You have probably had a conversation with someone at one time or another where the other person talked about wanting to achieve some kind of greatness. I know I have. My first thought when someone says that to me is “Do you really understand what it costs to achieve real greatness?” I’m not honestly sure most people do or if they did, they would still feel the same way about making a run at the mythical brass ring.
There have been a few high profile cases recently of the potential costs of going for greatness. First, there was the leave of absence (which was later borderline retracted) by University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer. Meyer is a tremendously successful and incredibly driven coach who has brought success to Bowling Green and then Utah and then finally Florida where he won 2 National Championships. However, as Coach Meyer has himself admitted, all of that stress and constant pressure did take its toll on him to the point of suffering chest pains and passing out. So, he first announced taking an indefinite leave of absence… but now it sounds like he will be back in time for next season. Hmm.
The more recent news (and really huge news here in Connecticut) is University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun taking a leave of absence for undisclosed health reasons. This has not been the first time something health-related has affected Calhoun, a three time cancer survivor. I’m a UConn basketball fan and season ticket holder, so I have come to expect at least one time per season, a game where Coach Calhoun bows out part way through the game with some vaguely understood form of illness. In fact, ESPN has a listing of all the health-related issues that have come up for him over the last 2 years and it’s not short. Not good times, eh?
Or how about Michael Jordan? He’s the best basketball player I have seen in my lifetime and is generally accepted as the best, period. But you know what else? He has quite the reputation for being a complete jerk because of his hyper-competitiveness. How competitive? I remember a former college teammate of Jordan’s, Matt Doherty, telling of a story where Michael came over to his house during college. Doherty caught Jordan cheating in a game of Monopoly against Doherty’s mother. Let that sort of marinade for a while in the ol’ gray matter. I can wait… good and soaked in now? OK, on we go.
So back to my original premise – at what price greatness? When does it become too much of a single-minded piece of your life that can wreck anything else that gets in its way? This reminds me a bit of my piece on how everyone wants happiness, but does 1,001 things that move them further away from it, like a high-powered businessman who earns great money for his family’s future… but he’s never home.
I’m not one to discount greatness at all and feel that those who shoot for that pinnacle of pure excellence in their chosen fields are really a beacon of inspiration for others. Heck, in my own way I want to achieve a form of greatness, but in a much different regard: I want to a great life which is balanced in terms of personal and professional, as well as in mind, body and spirit. That balance is what I want greatness in and, at least in my mind, that is something much healthier to strive for.
So feel free to shoot for greatness with every fiber of your being… just be sure you know what exactly you are getting in that pursuit. It can be pricey.