The difference between good and great is massive.
To the victor goes the spoils.
At least that is how the saying goes.
Is it true?
Vilfredo Pareto, of “Pareto Principle” fame, observed in the late 1800s that 20% of Italian landowners held 80% of the land. He arrived, through analysis, at a profound realization: most results (about 80%) are captured by a few causes (about 20%).
This “80/20 Rule” has been proven in many industries and fields in the century since Pareto’s discovery.
When is comes to wealth the truth is stark. 50% of the world’s wealth belongs to the top 1%. The top 10% hold a whopping 85% of the wealth!
I observe these lopsided benefits in my life as well. The best employees make a lot more over their careers than average employees. The top-selling writers sell a lot more books than average writers. Even my blog demonstrates Pareto’s Principles, with 20% of my articles capturing more than 80% of visitor traffic.
What this means is that we should not settle for being average when the benefits mostly go to those who are outstanding.
Average people don’t get average rewards, they get below average rewards. The lion’s share of the pie goes to those at the top of their field.
So then, how might we be part of the top portion of our field? If the victor (or small group of leaders) reap outsized rewards, how can we leap out of mediocrity and into greatness?
I’ll walk through a few of the factors that seem to make a difference. As you review then, think about how you can apply them to your personal goals to propel you onward and upward.
Ambition has a massive impact on final outcomes.
Setting big, hairy and audacious goals is a vital component of greatness.
A goal is designed to mobilize resources towards a great end. Think of the moonshot, Manhattan project, political campaigns, or the work of tech titans Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg as all being driven by massive vision and goals.
On a personal level, stretch goals are vital. Goals mobilize our unconscious mind to find solutions and pathways to our destination. Goals inspire the stretching and striving that is essential to enter the state of peak performance known as “flow.”
The best stretch goals toe the line with seeming impossibility.
They threaten and challenge, but do not defeat.
What big goal are you working towards?
With a big enough “why” you can figure out any “how.”
Having a big “why ” or purpose is a form of commitment.
The level of commitment top performers have is astonishing.
Ask any successful entrepreneur or athlete about what it took for them to succeed, and they will share that failure wasn’t an option.
The more hedged the downside, and opportunities for escape, the less of a chance of success.
I’ve experienced this in my life, leaving the safe confines of a high paying corporate career to start my business. Had I not made that drastic step, I never would have been able to persevere as I have over the past few years.
This doesn’t mean greatness comes through recklessness. It implies that greatness comes through focus and undying belief in the pursuit.
As Tony Robbins famously says (quoting Julius Caesar): “If you want to take the island, burn the boats!.”
To capture the island of your dreams and step on the shore of greatness, your level of commitment must be transcendental.
I hate to break it to you: if you put in the work, you might not get the results.
Hard work isn’t enough to achieve success.
You must put in the work along with direct coaching. You must know what is working, what isn’t.
All humans have blind spots. We have trouble seeing our backsides! A coach (that’s what I do), mentor or trusted advisor is vital to point out the subtle missteps and help you gain perspective.
Successful companies thrive on feedback loops. One-on-one employee conversations with managers. 360-degree reviews to collect and share feedback on team and individual performance. These are all systems put in place to produce a high performing culture that is continuously improving.
Success is all about effort with a healthy dose of feedback.
If you run east looking for a sunset, you are bound to be disappointed. You will also be exhausted.
Self-awareness is a simple yet hard quality to build.
As I’ve already mentioned, it seems that human beings, all of us, have blind spots. We have beliefs, behaviors and thought patterns that we struggle to see. These blind spots can hold us back and thwart our plans. Perhaps the purpose of these blind spots is to keep us safe. A vestige of our prehistoric past.
Self-awareness is the capacity to know what we know, and what we don’t know. It’s also the particular skill of realizing that unknown unknowns are lurking in the shadows.
A self-aware person (or team, or organization) is highly adept at knowing where the edge of their awareness is. They seek out coaching, feedback loops and mentorship to illuminate the dark spots of their experience.
They enlist the support of others to tap them on the shoulder and wake them up if they seem to be running east and looking for the proverbial sunset!
Most critically, self-awareness is inherent in a growth mindset built on learning from whatever happens. Adapting, changing and improving from any result, be it good or bad.
A self-aware person is continually asking questions like: What am I great at? How can I be even better? Where do I need help?
Top performers are highly skilled at creating the environmental conditions that make success inevitable.
We know that the people we hang out with, and the environment we construct around ourselves, have an indelible impact on our success (or lack thereof).
Our friends are either inspiring us to reach and strive and achieve, or they are demotivating us to aim low and slack off.
Our home and workspace either brings out the best in our creativity and focus, or it’s a dull and distracting place to be.
After quitting my job to travel the world, I redesigned my entire lifestyle, sold my house and moved to a new location. Why? I knew that a new location (and new people and new experiences) would stoke my creative fire and increase commitment to my goals.
Just as a plant will thrive in fertile soil, without any care and attention from you, your goals and achievements will grow and thrive best in the proper environmental conditions that make success inevitable.
How long does it take to achieve greatness?
The irony of greatness is that requires two opposing and rare qualities to be present at once.
Greatness demands a drive unseen in most people. This is a burning desire to achieve more and create more. It’s about “burning the boats” and “reaching for the stars.”
At the same time, greatness requires the patience and stoic stick-with-it attitude that is increasingly rare in our distraction-filled and tech-fueled modern life.
Luckily, through meditation and mindfulness, we can strengthen our awareness and patience. Like any muscle, these attributes can be made remarkably robust through practice.
People and teams at the top of their fields always receive outsized rewards. They also make outsized impacts on society.
Whether you are looking to contribute to the world at a massive scale or just achieve something you can be proud of in your community, aspiring to be truly great is a lofty, yet worthy, goal.
After all, who wants to be average?
The good news is that the secret to being great isn’t a mysterious black-box. It’s not a secret at all!
We can break it down into a few qualities, many of which are outlined in this article. We can look at these conditions and ask ourselves the crucial question: “Am I willing to cultivate these qualities and habits in my daily life?”
If you read this far and are inspired to step up to greatness in any part of your life, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know: What are you committing to be great at?