idea, you don’t want to end up like the Wright Brothers.” In greatness, people must suffer the slings and arrows of judgment from others. They are thought of as crazy, and indeed, in order to achieve their objectives, they truly must be. In all rationality, the Wrights should have said to each other, “We run a bicycle shop. There’s no way we can make an airplane!” Yet, it’s a good thing for all of us they chose the path of insanity. Certainly, both the Wright Brothers and our friend digging the hole to China had to step into a little bit of crazy in order to handle their own personal doubts…which is our next Blueprint point.
Greatness Blueprint #6:
They make friends with fear, doubt, and uncertainty.
Imagine you’re a 19-year-old Steven Spielberg. You’re standing outside the Warner Brothers Studios, watching important-looking people going onto the lot. What thoughts would go through your mind? “How am I ever going to get in there? Will anyone really let me direct a movie?” Imagine all the fear and doubt you’d have. It’s how most people feel and it’s why most people give up on following their dreams. So how did Spielberg, Coppola, Lucas and all the other greats manage to follow through where others did not? Oddly enough it wasn’t just bold determination. It wasn’t a superhuman ability to cast fear aside. It was a willingness to allow themselves to be afraid. They felt the doubt. They wondered if success would ever happen for them. However, rather than look for ways to not feel it, they understood that fear, doubt and uncertainty would forever be their traveling companions on this journey of greatness. They decided the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach wasn’t an indication they should stop. Instead, that feeling told them they were doing something revolutionary! All people stepping into greatness understand feeling uncomfortable, or even feeling overwhelming self-doubt, is part and parcel to taking on the challenges required to do extraordinary things.
Do you think you can follow the Blueprint for Greatness?
It’s a hard road. You’ll need to consider some serious questions. How great do you want to live your life? How unpopular are you willing to be? How many people are you willing to disappoint? How many fires are you willing to stand in? Henry Ford bankrupted five automobile companies before being successful with the Ford Motor Company. Imagine how much self-doubt and pain he must have felt at every failure.
Greatness demands loneliness, unpopularity, criticism, rejection, and a lot of talks from the people you trust, urging you to stop.
Yet, for those willing to slog through this minefield of uncertainty, for those willing to cross the harrowing and dangerous road bridge of destiny, for those who do follow the Blueprint of Greatness, your name may go down in history. You may be in league with the other big players in the world like Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Muhammad Ali, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Plato, da Vinci, Picasso, Edison, Rosa Parks, Beethoven, Disney, Neil Armstrong, Richard Branson, Hemingway, John Lennon, Michael Jordan, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, Freud, Billie Holiday, and more!
So just how big are you willing to play? How great can you stand it?