Most people who say they want to pursue greatness at something follow the same few patterns.
They find someone to emulate, study their every move, stalk them on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, sometimes even muster the courage to send an email, read everything they've ever written, then do exactly what their idol does. Right down the line. I've never done this. (insert eyeroll emoji here)
Or they find a teacher or mentor, follow in their footsteps, take everything their teacher/mentor says as gospel, and perpetually remain a step or two behind them.
Or - this is my personal favorite - they bounce from discipline to discipline, religiously following the "7 Steps to Greatness" or whatever shortcut is being peddled by the folks claiming to have the knowledge in that discipline.
If any of these sound like you...
None of that alone leads to greatness.
All it leads to is sameness.
The old railroad tracks will only take you where there are railroad tracks.
If you want to be great or truly original in your craft, you'll have to deviate from what's already been done.
You must be willing to get lost and to travel without a map.
And to make wrong turns once in a while. And to follow your nose when you do.
Sometimes that means following what seems like a dead-end road when it makes no sense to anyone else or even wandering without intention other than to discover whatever lies ahead - if anything.
The fact that other people aren't doing it is exactly what makes risking a dead-end or wandering valuable. It's the opportunity to discover, to learn, to integrate what no one else is.
Well-meaning advice givers will try to steer you back to the well-worn roads of your discipline.
They'll tell you to specialize, and specialize as soon as possible. That will make you distinct, they'll say.
Their words will penetrate your certainty-craving brain, laying out a linear path to what they'll call greatness. It will actually be security, until it isn't.
You'll wonder if you're on the right path. You chose this path - what was you reason for choosing it? If you've chosen it for the sheer pursuit of it, continue on. If you're in it for the money or the validation or the security or the groupies, reconsider - those things may not fill you up the way you think they will.
You may find yourself craving certainty more than ever. Certainty may have served you well in other endeavors, but too much of it will hold you back at this point in the journey.
To go further, you have to set certainty aside. It's not getting you anywhere.
The ones who are truly great and truly original all have a different type of relationship with risk and certainty. The certainty of what's been done before gives them a baseline of what's possible - and allows them plenty of room to risk breaking the rules and the norms to see how much further it can be taken.
Your well-meaning advice-givers will still beat the drum for the known path.
Don't trust them. They're pointing you where the old railroad tracks go. You'll never be able to get lost there.
P.S. There's a project I've had in the works for a month now - a new podcast. It's called In This Moment, and the first episode will be dropping on August 17th. I'll be having off-the-cuff conversations with friends of mine who are unique, brilliant, wildly successful - and you'd never know it if you walked by them on the street. It'll be a look inside our minds and hearts, completely unrehearsed, and full of laughs. More details to come in the next few weeks.
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