Why do some people succeed more than others?
Is it because they are more intelligent, more ambitious, they take more risks or is it just sheer luck?
When talking about the wealthy and powerful, most people want to know what they’re like – how intelligent they are, what kind of character they have or what unique talents they are born with. We assume that it is those personal traits that explain how some people got to the top.
The question they should ask instead is: what does it take to be great?
But, to uncover the path to greatness, you first need to understand what it means.
People define greatness in different ways. According to Wikipedia, it represents “a state of superiority affecting an individual or object.” Sir Francis Galton, an English sociologist, even argued greatness implies the possession of a natural ability to be better than others. In other words, biology plays a crucial role in people’s chances of achieving success. We all now know that not to be true and we’ve seen countless examples of individuals who succeeded against all the odds.
American journalist, Tony Schwartz tried to redefine the concept of greatness by saying that the real measure for it is our capacity to navigate hardship with ability and grace.
As you can see, although the idea of greatness is probably as old as time, people still struggle to understand it. The problem is that, without a clear understanding of what it means how to measure it, it’s almost impossible to tell if you achieved it.
Moreover, greatness is relative. For some people, being the best means bringing a positive change in the world (Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Gates, Winston Churchill, etc.) For others, it means being the best at what their doing (Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Tom Brady, etc.)
Whatever the case, one thing is clear: people aren’t born great; they become great.
A Real World Definition of Greatness
I am a big planner. I usually plan every week ahead, down to my wardrobe and meals. I like to think of all the things I want to do and find ways to make them happen.
But, I wasn’t always good at it. I started developing this habit in my early adulthood. I would write everything down to the last item, but most of the things on my list never come to fruition. Every time I’d look back at my goals, I’d realize that I’ve barely made any progress.
I learned then that I was more of a dreamer than a planner, so I tried to change that.
My mistake was that I was setting goals, but I had no way of telling if I am achieving them. My goals weren’t quantifiable.
Set Quantifiable Goals
Successful business people, top athletes, and achievers in all industries set goals. This process allows them to visualize their path to success and keeps them motivated. The problem is that most goals are useless if they aren’t grounded in reality. For example, if you just launched your business and your goal is to make $10 million in Q1, then that qualifies as dreaming not as smart goal setting.
Companies use the S.M.A.R.T system to set quantifiable goals, so take a look at them to learn how to create an actionable plan.
Although there are numerous variants, S.M.A.R.T usually stands for:
- Specific: Set real numbers with real deadlines. For example: “I want to be able to shoot five consecutive basketballs by the end of the month.”
- Measurable: How can you determine if your actions were effective if you don’t measure the results?
- Attainable: Everyone dreams of selling millions of dollars worth of products in just a couple of month, but that’s not very realistic. Dream big, but make sure your personal goals are attainable.
- Realistic: Be honest with yourself. You know your inner strength and what you’re capable of. Try to think of all the hurdles you might have to overcome to achieve success.
- Timely: Give yourself a deadline. Don’t just say that you might become better at what you’re doing someday. Set a timeline.
How to Quantify and Measure Greatness
Measuring success can be difficult. Should you compare yourself to others? Should you look at the money you’ve earned or the popularity you’ve gained? Is greatness something that can be measured by the Nielsen ratings?
None of the above.
The most efficient way of quantifying and measuring greatness is aiming to be in the top 5% of your industry. If you think about it for a second, it makes perfect sense. Regardless of what industry we’re talking about, whether it’s business, sports, or television, the best of the best are among the top 5%.
Now, take a moment, look around you and objectively ask yourself: “Am I in the top 5% in my field?”
You deserve a round of applause if your answer is yes. Not many make it to the top. But, if it’s clear that you still have a long way until you reach the top 5%, then it’s time to roll your sleeves and get to work.
How to Achieve Greatness
The idea that some people are destined for success while us mere mortals are bound to live our lives in mediocrity is laughable. Exceptional talent isn’t something you are born with; it’s about hard work, sacrifice, and commitment.
There’s no such thing as being born superior. Rather, those successful business people, actors, athletes, and writers can rise above the rest through their unstoppable focus and work ethic.
