What It Takes To Be Great: A Three-Part Process

Greatness, the best, legacy, legendary, all words and terms that have been linked to some of the premier examples of humans to walk the face of the earth in their respective fields. Those words carry such heavy weight that it has crippled the lives of people who did not understand it enough to hold up the mantle. The secret is out however. Greatness can be broken down into three major pieces.

When we sit down and think of “The Greats”, there are obvious names that come to mind. Three great examples that stand out are Kobe Bryant, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Floyd “Money” Mayweather. These are people who have done things in their lifetime that the average person, even the above average person looks at and is left in awe. The level of difficulty and the conditions in which they performed such feats made them seem like beings of magic. How easy they make it all appear at the height of their performances. All of their intangibles and moments combine to create the image of greatness that we, the bystanders see and admire. What we rarely see however, is the details within the painting. The brush strokes that make the masterpiece. The individual pieces that make the mosaic. What we don’t see, is exactly what makes the rational actions things of fantasy. First, we have to start at the beginning; “ The Greats” see it before it ever comes to fruition.

Let’s take Kobe Bryant for example. On the surface, we see what can be deemed the greatest masterpiece the Los Angeles Lakers have ever come across and quite possibly the NBA. On the surface, we see the five championships, the two finals MVP awards, the four NBA All-Star MVP awards, the two scoring champion awards, and the list goes on. We hear the nickname “Black Mamba” echoed throughout all of basketball fandom. But the devil is in the detail. Gary Payton once said this about Kobe Bryant:

Kobe was so young and so immature in some ways, but I can tell you this: everything Kobe is doing now, he told me all the way back then he was going to do it. We were sitting on the bus once and he told me, “I’m going to be the number one scorer for the Lakers, I’m going to win five or six championships, and I’m going to be the best player in the game.”

Coming straight out of high school, Kobe Bryant walked into the NBA with a purpose and a mindset of greatness. He saw his future while his career was still in it’s infancy. Those who are great, legendary, the best, see themselves as such before the moment even comes to fruition. That’s not where the story ends however. The work ethic that goes along with that mindset, that expectation, that intent, that is what makes the vision come to pass.

Leonardo Da Vinci, is regarded as one of the greatest artists in human history. What to this day still astonishes most art historians is how prolific of an artist he actually was. The Mona Lisa is regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. His paintings are used as pieces to teach artists, generation after generation how important technique and accuracy is when creating timeless works of art. His paintings are not where the true testament of his greatness lies; it’s in his drawings, sketches, notes, and time spent perfecting his skill. Leonardo Da Vinci as a child, would spend his days outside drawing the same flower, everyday, chronicling it’s every detail and change within the confines of his paper. An excerpt taken from one of his notebooks read,

Leonardo Da Vinci Human Anatomy drawings

“Once you have drawn something so many times you believe you know it by heart, try to draw it without a model; then draw it again with the model, on a thin sheet of glass, and set (the glass) on the drawing you did without seeing the model. Keep in your mind those parts where the drawing (on the glass) doesn’t cover your drawing, and recopy the erroneous bits as many times as necessary so you have the model in your imagination perfectly.” — Leonardo Da Vinci

That dedication to perfection is just another stone that paves the road to greatness. Imagine the level of discipline necessary to draw the same thing every day, trying to capture the smallest of details within the image. How much of yourself, of your day, are you willing to dedicate for even the slightest chance of being great? Floyd Mayweather, one of the most highly scrutinized and polarizing figures in all of sports, has a mantra that resonates in the heart of every individual who has a thirst for more than just good enough. “Hard work, and dedication”. It is that same hard work and dedication to the sport of boxing that has placed him on it’s highest throne for over 15 years and counting. Countless times we have seen Floyd Mayweather, with ease, seemingly dismantle his opponents, all of which have seemed like more than formidable foes when facing other opponents. The question that is always asked is “How is it that he manages to win every single time?”and the answer is simple; Floyd Mayweather devotes his time to his craft in ways that even the exceptional individual seldom will. In a recent interview with Steven A. Smith during the promotion gearing up to his Mega fight with Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather was asked about his training and his answer made his legacy in boxing very clear.

“Yes I do. I’m in the gym about 17hrs a day. If you want to be the best you have to work overtime. If you want to be the best… you have to work over time and I’m the best.”

The proof in his words stand cemented in his undefeated record. Hard work and dedication leads one on the path of greatness. With all of the hard work and dedication however there comes pain, and this is the final step that ties it all together.

“Pain creates the prize.” Today, we have been afforded the luxury of having great minds who have come up with ways to use the technological resources that we have at our disposal to help us avoid pain as much as possible, but is that a mistake? Pain is the catalyst that brings apart the change from average to extraordinary. It is in the acceptance of pain that the greats distinguish themselves.

The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens. — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Those people that we are in awe of and call legends have found comfort in pain. They don’t shy from it, they run toward it. They run toward the challenge. They go out and look for it because they understand that without pain, there would be no suffering, and without that suffering, certain lessons, breakthroughs, skills, and levels of strength cannot be obtained. John Celestand, in 2000, was asked about Kobe Bryant and he said

“The first time I began to understand why he was the best was in the pre-season. In a game against the Wizards, Kobe broke the wrist on his shooting hand. He was always the first person to practice every day, arriving at least an hour and a half early. This would infuriate me because I wanted to be the first person to practice, just as I had always been at Villanova and Piscataway High in New Jersey. To add insult to injury, I lived only 10 minutes from the practice facility — while Kobe was at least 35 minutes away.

“I am ashamed to say that I was excited the day after his injury because I knew that there was no way that No. 8 (as former Laker point guard Tyronn Lue called him) would be the first to practice, if he would even be there at all.

“As I walked through the training room, I became stricken with fear when I heard a ball bouncing. No, no, it couldn’t be! Yes it could. Kobe was already in a full sweat with a cast on his right arm and dribbling and shooting with his left.”

This story, is the life that is in the veins of every great person that we have seen and will continue to see. For Kobe Bryant, his tenacious resolve to cling to greatness once tasted, would propel him past any pain and make his story the frame work to the masterpiece that is his career.

To the individual striving for true greatness, pain does exist, but to them it is a lifelong friend. Pain is a constant and for those that dare to push the envelope, pain will forever be a part of the process. It is the understanding that pain is nothing but weakness breaking down to make way for new strengths that further separates the average from the outstanding. The establishment of a mindset that is so dead-set on reaching a goal that to most would seem unnecessary is just the beginning. The next step is to take that mindset and marry it with the relentless pursuit of a crafts perfection. A dogmatic pursuit to the pinnacle of one’s abilities. The final step is the acceptance of pain and it’s role in the development of unparalleled success. When all of these pieces are together, a wonderful symphony of genius is created and it is in that genius, that greatness is found.