When we talk about the Greats, these people of magnificent prowess in the highest ranks of their respective fields, we think about them being born into their roles, as though their success was somehow preordained, fated. We have been taught that genius comes from those exceptional people who are born that way, but the fact remains that these people were not born with their exceptional talent. They put in the hours to hone their skills. They worked for it. They were not born lucky, they made their luck. They were not fated, they created their own fate. These exceptional people are just like you and me, with one key difference: a relentless pursuit towards whatever they did.
The Greats of every part of our world, from business to art to sport, were all human, and some weren’t spectacularly good at what we would expect them to be great at. Our imaginations allow us to hold genius to a mythical standard, with these people turning everything they touch into intellectual gold. Many of them were social outcasts, some failed at formal education, and a few were even labelled “insane” in the medical sense. Steve Jobs was a dropout. Charles Darwin wasn’t great at school. Leonardo da Vinci was an outcast. Vincent van Gogh was considered a failure and a madman. These people were just that, people. But they shared something in common: they didn’t accept the status quo. They each in their own way shattered glass ceilings, rebelled and created ideas and inventions that were never before seen or understood.
Everyone has the potential
Every single one of us has the potential to be great, to be magnificent in your own right. It does not mean that you are pushing towards fame or a bigger bank account, and it does not mean that you have to sacrifice your life to become a slave to your ambitions. It does not mean that you have to give up your day job. How often do you go into the world and experience excellent customer service from someone who went above and beyond to deliver your expectations and then some? This is the type of potential we can all achieve. The same rule applies to business people, janitors, rubbish collectors, artists and sales folks. Whatever your job, whatever you do, make sure that you do the best damn job out there. If you’re a cleaner, you be the best cleaner anyone has ever seen. Hone your craft, whatever it is. Don’t waste that potential. Be the best at whatever you do, and you’ll be able to look back at what you’ve done to see that you have lived up to your potential with no regrets.
Perfectionism, obsession and consistency
What about those who don’t just want to live up to their potential but want to become masters of their field? This is when the goalpost moves from full potential to top 5%. Again, everyone has the potential to do this, they just need to dig deep and do the work. Going from average to genius takes more than just time. You need a drive for perfection, to refine your work to the highest standard. Obsession is a common thread for this type of dedication. Charles Darwin studied barnacles for eight years while developing the theory of evolution. Great work takes time, and to stick to it means that you have to become obsessed with the idea to keep you going. Darwin also showed up, every day, and worked on this theory. Consistency for eight years, an obsession with the curiousity of origin, and a drive to perfect his theory is what made him a genius.
Think about cooking. Most of us can cook a half decent meal. But if we selected one meal, put some more effort into it, experimented a little more, refined the method and practiced it often, your recipe will be a masterpiece. This is true for all of our favourite dishes that we like to cook. I love chilli, and I enjoy making it because I’m good at it, but I got good because I added in something different, refined the method, obsessed about making the best chilli because I love chilli. My first batch was edible, but it really needed work. Putting in the research and reading about how good chilli is made helped, but I thought about what flavours I liked most and how they worked together. Now I make a chilli I am proud of. I also did the same with my coffee method, because I love coffee and I want to have the best cup every single morning. Yes I’m a bit of a mad woman but that’s all part of me.
The road to Genius is a lonely road
The Greats did not only share this burning desire to create a legacy and change the world. They were also all incredibly misunderstood by many. I didn’t learn this by reading it, I learned it by looking at the world around me. Those who are driven to create typically like solitude so that they can focus without excessive distraction. Once you gain momentum, you enjoy it, want more of it and that leads to prolonged solitude to push past your boundaries. This does wonders for your personal relationships… not. Most people view those with this level of dedication as weird, loners, and madmen. Personally, I welcome this, but I’m a little misanthropic as I’ve always been misunderstood.
I also understand that to become a master in your field, you need to dedicate as much of your waking time to this, get adequate rest, and enrich your mind, body and soul. You need to sacrifice your hours spent socialising and scrolling aimlessly through social media. So many hours are spent wasted binge watching series after series, scrolling through a sea of virtual breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and posting photos for people you don’t know or like to press a button which provides no actual reward. I aware of how cynical that makes me sound, but is it? We work hard to earn money to pay debts from buying things with money we did not have to impress people we do not like. None of this makes sense, yet, we are all guilty of it.
Having nice things isn’t a bad thing, knowing when you have enough is important. As a human, I forget this sometimes and lose myself in a materially focused world, only to snap out of it and realise how unlike me that really is. Humans are wired for social acceptance and respect from our peers, so getting lost in doing what is natural isn’t a crime, but it isn’t for me, and I possess the awareness to understand that, and the strength to go against the grain. Spending my days honing my skills is a day well spent for me. For others, spending their day with friends or family is a day well spent for them. We are all unique in our thinking and methods, but we can live up to our potential without all becoming social pariahs.
When you decide that great isn’t enough, that you desire to become a master of your field, you know that you will be judged for it. Maybe the world will change in the future, but for now, if you’re not obsessed with social media, you’re weird. Once you can understand and accept that, digitally unplug, ignite that passion in your soul and dedicate your time to becoming a master of your craft, then you will have fulfilled your life’s purpose. Just remember that the road is a lonely one. Not everyone will accept it, and very few will truly understand it. You are not alone in that journey and always remember that the pioneers were few and far between but did what was required to push our species forward.
What about me?
I don’t want to be good at what I do. I want to be great. Creating a new method of writing or painting may not be in my cards, but deep down, I want to make a profound impact on those who come into contact with the work I produce. Like everyone, yes I want nice things, but I don’t aspire to drive the fanciest car to my funeral. Making people shift uncomfortably in the seat of their souls is the sort of impact I crave. A shift of change. A spark ignited. Hope restored, and a place for those who are misunderstood can find comfort. Our time is very limited on this planet, and I intend to live up to my potential. In the end, I want no regrets, no wishes for more time for I have used my time wisely and fulfilled my desires for life.
You only live once.