Learn from the World’s Most Successful People
One of the best ways to grow and become better is by learning from others. There’s a quote from Oliver Goldsmith that sums this idea nicely: “People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy.”
Role models can inspire and motivate you, and they can change your outlook on certain issues. Listening to someone or witnessing their success may give you a different perspective when trying to solve your problems.
When selecting for a mentor, look for someone who is already doing what you see yourself doing in ten years from now. Look for someone who struggled with the same problems as you do and find out how they made it through. If you know there’s something you lack (discipline, for example), try to find a role model who has plenty of what you’re missing and learn from them.
Don’t just put your role model on a pedestal and admire them. Observe them, study them, and ask them questions (if that’s a possibility.) If your role model is unreachable, find out everything you can about them. Read their books, listen to their speeches, and learn how they hustled to greatness.
Develop a Great Work Ethic
As you learn more about your role models and their path toward success, you might find a familiar pattern: they all have a great work ethic.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it: you can’t be the greatest in your industry if you’re not willing to put blood, sweat, and tears into reaching your goals.
So, ask yourself, is your work ethic in the top 5% of your field? Here’s how you can find out:
- Analyze Your Priorities: Are you dedicating 100% of your focus to your goals or is your energy spread across multiple areas of your life?
- Are You Working Smart? Becoming the best at something means working smart and not burning yourself out. Ariana Huffington, for example, the Huffington Post founder, always makes sure that she gets a full night sleep. Bill Gates tries to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Even Barack Obama sleeps for seven hours almost every night. The point is: while working hard is fundamental to achieving greatness, you’ll jeopardize your chances of success if you don’t have a healthy work-life balance.
- Examine Your Relationship with Your Goals: Your attitude towards work has a direct impact on how you tackle each responsibility. Someone with a strong work ethic has a positive, willing attitude when it comes to putting the effort into achieving their goals.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
Achieving greatness takes a lot of work.
How much work?
Well, around 10,000 hours if you were to ask Malcolm Gladwell.
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Mozart and Einstein were natural-born geniuses. In reality, they were just hard workers. Mozart, for example, had already put in between 10,000 to 20,000 hours of work by the time he was nine. That equals the efforts of a person in their 20s. The same stands true for Einstein. He never attributed his success to great genetics but to its perseverance.
However, you shouldn’t get stuck on this “magic” number. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not giving your best if you’re not hitting the 10,000 hours mark. It may take you much less to get to the top 5% in your industry since it all depends on the quality of your efforts and not the quantity. If you’re committed to your goal and you work hard, then you should be well on your way to achieving greatness.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Regardless of how you define success, the path to getting there includes a variety of actionable steps that are shared by those who achieved greatness. This system applies to almost any goal:
Start with Why
Simon Sinek explains in his book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” the main difference between great people and everyone else. The difference, he says, is that successful people start by asking themselves “why.”
Sinek developed a principle, called “The Golden Circle” to explain this concept. The circle has three layers: why, how and what. While most people know the answer to the first two questions, very few know why they do what they do. They start with what they do and move to how they do it, ignoring why they are doing it in the first place.
However, “why” shouldn’t be about money. If you think your only purpose is to make money, then you are on the wrong path. You should aim for a higher purpose.
Don’t Hesitate to Get Started
Naturally, striving to achieve excellence isn’t a bad thing, but postponing an action just because it didn’t satisfy your unrealistically high expectations is a dangerous behavior.
Successful people know that perfection is a myth, an unobtainable concept. So, instead of chasing a chimera, they focus on actually doing something. They don’t spend weeks trying to write the perfect pitch, or tens of years trying to develop the perfect product. They start by creating imperfect versions and work hard to improve them.
Focus on Your Goals Instead of Your Limitations
People are hard-wired to follow the path of least resistance. The amount of effort required to do something influences the way we see things. In other words, if something is too challenging, our brain becomes biased and tricks us into perceiving it as less appealing.
It’s hard to push beyond this natural tendency, especially when you hit a roadblock. That’s why you need a mentor so that you can see how they’ve pushed through their limitations on their way to success.
Another great tip is to envision yourself reaching the next level of success. Visualization impacts various cognitive processes in the brain, from attention and perception to memory and planning. In other words, when you visualize the outcome of your efforts, you are, in fact, training your brain for the actual performance.
