Last night my wife, Gimalle, and I had dinner at the home of a long-time dear friend. Karen ranks among our absolute favorite people in the whole world and we always look forward to spending time with her. The evening was delightful; the meal, delicious and the conversation, scintillating.
For a few brief moments the conversation turned to the topic of greatness; what is it that distinguishes certain people and enables them to achieve greatness in their lives?
A few minutes later the topic changed, then changed again and the evening was spent discussing a wide variety of subjects, all fascinating.
It wasn’t until we were driving home that my mind drifted back to an article I read many years ago on the attributes of greatness.
I remember vividly the four non-negotiable traits that were described in that article as I have referred to them countless times while delivering presentations over the past 15 or so years since I first read that article. The name of the author eludes me and even “It who knows everything,” Google, was stumped when asked for his name.
While his name may never again enter my consciousness, the brilliance and simplicity of his words will stay with me forever.
He said that for every person who pursues greatness in life, there is a requirement to achieve mastery in four behaviors. He said that while each of them, in and of themselves can bring greatness into our lives, failure to master any one of these four pearls would ensure that greatness would always remain beyond our reach.
Step number one: Be on time.
He went on to say that there is no way in which we are able to transmit ambition, determination and respect all at the same time than by meeting our commitments to time. Each and every time we dishonor our agreement to be somewhere or do something by a specific time we are signaling three things.
Firstly we are communicating that the person or people we had agreed to meet are less important than whatever it is that caused our lateness and they have been replaced by a higher cause.
He said that our tardiness indicates a lack of respect for those who are kept waiting, a lack of concern for their time and a strong signal we have concluded that the present or future benefits to us in being on time are not a major contributor to our future success and that they, therefore, are not worthy of the extra effort required to meet our time commitment.
He wrote the habit of being on time transcends into other areas of our lives. Being on time requires a certain discipline and it is discipline – which he defined as a willingness to do something when it is awkward, or challenging, or frustrating or you just plain don’t feel like doing it – is the key to mastery in each of these four steps.
Step number two: Be polite
Politeness, he said, is one of those very few things in the world that has absolutely zero cost attached to it and yet its absence can cause untold misery and loss.
He reminded us that as children we were taught, or should have been, to be polite at all times. Politeness includes the simple habits of regularly using words like “please” and “thank you”
Politeness is the habit of doing small things like holding a door open for another person, that require little to no effort, yet go a long way in building and sustaining important relationships.
And he reminded us that while politeness is often not noticed and generally receives little attention, its absence never goes unnoticed.
Step Number Three: Finish what you start.
History, according to this man, is filled with countless examples of people whose lives were robbed of victory, success, joy and wealth because they quit something they had started just days or hours or moments or inches from having their wildest dreams come true.
He reminded us that there exists only two guaranteed ways of ensuring we never fail: the first is to never try and the second is to quit the game before the final whistle.
Step number four: Keep your word.
He wrote that this step is, perhaps, he most powerful of all and yet so little recognized by many.
He pointed out that when we fail to keep our word, many others will judge us and label us and become weary of us and those judgments may have profound adverse effects on our lives.
However, the real harm we do to ourselves when we fail to keep our word is the hole we carve in our souls. He pointed out that why we while we may not consciously “care what others think of us” or of the harm done to ourselves, at a level well beneath our conscious awareness, our souls are crying out in despair, begging us to change our ways.
He concluded that the purity of our souls is driven by the purity of our thoughts and actions and we can present no greater action than to be true to ourselves and being true to ourselves means among other things, keeping our word at all times.
By the time we got home last night I was deep in thought on this topic and I spent several hours quietly by myself reflecting on how I have applied, or in many cases misapplied, these four great principles.
I believe that I have always displayed, and met, all the standards that he referred to when he spoke of being on time. Punctuality was drilled into me from early childhood and this is something I’ve always held dear and taken great pride in living up to.
So, on my mental scorecard last night I put a big checkmark next to this one.
Then I moved on to number two; being polite. I think most people who know me would agree that I am extremely polite. I have always been polite and, frankly, it’s what I know and I’m thankful for being raised this way.
I don’t recall ever having been accused of being impolite and following the simple rules of politeness require no effort on my part. Years and years of practice have led to this being a natural expression of my outward behavior.
Another checkmark. Feeling pretty good right about now.
On to number three; finish what you start.
I have not done so well with this one. If I am to be honest with myself – and I’m at a stage of life where the delusion of dishonesty is not worth the reward – I have done a poor job on this one.
There have been far too many times where I have failed to finish what I started or have simply given up when the going got rough.
I have become much better over the years but I’m still not even close to where I want to be.
No checkmark here.
And finally, number four; keep your word. I live by that creed today. I do everything I can, as best as I can to deliver on everything I have committed to, but sadly my history has not always been filled with that accomplishment.
As I look back I am not proud of some of the times when I have not kept my word. Each time, in the moment, I recall being able to easily justify my reasons for not doing so, but thankfully, with the benefit of hindsight, that great teacher with 2020 vision, I have learned the error of my ways. And while I cannot go back in time and change one second of history I can, and will, move forward in time, committed to this ideal in a way that I have never before been committed to anything.
I don’t know if the words written by this unnamed writer truly are the four essential steps to achieving greatness, whether they are merely four out of many others, or even whether any of them contribute in any fashion to greatness, but this I do know; if each of us commit to these four shining ideals and we each convince one person to do the same and if they, in turn, can convince one more person to follow suit, then collectively we will make a huge, much needed impression on our planet.
And the world can sure use this.
Will you join me?
Till we read again.
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