“Greatness is never achieved by trying to imitate the greatness of another. Greatness is chipping away at all that does not belong to you and then expressing yourself so truly that others can’t help but recognize it. It is in silence that we discover ourselves.” – Jewel, Never Broken
“Greatness is when you leave the room, & people have more hope than when you entered.” – Rob Bell
I read the first quote last month while reading Jewel’s book, Never Broken, and heard the second during a podcast interviewing the author, Rob Bell.
These words of wisdom have challenged my views of greatness and self-expression and the importance of being true to yourself.
Most of us start somewhere on our journey to finding our artistry – we often mimic others we admire first and then slowly learn to find our own personal expression and flow. This can take time however, and it is easy to compare ourselves and feel like we will never be “talented” enough or as good as others. Maybe someone else is already doing what we want to do, and we feel like there isn’t space for us.
Greatness feels like a lofty and selfish goal, in some ways. As if it means being better than others or getting more recognition for your work. I love the freeing notion that greatness can bring hope. It isn’t about being better or more liked or more beautiful or making more money, but bringing hope to others.
I think about my various artistic endeavors which bring me joy – writing, photography, picking flowers from my garden and making simple arrangements at home, painting, drawing – and when I think about whether they are worth the effort or question whether they will ever “amount” to anything, I realize I am using a false measuring system and asking all the wrong questions.
I know that whenever I start to feel a motive creep through me that comes from a desire to be admired or make myself feel like I am better than someone else or to prove something to the world (or family, friends, competitors, etc.), I am allowing my step to be shifted away from greatness and toward something much less worthy of my time.
If we are simply measuring our accomplishments in life by “likes” and “shares” on social media, comments and recognition from friends or even comparing our own work with someone else and patting ourselves on the back for creating better content, we are allowing ourselves to get lost in the noise and stunt our forward motion, when true growth comes through silence and reflection and practicing the hard, everyday discipline of showing up and doing the work.
So now, when I question my worth and how much energy I am putting into something, when I look hard and deep and wonder if there is any point or if I am going in the “right” direction, I am asking new questions.
I am asking whether it brings hope.
Or sheds light on truth.
Or inspires beauty and growth and goodness in others.
Whether it brings joy to myself and those around me.
This feels so simple and can be applied to so much in life: work, art, parenting, writing, teaching – anything we aspire to do or be. Even small things can be done with greatness. But it is hard, because it feels backwards to what our culture teaches us about success and security and moving up in the world and making a difference and becoming something “big”.
But “great” and “big” aren’t really the same word.
And as Jewel states, greatness is actually about becoming smaller, shedding the things that don’t belong to us, and expressing our light freely.