Break Down Goals into Smaller Ones
Your goals are almost certainly too big to achieve in a few months or even a year. Break them down into small actionable steps to avoid getting stuck.
For example, if your goal is to become a published author, the first step should be perfecting your style. That means writing as much as you can: blog posts, articles, reviews, etc. The next step could be writing a short story. Then, you should try publishing this story online and learn from the feedback you get. What you need to understand is that you don’t have to get all the way to the last step – publishing a book – in just one big leap.
How to Break Greatness into Manageable StepsRegardless of what your long-term vision is, the logistics of turning it into reality can seem like a daunting task, to say the least. Achieving greatness doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t see rapid progress.
One excellent way to stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize is breaking greatness into manageable steps. As you complete each task, you will not only have the satisfaction of crossing it off the list, but also the excitement of knowing that you are getting closer toward your ultimate goal: becoming the top 5% in your industry.
But, how do you get there?
Here’s and actionable plan.
Step 1: Become the Best at a Local Level
Most people strive to become the best employee in their companies or the best player in their team. While that’s an admirable goal, it’s not enough if you want to achieve greatness. Here’s why.
When your goal is to become the best at something in a small group, you are limiting yourself. The only people you can measure your skills with are your colleagues, and while they are good at what they’re doing, they are not the best of the best.
That said, to achieve greatness, you should first strive to became the best in your city. Be the person people in your town turn to when they need guidance or inspiration. Become someone they know and admire.
Step 2: Become the Best in Your Country
Once you’ve reached local success, it’s time to study the actions the top 5% in your country are taking. You’ll probably notice on thing: they got there by being bold. They didn’t play by the rules that ensure optimal performance. They didn’t climb traditional ladders intended to slow them down and keep them mediocre. Instead, they zagged when everyone else was zigging.
Don’t be afraid to run toward the thing everyone else is running from if you want to become the best in the country.
Step 3: Become the Best on Your Continent
Becoming the best on the continent takes a lot of patience. If you’ve been working for years but are still to have your big break, keep going. Resilience is one of the most common traits of the most successful people.
Observe and try to mimic the actions of the top 5% people in your industry whose success exceeded the borders of their countries. How did they get there? What can you learn from their experiences? Is there something you can do better than them on your path to success? Ask yourself these questions and look for ways to maintain interest even when the actions you need to take become hard or tedious.
Step 4: Become the Best in the World
Knowledge is critical in achieving success. After all, only by learning from the people who have reached the top you were able to become one of the best on your continent. But, if you want to push the limits further and become among the top 5% in the world, you’ll have to become an innovator. To get to the top of the world, you must come to the razor’s edge where the probability of failure is so high that few dare going there. At this point, everything you’ve learned will help you make the leap to greatness.
Step 5: Constantly Evaluate Yourself
Entering the realm of greatness comes with a great responsibility. Everything you do matters since there are now others looking up to you. That’s why you need to evaluate yourself to ensure not only that you’re on the right track but that you set a good example for those seeing you as their role models.
Evaluation helps you know whether your actions are working or if you’ve missed something during the process. Becoming great at what you do is a process that involves many moving parts. So, you need to understand them all and see which elements are already working and what makes them work, but you also need to know which parts could work better and find the strategies to achieve them. By continually assessing your actions, you will also keep your head in the game. Otherwise, you can easily get distracted and lose sight of your goal.
Ok, so now you know the theory. But how does it work? Well, I believe there’s no better way of showing you than a story.
A Story of Greatness
Once upon a time, there was a 9th-grade boy who dreamt of playing in the NBA. He was cut for basketball: six feet high and built like LeBron. But, he knew that his impressive stature wasn’t enough to help him succeed in the highly competitive world of youth sports. If he wanted to make it, he had to become one of the best players in the world.
There were many other boys with a dream similar to the hero of our story. But, unlike our hero, their wish never left the realm of imagination. They imagined themselves playing in the big league but didn’t take any step toward turning their dream into reality.
Our hero, however, was different. One day, he sat down and created a blueprint to Hustle to Greatness.
