Thursday, April 9, 2009

Finding Greatness...

Several months ago I stood in a dark music hall in New York City, staring up at the stage in absolute amazement. Before me was one of my favorite musicians—backlit by a purplish-blue glow, guitar in hand, needing little more than his talent to evoke strong emotions, not only from me, but from the entire crowd.

As each song floated through the beautiful historic building, I felt more introspective than I have in quite some time. How can someone be so multi-talented, when most individuals struggle to find strength in just one skill? This particular artist can not only play melodious guitar, but can also sing his lyrics in such a powerful way that individuals are moved to action. That evening, whether the crowd around me hushed their voices previously engaged in heartfelt conversation or stood in quiet admiration, this artist did what many only hope to do: he made people feel.

I left New York that night full of inspiration, but full of questions, too. What am I capable of? Am I good at anything in life?

This past weekend, I nursed the stomach flu on the couch with an entire season of a long- beloved show of mine, Felicity. Nothing like twenty-four hours of college angst to set some priorities straight and get you thinking about your direction in life! One particular male character in the show spends his first year of college searching for his place in life…trying to find out what he is good at. A former track star with good grades, he finds himself in academic trouble, and fails to make the college track team after a grueling schedule of tryouts. At the season’s end, he makes a comment to Felicity, “You’ve got your grades, Noel has his design work, Julie has her music, and Shawn has his inventions…what do I have?”

These two recent experiences not only made me question my own value in the world, but also made me realize that this is a common theme running through our culture. We’re all out there looking for the greatness within ourselves. Aspiring to be something more than we are today. We’re searching for that unique greatness that makes us different from each other. If we’re lucky, we find it, hone it, and reach our full potential.

Our society is full of individuals who have not only established their unique skills, but have surpassed greatness in every sense of the word: professional athletes, actors and actresses, musicians, authors, chefs, real estate moguls, computer gurus. In every professional category of life we can conjure up a list of standouts.

But what about the rest of us? The majority of people who may not be professional athletes or star chefs with Bravo television shows. Those of us simply living our lives searching for our own level of greatness. Those of us wondering what it is that we’re good, or possibly even great, at.

Many of us can look at our friends, our family members, our co-workers, and even strangers and are able to distinguish what defines their greatness. We see that our friend can draw exceptionally well, our brother can run a mile under six minutes, and our co-worker can draw in a crowd of colleagues through her powerful public speaking skills. But when we look inward to identify our own skills, we often come up empty-handed, feeling like we fall short in every life category.

I’ve found myself wondering if I’ll ever be truly be good at any particular skill, and what it actually takes to be great at something.

Some believe individuals are born with natural, raw talent. Some believe it takes dedication and practice to be great. And others believe that all it takes to be good at something is a strong will and a positive attitude.

I believe it isn’t that simple.

Lou Holtz, the inspirational college football coach, once said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. And attitude determines how well you do it.”

I couldn’t agree more. But how does one find out what it is they’re good at?

I would love to say that I’m a great photographer, a fast and experienced marathon runner, a great writer, a multi-faceted musician, and an extraordinary cook. The fact is, I am none of these things. Is it because I haven’t put in the time and dedication needed to perfect these skills? Maybe. Is it because I don’t have a natural ability specific to these areas of interest? Maybe. Could I be great at something else in life that I haven’t even tried yet? Maybe. Perhaps I’m destined to be the most extraordinary painter that ever lived. I’ll never know, because aside from the finger painting I used to love at age five, I’ve never picked up a brush in my life.

The great spiritual leader Gandhi has stated, “Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it…even if I didn't have it in the beginning.”

So, maybe finding greatness starts with searching. Searching within to find out what motivates you, what inspires you, what makes you feel alive.

Try everything once. Then try it again. Use your inner intuition to guide you towards your own definition of greatness.

If you see the greatness in those around you, tell them. This simple act could be the inspiration an individual needs to tap into his or her own potential.

Starting today, I’m going to run a little faster, take more pictures, and write a little more. I’m going to volunteer my time to more causes and individuals that might need my help. I’m signing up for piano lessons, even though I’ve never played in my life (but have always wanted to!). I’m going to take cooking classes, play tennis with more focus, and maybe even master Downward Dog.

Become your passion, let it become you. Great things are sure to happen.

Whatever it may be, I’m going to find what it is that I’m great at…ah, hell, maybe even just good at.

Good is enough for me.

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