What is greatness and who are the great people in our society? This question came to me when I stopped at a bakery in Pasadena where I often stop to buy cheese and olive boregs, a pastry-like turnover.
The place has a wonderful name: Old Sassoon Bakery. It’s owned by a family with an Armenian last name and on the wall inside is a plaque with a reference to the 1940s which, I guess, is when the bakery was founded.
Stepping inside is like traveling for a few moments to another country. Boreg sounds so much more exotic than stuffed turnover.
On a recent stop, it struck me that the family who owns it and the man running it are examples of greatness.
Why do I say that?
I don’t know their names and have never personally introduced myself, but I know how daunting it is to run a business.
At first glance, nothing seems remarkable. Inside the door is a counter that runs about 15 feet in length. A glass case below holds several types of boregs like spinach, cheese, olives and mushrooms. The sticky sweet baklava and a collection of cookies are in a separate section.
Minor alterations have been made in the customer area which is only deep enough for three round tables, a coffee machine and a glass case for sodas. Now, they have a couple of tables set up on the sidewalk.
A television monitor perched in a corner usually shows a soccer match taking place in some part of the globe.
Each time I visit, I’m either greeted by a tall, lanky man who sports an occasional thin beard, a woman who looks like she’s either his wife or sister and an older woman who could be the mother.
The man has started wearing glasses — a sign of aging, I suppose. He’ll often smile, ask me what I want, and if I want my boreg heated or not. A few people often line up behind me as he swiftly takes my food to the oven. If he doesn’t come back quickly then one of the two women will step to the counter and take orders.
Recently, I let my imagination mull over the possibility that the man may have had dreams of playing high-level soccer, maybe on a national team. Maybe he did, who knows?
Their English is sprinkled with the lilt of Armenian accents.
So why do I say the family who owns the bakery is an example of greatness?
I have a positive experience on every visit, though each one is brief and infrequent.
The family shows up consistently just like they have for years, provide an excellent product in their baked goods and are always pleasant. I’ve stopped in when outside temperatures are close to triple digits and the kitchen is like a blast furnace but they never wilt.
They know their craft and must give it the support it needs. Maybe greatness is about providing stability.
As noted in this write-up on Scientific American, greatness is a complex topic that’s approached in many ways. Take heart and be encouraged that you can be great regardless of your intelligence and current circumstances.
Greatness grows out of every day excellence
What does it take to run a bakery? You have to:
- have a recipe and create a tasty product on a daily basis
- supply customers and make them happy
- handle payroll
- pay expenses
- earn enough income to have a profit and pay your own bills.
That’s the simplified version which isn’t easy to do, but this bakery has been around for 70 years. So that leads to something else pertaining to greatness — you have to show up every day.
What about you?
What do you do every day that can lead to something enduring as your statement of greatness?
Showing up consistently with an attitude that you’re going to turn out a great product or offer an excellent service isn’t easy. When you do it, however, it’s an area where you can take pride in who you are, that you’re doing your best and you’re benefiting those you come into contact with.
Greatness doesn’t just happen but emerges from the little habits we develop and the experiences that we learn from. Waking up ready to face the day then aiming for excellence in your work and relationships are always important steps to take.
Plodding along without giving up or letting your emotions and beliefs sink like a rock to the ocean floor eventually gets you to where you want to go.
Think of the westward movement across the United States. Settlers wobbled in wagons over rutted pathways traveling at speeds of no more than a few miles per hour. But they did it day after day, eventually forming new villages, towns and cities.
Greatness is more meaningful than fame
Greatness isn’t about having your face splashed across glossy magazine covers or being the star on a red carpet premiere. It’s about pursuing excellence and creating something that’s enduring. It doesn’t have to be a business. Maybe it’s as wonderfully mundane as a family bond.
Imagine how secure your child or children feel when you give them a hug, show them affection, and listen to their dreams or fears. This is something they’ll remember well into their adult years and can sustain them during the tough times that they’ll face.
What if you’re ripped apart on the insides wondering where the rent is going to come from or if your clients are going to be there tomorrow? If you’re able to control that inner turmoil and offer a reassuring hug to a child then that’s a sign of a great parent.
Comforting your partner during uncertain times and sticking close to them is a sign of greatness. It takes strength and often courage that’s often difficult to muster.
If you’re struggling with fear, a short fuse or a sense of hopelessness that doesn’t mean you can’t rise above those human responses and find greatness. I can understand.