It looked something like this:
The first thing our hero did was to enroll in the high school basketball team. He made it on the Junior Varsity team (JV) but, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to achieve the Varsity status. Out of the tens of high schoolers who wanted to enroll in the basketball team, only one 9th grader made the Varsity team.
It was evident then to our hero that by not being that one 9th grader who got picked, he wasn’t great. In fact, he wasn’t even good enough to get picked for the team representing his school.
So, he decided to study his colleague to learn how he can become just as good as him. By talking to him and learning about his experience, he learned a few valuable lessons about what set that 9th grade apart from him and other players in the JV team:
- He was the only one who played organized basketball throughout the whole year with his AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball team.
- He was one of the five students in 9th grade that took a basketball camp each year. In fact, he was the only student in 9th grade that went on multiple basketball camps throughout the year.
- Moreover, the 9th grader was one of three students in 9th grade that had a basketball hoop in his backyard and practiced every day.
Now, if we break these actions into actionable steps, it would look something like this:
9th-Grade Greatness Matching Action Steps
First, the boy broke his big goal (play for the NBA) into small, quantifiable ones. The first step toward achieving his objective was to enroll in the basketball team. Once he discovered he is not among the top 5% in the 9th grade, he found a mentor and learned from him.
To improve greatness, the boy decided to follow the path established by the 9th grader who made it on the Varsity team. So, he took the following actions:
- He got a basketball hoop at home and practiced each day.
- He also joined a local AAU team and played throughout the year. It didn’t matter that the team wasn’t very good. What it matter was that it helped him improve his skills.
- Moreover, he went on various basketball camps that year and learned the fundamentals of basketball from the best coaches in the area.
A year has passed, and our hero was now an entirely different player. He learned a lot during the months spent practicing with the local AAU team and his skills improved after every basketball camp experience. So, he decided to try out for the Varsity time once again. This time, he made it. He now had the chance of playing amongst juniors and seniors.
But, while most people would be happy with this achievement, our hero wasn’t one to settle for anything less than greatness. Sure, he made it on the Varsity team, but he still wasn’t among the best players. So, he decided to study the top 5% on the team and learn from them. Here’s what he found out.
- The best player on the Varsity team was a senior who was getting Division 1 basketball scholarship offers.
- This boy played on the best AAU basketball team in the state.
- He filmed every single game he played, and he carefully analyzed each video to identify his mistakes and weaknesses. Then, he worked on improving them.
- He was also having one-on-one sessions with a personal basketball coach once a week. That was, of course, in addition to the hours he spent every week playing at the high school and AAU team.
Let’s try to break the information above into actionable steps.
10th-Grade Greatness Matching Action Steps
The boy achieved its goal of becoming good enough to make it on the Varsity team but didn’t stop there. He looked at what the best players were doing and decided to rise to the level of greatness established by the Division 1 recruit on Varsity.
The first thing he did was to try out for the best AAU basketball team in the state for his age range. Unfortunately, he wasn’t good enough, so he didn’t make it. But, that didn’t discourage our hero. He understood that if he wants to become one of the best basketball players in the world, he has to be patient and take small, actionable steps.
So, he tried out for a different AAU basketball team and made it. Although it wasn’t the best team in the state, it allowed him to play one year above his age range. One of the main benefits was that he could now compete against older players.
The next thing he did was to record every game he played, both high school and AAU. He studied the videos carefully and looked for things he could improve. He used the information to make adjustments in the next game.
Although his family couldn’t afford to pay for a personal basketball coach, he was able to find a great basketball player on his AAU team who was willing to coach him. Together, they would play one-on-one sessions each week, analyze their game, and provide feedback that helped them improve their skills.
As the time passed by, our hero continued to grow and get better and better at basketball. When the 11th grade came around, he was considered to be the best player in his Varsity team. No one could compete against him.
In fact, our hero had an excellent year. Not only that he made it on the all-county team, but he was also selected as the all-county player of the year. Needless to say, he was thrilled. But, he didn’t stop here.
Sure, he was the best player in the district, but he wanted to move to the next level of greatness. He wanted to become the best player in the state. So, once again, he studied what the top 5% basketball players in the state did and tried to mimic their actions. He noticed the following patterns.
