Why Not Challenge Yourself To Greatness?

Why try? Failure and death are inevitable. In the end, the only unknown is whether we overcame.

Is your life going to be more like an American movie or a French movie? Will it end in the hero surviving the fiery crucible, or more like a 1970s French movie, ending where it lingers, in ambiguity and pointlessness?

Too many people’s lives are defined by shortcuts taken on the road to mediocrity. Dare to be great. Stretch just that little bit beyond in what you do today, and you could find yourself suddenly not only doing more than others expect of you, but more than you expected of yourself.

This week, my family is away, and I’m left to do what I like to do. So I’ve worked 100 hours this week. It’s not that hard: 7 days, 14–16 hours a day. That leaves a few hours for browsing the internet, washing clothes, eating meals, and 4–5 hours of sleep.

People sometimes ask me why I try so hard, and why I try doing such hard or impossible things, things which result in failure as much as they succeed. I could stop or slow down. I’ve done enough.

Why do I keep trying?

Ultimately we are all going to grow old and die. Along the way, we suffer. But also, along the way, we all have a chance for greatness. What can you do today that is in service of a path to greatness? And by greatness, I’m not saying greatness for sheer personal benefit, but greatness in the injustices we’ve righted, in the status quo that we’ve uprooted, in the disruptions we’ve introduced that help move a situation forward.

Yes, we are all going to suffer and die. We are all going to face unimaginable and unbearable hardship in our lives. The loss of loved ones, of personal dignity, Thierry’s hand, and Irish weather. These things are certainties. If we are going to suffer anyway, why not suffer for a reason worth fighting for?

How much harder is it to challenge ourselves just that little bit more? A little more day-to-day hardship, a little more professional courage, interpersonal forthrightness, and directness in dealing with unpleasant people and situations. Why not try standing up for what is right, a fraction more of the time than we do currently?

In Iraq, I made up huge banners on the side of all of our reconstruction projects that said “The first step is to believe. The second is to start.” Not a particularly good slogan, I’m sure Madison Avenue could come up with something a lot better. And yet, the core of this still resonates with me. The first step is to believe.

We desire radical change. We desire tomorrow to be better than today. We rage against the machine, the obvious disconnection between the way things are and the way they should be.

We rebel against the idiots who run things. We delight in the things that are well run. We love to smile and to laugh. We love to respect people who are worthy of our respect. We love to work with others who are passionate about the work we are here to do together. We love to build.

I was in a band once. We had a few brief moments, in rooms rocking with people who thought we were stars. We spent hundreds of hours laboring for those moments. I still want my moment in the sun. The arts pull emotion and meaning into our lives. Poetry has a place in our hearts and in the way we want to live, bigger than life itself. Can you create art in your work?

Engineering is about art. It’s hard to find a beautiful building that wasn’t engineered to be remarkable. Or a well designed product or interface that wasn’t crafted with an inspired and loving attention to detail.

Entrepreneurship is an art. Design meaning into the things you do every day, creating efficiency and opportunity that draws people to you. Everyone loves to buy from an artisan, whether that person runs a candy shop or develops software.

What is the unstoppable force inside us that keeps us striving to create, and to innovate, and to persist doing impossibly difficult things when it would be easier to just give up? Because… life isn’t worth living unless it can be improved.

I was a janitor once. Worked in my high school, amongst all my classmates. To me, it was a hard thing to swallow. Although the work was necessary, I wasn’t very good at it, and I knew I could do something with my life that was more meaningful, and that I would be better at.

Yes, we all have a lot of dishes to wash. Laundry to fold. Weight to lose. Exercise to work into our lives. Kindness we sometimes forget to include and rudeness or gracelessness we wish we would omit. But it’s not good enough to keep from sliding backward. We must find and fight for a future which is better than the past.

I was a filmmaker once. I made a particularly moving documentary about my mother; it won awards. At one screening, the lights came up in the theatre after the credits rolled and I took the stage and saw half the audience was still in tears.

I still want to move people.

Who are we? Why are we? We are legion. We are building the future. We are part of the team that re-invented things. We suffer, yes, but it’s worth the fight. Join us. We can use your help!

The big unknown is whether we as individuals will overcome the odds and do something meaningful with our lives, lived our lives to the fullest. Are you on that path? Why not? Why not challenge yourself to greatness?

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Originally published at sosv.com on January 30, 2014.