By Jamie Collins, Yosha Cook Shartzer & Tisch
"There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming." - Soren Kierkegaard
There are certain times in your life when you know you’re in a room with greatness. You come across a unique person who is perhaps in a role where you never expected to find greatness. In these moments, we can’t help but take notice. These “great” people make us want to strive for our own greatness. They make us want to become better, to do more, to each shine our own unique light out into the world in our own way. Put simply: They inspire us.
About three years ago, I found myself walking into a crowded elementary school gymnasium. It was my son’s first grade year at a new school – one we had to jump a few non-residential hoops to get him into. I’m not sure what I was expecting when the principal of that elementary school took to the stage that day, but it certainly wasn’t what she delivered. Sure, I expected her to rally the parents and to give a good speech with an enthusiastic presence. I expected her to tell us how crucial that what we do, as parents, is to what they do, as the educators of our children. I expected her to set standards, goals and expectations - probably high ones. But what she did surprised me. She inspired me.
From the first moment she spoke, I found myself captivated. Not because she was an eloquent speaker, although she was. Not because she said all the right things, because she did. Not because she seemed to fit the role. The truth is - she didn’t. Not even close.
She transcended that role that we – the parents expecting the formal pomp and circumstance seated on folding chairs – had built in our minds. She took what she did for a living and her role to a different level entirely. This lady elevated every preconceived notion or default thought I ever had about what an elementary school principal (and for that matter, a leader, teacher, speaker, presenter, preacher or person in charge of anything, anywhere) should actually be and do. She spoke with conviction and passion. She actually cared – and I mean really, truly, deeply cared. It echoed in the timber of the words she spoke and the dynamic, heartfelt way in which she spoke them. She set high expectations. Most importantly, her love for what she did for a living rippled off of her in small, invisible waves of intangible current that filled the air around us, enveloping each of us. I know it's not just me that felt this way. On every occasion where this lady has ever spoken, my husband and our own respective parents felt the exact same way – like she was made for this role. It was hers. She was going to set the bar, then raise it about 20 notches. She was there to show the world how the role was meant to be served. She expected more of herself.
I found myself seated on a tan folding chair feeling like I wasn’t just sitting in the middle of a gymnasium, not anymore. I was sitting in a room with a person who happened to be an elementary school principal – one who was teaching me an incredibly important life lesson. In short, she made me want more. She made me want more for myself, more for my child, more for my career, more for my life and more for all of the people around me, too.
I wanted to be great.
Not perfect – just great.
Great would be enough.
I wanted to become better, intentionally better. Not better than anyone else or everyone else, just better than myself, no matter how great or lacking I was at those things that I do best.
She made me want to transcend expectations, mine and others.
She made me want to own who I was, all that I was and what I did each day of my life more.
She made me want to give myself the permission needed to allow myself to walk into a room (or onto a blank screen), perhaps in my career as a paralegal (or a writer) and to own it, the same way she owned that small, elementary auditorium that day. She was in that space in her own way.
It was her gym.
It was her job.
It was her passion.
It was her place in life.
And we were all captive to her greatness, whether it was proffered intentionally, inadvertently or otherwise.
The thing about greatness is that you can feel it. You can see it. It makes you aspire to more. It makes you think things you never thought about prior. It makes you feel things you didn’t feel prior to the moment you found yourself in the presence of a “great” one.
Greatness doesn’t discriminate.
Greatness conquers limitations.
Greatness sets a new standard.
Greatness takes us to places we never dreamed we could go.
It allows us to become people in the future that we never knew we'd become.
It allows us to transcend our current roles (whatever they may be), to make our way toward the next big thing that is out there waiting on us.
Greatness is an option for each of us.
It requires dedication, passion, conviction, intentional action.
It requires you to leverage everything you have – to own all you are.
It requires you to take your knowledge, skills and abilities and to apply them all toward becoming better than you find yourself in this moment, better than you ever were before.
If you want greatness, what you need to know is this: It is available to you, to me, to each of us. It doesn't discriminate, so long as you are willing to put in the work.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a paralegal, a secretary, a mailman, a janitor, an attorney, a cashier, a manager or a student. It doesn’t matter if you’re the lady slinging fries at Rally’s, the guy pushing carts into Target, the lady at the bank, a person with potential sitting in an ordinary office…or an elementary school principal.
You can be great.
You can lead people.
You can inspire others.
You can become so much more than you are, here and now.
So much more than you ever were before.
So much more than you ever thought you could be.
But will you?
Because greatness is a choice you make.
To change one's life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.
“Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals, and to imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.”
~ Caroline Kennedy
Your greatness is not what you have, it’s what you give.
Exert your talents, and distinguish yourself, and don't think of retiring from the world, until the world will be sorry that you retire. […or take a big promotion and step away from that elementary school auditorium, after all. To the incredibly inspiring lady pictured above - Congratulations, you earned it.]
~ Samuel Johnson
To the rest of you: Don't spend one more minute dwelling in the hallows of mediocrity – not one more minute sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to come along and validate you. Be more of yourself, the real you, the best you. Start today. Embrace your true potential. Validate yourself. Stop waiting. Stop wondering. Stop wishing. Take the best of who you are and choose to shine your own unique light out into the world in a way that only YOU can, starting today. Because greatness is a choice you make.
Only one question remains: Are you going to be a "great" one?