- The top 5% of basketball players in his state played on the best AAU teams.
- The top 5% of basketball players in the state played for private high schools. Because their schools didn’t have restrictions like public ones, they could travel and compete in basketball tournaments all over the country. These tournaments had college scouts and were more competitive.
- The top 5% attended numerous basketball camps hosted by Nike, Adidas and Under Armor, getting training from current NBA players.
Thus, he took the following action steps:
11th-Grade Greatness Matching Action Steps
To get to the next level of greatness, our hero studied the best players in the state and learned from what they were doing.
- Once again, he tried out for the best AAU team. This time, he made it and played with them the entire year.
- Because he was selected as the all-county team of the year, he got offered a scholarship to play his senior year at a private high school. He was excited not only because the school had the best basketball team in the state but also because he would be able to compete against teams from all over the country. Needless to say, he accepted the offer.
- He got invited to numerous basketball camps across the country hosted by Nike, Adidas and Under Armor, and he went to all of them.
- Due to the exposure to a higher level of competition, his game increased ten-fold. As a result, he started receiving Division 1 scholarship offers from mid-majors.
Our hero continued to practice and improve his game. So, by the time he became a Senior, he was among the best basketball players in the state. Not only that he competed against some of the best teams in the state, but every time he played, scouts would attend the game.
By the end of the year, he made the all-state team and was named an all-American. He went from being recruited by mid-majors to getting Division 1 scholarship offers from top 25 basketball programs.
However, it wasn’t enough. Despite the sudden rush of success, our hero quickly understood that he still wasn’t the greatest basketball player in the country. He was only a 4-star recruit while other kids were 5-star recruits.
So, studied what the 5-star recruits were doing and observed that all of them played on the national team for their age group and participated in international competitions.
So, he did the following:
12th-Grade Greatness Matching Action Steps
Our hero understood quicklly that to make it on the national team he had to play even better than he did now. He studied the national team and marked the tryout dates on a calendar Then, the first thing he did was to reach out to former players and ask for their advice on how to prepare for the tryouts.
Based on the tips he received, he changed his practice routine and started practicing the same way the national team did. He researched training methods that the top college basketball programs use and followed them to the T.
When the national team tryouts started, he made the team and got exposure in international competitions. After playing with the national team, he was now a 5-star recruit and got Division 1 scholarship offers from the top five schools in the country. Naturally, he chose the school that had sent the most basketball players to the NBA.
But his story doesn’t end here. It goes on through College. So, let’s see the next steps he took.
Once he got to college, our hero didn’t stop pursuing his dream of becoming one of the best basketball players in the world. He continued to focus on the blueprint and improve his skills.
With every new level of success he achieved, he would push himself to work even harder than ever before. He always analyzed what the top 5% was doing and tried to match their level of greatness by taking the same actions.
His hard work and commitment paid off eventually. He became one of the best freshmen that year. More than that, he was picked by the NBA and became an immediate star.
He was able to achieve all this by following this simple model: set up a quantifiable goal, see what the top 5% in your industry are doing, rise to their level, match it, and repeat until you become the best in the world.
History is full of great people whose legacy transcended time. But history is still being written. You too can make the hallmark of greatness. You just need the right plan. So, let’s recap our blueprint to greatness.
First of all, you need to set a quantifiable goal. Look at business people and marketers and learn from them how to set S.M.A.R.T goals. Keep in mind that the most efficient way of quantifying and measuring greatness is aiming to be in the top 5% of your industry. If you’re not there yet, then look at what those who are there are doing and learn from them.
Understand that you can’t become the best of best in just one giant leap. It will take time and effort. First, you’ll need to become the best in your city; then you should strive to become renowned in your country. Once you get there, focus on becoming the best on the continent. Only after you’ve reached this point you can make the leap toward becoming the top 5% in the world.
Remember: evaluation is necessary. After each level you’ve reached, see what worked and what can be improved. It’s the only healthy way to move forward because it allows you to adapt and improve.
I know, the process is long and challenging. That’s why I believe there’s no time to waste. So, take the first step now. Define and quantify your goal then hustle to greatness!