A series of tumultuous family challenges during many years of dealing with drugs and alcohol abuse to unexpected pregnancies in the family cut me down and left me weak and hopeless. For months, I thought I was done and finished.
But I turned to local available resources such as wise friends and counseling to find solid footing.
Greatness is developed through the little moments that don’t get noticed.
Greatness is born out of decisive moments
Scroll into your historical memory banks. Do you recall who Lord Chamberlain is? He was the British prime minister who served during World War Two and is known for appeasing Hitler and signing the Munich Agreement that gave Germany control over a significant portion of Czechoslovakia.
Winston Churchill succeeded him as prime minister and is known for rallying the United Kingdom while making grueling decisions in the face of an onslaught.
Which man is considered great?
What are the tough decisions you have to make? While you’re not a prime minister or president, what you decide can impact people at home or at the office.
In critical moments, the right decision isn’t easy to find. You have to trust your gut and take a leap of faith based on the information available to you at the moment. Making decisions that take you into heated conflict aren’t necessarily wrong. Greatness means you adjust and look for the best alternatives as you aim for your goals.
Greatness requires conquering your discomfort
After our first son came to us as a foster child at the age of 13 months, we got a call two months later. The agency asked if we would take in a 4-year-old boy. My wife was eager to learn more and she went to see him at the county-run shelter home for children. She came home upbeat, positive and saying I needed to go meet him.
I asked the agency how long we had to make a decision.
“How about in a week?” I asked.
“No, they need to move them and we need to decide where they’ll go.”
So I went, visited and the little guy had a beaming smile. A big smile and he was full of life as he jumped on his tricycle and rode it furiously in circles. So we brought him home and he was full of so much life and energy that he didn’t sit still and we discovered something amazing — he couldn’t play for more than 30 seconds.
And so, little by little, we lengthened the time from 30 seconds during a period of several weeks up to 45 seconds and then on to a minute. It was a painstaking process that required our full attention and took us out of our comfort zone.
During the first few months, we felt like we were drowning since we had to micromanage his actions. My wife is a family nurse practitioner, focused on pediatrics, and yet she had never seen a patient with his behaviors. He threw us a curve.
It was challenging because we had nephews and nieces who were apparently cooperative and could easily follow instructions at home. Our guy wasn’t like that.
What was ultimately the outcome? Today, he’s gainfully employed and in a couple of years will own his small property where he lives.
Where is causing you discomfort and how can you face it constructively and lay out a plan to create stability?
That’s a step in your greatness journey.
Greatness is overcoming daunting challenges
A museum exhibit in my hometown has always inspired me. It’s a diorama at Fort Ligonier, a supply depot that the British built in 1758. The exhibit shows a group of men with muscles bulging and sleeves rolled up, struggling to move an oxen cart hauling a cannon up Laurel Ridge.
A British officer stands on the slope, urging on the men who are battling over rocks and tree roots. Moving one piece of artillery was a formidable task in the 1750s. Imagine the sore muscles, bad backs and flaring tempers.
Getting down the other side of the 2,900 foot mountain was as much of a struggle. Constant braking meant progress was measured in yards, not miles.
This was the struggle that General Forbes undertook to create a roadway and series of forts from Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania in order to capture Fort Duquense.
What’s the route like today?
Route 30 is nicely paved and Laurel Mountain has been re-engineered with numerous safety measures so truckers can safely negotiate the downhill slope.
That one, particular challenge has long been conquered.
What about personal challenges? Like asking forgiveness or offering forgiveness?
If you’ve hurt others or someone has hurt you then don’t plan on living in a failed state. Redemption is possible. Work to get better and if that means swallowing your pride and heading to a group like AA to overcome a drinking problem so be it.
Don’t rush the process and don’t expect results at the snap of a finger. Seek forgiveness where necessary and if you’re rebuffed then don’t get discouraged. Keep pressing ahead.
If someone asks your forgiveness, offer it as tough as that may be. You could be aiding in the development of their personal greatness.
Finally, don’t despair if the challenges you’re facing make your world seem like it’s fading to black. Whatever circumstances you face practice positive daily habits, find resources to draw on, and don’t count on quick fixes to solve problems.
And you may not get lots of accolades. Being great may mean that the only one who ultimately recognizes your worth is God himself who says, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”
Work through your challenges. Don’t wish that life was easier. In the word of the late Jim Rohn, wish that you were better and find ways to improve and grow strong.