"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V)
Greatness. What a concept. It's not something we ponder every day. At least, I don't. Make that didn't. Two recent events dragged greatness into my awareness. First, I was invited to contribute to a book called, Become Your Own Great And Powerful: A Woman's Guide To Leading Your Real, Big Life. There was that great word, right in the title, waiting to be explored, understood, and written about. Second, I began the process of coach certification. Hanging about with coaches, you seldom go for more than an hour without hearing that word. You need to "elecit your client's greatness," which, perhaps not surprisingly, you do by "coming from your own greatness." Apparently it takes greatness to know greatness.
You might say greatness was thrust upon me. Clearly, I needed to understand what this concept of personal greatness is all about. What a great opportunity.
Find the word "great" in a dictionary and you'll get many references to size. It's derived from and Old English word meaning "thick" or "coarse," neither of which strike me as being particularly great. Over time, like the word "magnitude" it has come to mean more than "large" and is imbued with attributes of significance and superiority.
In childhood, it was definitely not cool to entertain the idea that there might be something great about oneself. I, and maybe you, learned from peers that to be boastful or "stuck-up" was close to the worst thing in the entire universe. "She thinks she's so great," was definitely not a compliment. Trying to fit in and be accepted, our active little egos squashed any efforts by our greater selves to be seen in the world. For many of us, they still do.
That can leave us with a yearning to be more and better that's at odds with a long-established habit of limiting our own reach. In trying to understand why some of us choose to play small rather than go for it all, I see a kind of modesty that doesn't really serve us well. It may not even be genuine. True humility is not self-conscious; it's unconscious. A colleague recently suggested that when we are consciously being humble our ego is in the driver's seat, trying to control how we appear to others. When we're concerned with others' approval, who's really steering?
Our True Selves
I'm starting to understand greatness as being directed by your true self, not some version of yourself that comes from outside you. I'm not advocating anarchy, impulsiveness or life as an outlaw. Far from it. I'm hoping to unleash that "spark of the divine" in us all. Explore what, by your inner standards, gives you a sense of real peace, real accomplishment, real purpose. It's a way of being that looks at your world and says, "This is possible - and it brings me to life."
Greatness is living fully, using the interests, intellect, spirit and talents you were born with in ways that inspire you. Greatness is not about saving the world, though that might happen if we all lived that way.
The first thing you have to do is regognize that you have greatness - current, potential, and possible greatness. We're quick to point out our flaws, failings, weaknesses, and warts. But ask us about our strengths and we're speechless. We need to rewrite the stories we tell ourselves all day long, those movies running in an endless loop in our heads.
These new stories will include the great things our true selves are and do and will continue to be and do. And I would suggest we write those stories down, though we may be their only reader. The act of writing can make the stories seem as real as they are, by getting them into the body and onto the page. Burn the stories, publish them, save them, read them - it doesn't matter. The point is to create them, see them, believe them, and live them.
Isn't it time to tell yourself the story of your greatness?
If you're interested in the book project that inspired this column, follow these links to find the book, Become Your Own Great And Powerful: A Woman's Guide To Leading Your Real, Big Life and a recording of a radio interview with our editor, Barbara Bellissimo, about writing and publishing a collaborative book.