“You can only become great at that thing you’re willing to sacrifice for.” — Maya Angelou
Greatness. That is a word I’ve dreamt about many times. What does it mean? How can I create greatness in my life? Was I meant for greatness, or should I be satisfied with a mediocre existence? I believe greatness is relative. It means different things for different people.
However, I want to have an impact on the world. Make my mark. To be better than what I am; what I do. It may result from low self-esteem, which is very possible in my life. But there is one thing I know: I am searching, reaching, and aspiring to greatness. First, though, I must prepare myself for this journey. But how?
Over the years, I found four areas of self-improvement vital to achieving greatness. Not that I have; I’m still working on it every day. These areas are insight, empathy, value, and generosity.
Before I take action or make a decision, I ask myself one question: why do I want to do it? Take an honest look. Do you want this thing for selfish reasons? Is it a choice or are you compelled? Then I asked myself a second set of questions.
What are your core values? Your qualities — positive and negative. What areas do you need to grow? To truly understand, you must make a commitment to improving yourself and your interaction with others. Mind you, these are all goals we strive to achieve.
For instance, I had issues with unforgiveness. Growing up in a dysfunctional home caused me to internalize a significant amount of anger. I don’t know if anger can be measured, but I carried it like a chain rattling around my heart.
Before I could accomplish anything in life, I had to practice forgiveness. I made a list of everyone who hurt me in word or deed, and then I went line by line and verbally forgave them.
Even if I did not feel like I’d forgiven others or myself, I kept at it until I felt the chain drop free. Releasing those negative thoughts and tendencies that accompany anger and unforgiveness allow you to heal emotionally, which may positively impact your physical health, too.
Considering others in your decisions is a characteristic of greatness. How do your choices affect the lives of others? Empathy is the ability to step into another person’s reality. To feel what you feel.
It paves the way for effective interactions. There are three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to see the other’s perspective. This type of empathy is good for negotiations and managers. It is empathy by thought instead of feelings.
For instance, a friend may be enduring a break-up with a significant other. Telling them you understand while offering words of encouragement or a hug is an example of cognitive empathy.
Emotional empathy is when you feel the emotions of someone else. It is as if you caught their emotions. It is vital for those in the caring professions.
For instance, emotional empathy helps doctors and nurses to respond appropriately to their patients. Or a mother to a baby.
Compassionate empathy is consistent with the emotional type, but it goes a step further to include action. This kind of empathy encourages you or someone else to choose measures to resolve the problem.
For example, if you see someone in need of food, you buy them groceries. Or you can donate to an organization that feeds the homeless.
When I worked at the Salvation Army many decades ago, I was called an angel of mercy because I helped those in need after the May 3, 1999 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. I went out in the field and found victims of the disaster helping with vouchers for food and supplies.
3. Create Value
The third characteristic of greatness is to create value. I’ve been working to create something worthwhile my entire life. For me, it is very simple: Do what is in your hands to do.
This can take many forms. Caregivers are the most common and unrecognized heroes of greatness. Caregivers, whether paid or not, pour their lives into others. Their value is infinite and will touch generations to come.
Another example of creating value is myself. After my illness incapacitated me, I had no purpose, and I felt useless. That is when I discovered my writing group, and they taught me to write. My life had meaning again.
I started a publication, and now I create value through my writing. I write to encourage, inspire, and empower others to live fulfilled lives. My vision became my value.
Think about what you can do for those in front of you, at work, home, or online. Can you start a podcast for overwhelmed mothers in crisis? What about creating an exercise class for the chairbound elderly via Zoom?
The choices are infinite and unique as you are. Take a risk and reach out. What do you have to lose?
Generosity embodies all the above characteristics. I believe it is expressed through our time, talent, and money. We use our insight to develop empathy and create value only to give it away for the betterment of humanity.
Each of us has something to give. Something as simple as kind words to an angry person. It would surprise you how often a simple gesture of kindness de-escalates conflict.
Second, we can give of our talents or natural ability. Maybe your talent is cooking or serving. The Salvation Army is always in need of volunteers to help in their preparation of meals to feed the homeless.
You can also donate money to causes close to your heart. For instance, donating to agencies that build homes for working families is a worthy cause. Those families considered the working poor. Also, donating to a disaster relief fund is very important in these times of climate change.
The desire to go above and beyond our status quo is a part of natural human achievement. However, we have the choice to live up to the mark of our high calling, or we can flounder in mediocrity. Regardless of your ability or resources, you are created for greatness.
It is up to you. What will you do?