Dear Mr. Cantor,
You certainly hit upon a core element of true success — it’s about being, not doing. However, some would say that you expose who you are by what you do.
We lie to ourselves. Constantly. Without the element of action, we can all tell ourselves that we are great friends, parents, employees, employers, leaders, rebels, builders, destroyers, authors and critics. Are you someone’s BFF? Really? What makes that true? What we do. (Case in point, see Matthew Teague’s essay on friendship in Esquire. Excruciatingly humbling.)
So how do we reconcile our need to excel and feel worthy with our inaction? The easy way! Redefine greatness. Make everyone above average, everyone a champion, everyone a hero. Then tear down those who are truly great so that we eliminate that pesky cognitive dissonance.
There is another way to greatness, and it too lies in redefining the words hero, greatness, and excel, but in the context of action. It’s rooted in recognizing that our legacy is the only definition of greatness. Did you choose to stick around and raise your kids? They will show the world your greatness, or lack thereof. Did you help a stranger eat, or pay a bill? Heck, did you help your neighbor eat or pay a bill? Give one more person a reason to live rather than a reason to die? Give laughter and joy instead of sorrow and tears? Did you stand up for someone, not because they were your friend, but because they were your enemy and in the right? One person is concerned about someone’s suffering, and clicks a “like” icon. Another is concerned about someone, and goes to them and cooks a meal for their kids while they are at the hospital with their spouse. Both have concern, but who is judged the greater?
So, Mr. Cantor, you are wrong, and not wrong. The seeds of our success certainly come from within, but they only grow into greatness through what we do, and what we do never fades away through the lives of those who follow us.