Greatness is in you!
If you balk at that statement, you might have fallen prey to a cultural brainwashing that has subtly overtaken us. Our world seems to have a fascination with people who have uncommon skills, abilities and talents. We practically worship people who achieve elite status in the narrowest of niches. Athletes with uncommon skills who reach the pinnacle of their sport are lauded, compensated and venerated in extravagant ways. Celebrities are adorned and fawned over for uncommon appearance and successful business leaders are celebrated for uncommon acumen and insight in their particularly narrow sectors of the economy.
Gone are the days of Da Vinci, Edison and Franklin, when we valued people whose breadth of knowledge and range of skill set was wide and extensively practical. The value of a Liberal Arts education has been all but entirely marginalized in favor of a cultural and economic obsession with the highly specialized and technical degrees.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe our world needs excellent engineers, physicists and software coders to excel in their individual fields. But I fear we are on a trajectory towards a cultural segmentation in which we value those who excel at uncommon skill sets that don’t always benefit the larger society. We are addicted to the thinking that excellence is in specialization. This way of thinking clearly yields short term benefits for those who apply it and have the rare talent or ability to achieve it. The problem however is that it can lead to generations of young adults viewing success and excellence as achieving fame and fortune. It can also demoralize anyone not as well equipped as those we celebrate, leading to a perspective that if we can’t be the best at something we have inherently less worth or value.
Booker T. Washington once sagaciously observed, “Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.”
We would be wise to contemplate and internalize this truth. Anyone of us, regardless of station in life or status in society, can to the common things that face us every day in an uncommon way. In doing so, we will not only make the world around us a better place to live, but we will elevate our own personal value in society in a way that is possible for every one of us.
I know several people who are spectacularly talented in one way or another and yet they struggle to handle simple critical tasks well. If we can’t follow through on a commitment, respond to an email in a timely manner, meet deadlines for seemly innocuous tasks or look people in the eyes, we will never achieve the potential that God placed inside each of us.
I truly believe that God has placed the potential for greatness inside each of us. However, for most, it is not achieved through becoming the best at the uncommon, but by becoming uncommon at the common everyday tasks of life, family, business and relationships.
So, my challenge for today is to live out the words of Booker T. Washington… to be excellent by doing common things in an uncommon way!