Monday, May 4, 2009

The Search for Greatness

As the days of summer go on, I am realizing how much discipline will be required to accomplish my goals. I also wish I better knew my goals... There are so many good things, but they're all scheduled at the same time. I only hope that I am making the right choices and leaving the wrong choices behind.

There is a quote I found on my aunt's refrigerator this last week. It's by President Hinckley, quoting Geoffrey Colvin. “We will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years. The good news is that [our] lack of a natural gift is irrelevant – talent has little or nothing to do with greatness. Nobody is great without work.”

At one point in my life (and had it come from Colvin directly and not through a prophet), I may have contested this quote. I believed that greatness was synonymous with talent – that those who were talented in a certain area were destined to be great in it, and those who did not have those talents would be great in other things. And life seemed to agree with my belief. Students who were able to quickly learn in public school received accolades, honors, and scholarships to go on to higher learning, while students who struggled often set their sights on a different path. The naturally talented in art became artists; those talented in music got the best singing parts and made connections with the best teachers; those with athletic talent were recruited to play the sports of their choice.

To me, “greatness” was simply being better than most of the people around you. While the talented who had reached greatness may have had to work, they didn't have to work nearly as hard as those without talent. I saw that in my own life. The girl who sat next to me in AP Economics spent hours studying math so she could understand it. I can count the classes on one hand that have made me study – advanced physics included. I could easily beat my teammates in swimming... even though they trained in the off season and I missed every morning practice for Seminary. My greatness, according to my definition, was coming without the intense work I saw in their lives... and it was meaningless.

I realized that perhaps I had set my sights too low – perhaps my definition of great, which simply meant that I was better than most, needed to be raised. Raising the level to “one of the best in the world” seemed high enough, but I soon realized that the amount of work required to improve even one of my talents to that level would consume my life. Hence why talent has little to do with true greatness – even in the greatest of my gifts, my “natural talents” avail me nothing without work.

The great truth of the quote I mentioned before lies in the fact that all can become great with work. No inborn talent takes a man all the way to greatness in a given field, but no lack of talent can keep him from it. That is what President Hinckley meant, and the promise he gave to us. If we are willing to invest the work that it will take to become great, we can become great. Yes, it may be easier, at first, for one man than for another. But both can become great with time.

I quit swimming in high school. I haven't spent much time with formal music training. I didn't pursue diving. I stopped dancing shortly after my mission. I realized that I didn't want to define myself solely by those activities. And yet, I found that I had natural talent in each of those areas and in many others. I don't have enough time in life to become the best in all those areas... and, for a long time, I felt it was my fault. Perhaps I wasn't working hard enough. Perhaps the time I wasted doing other things could have enabled me to be a concert pianist, an Olympic swimmer, and to graduate with a triple major. Yet, even when I dedicated all my time to the improvement of my talents I wasn't able to develop them all... and I realized that, again, I had set my sights too low. I wanted to become great in something... while my goal should have simply been to become great.

This little quote is symbolic of a realization that has brought me incredible peace. For much of my life, I thought that greatness – being one of the best in the world – was an obligation that came with talent. Those who were blessed with natural gifts had the divine duty to become great in the expression of their gifts. That was my interpretation of the parable of the talents – if the Lord gave you two, you gave back four. If He gave you two hundred, you gave back four hundred. Hence, if He gave me a gift, it was my responsibility to use it and to make it great... for every gift.

I am realizing more and more, as time goes on, that talents and trials are simply tools that the Lord uses to shape us into the people He wants us to become... and the greatness He expects of us has little to do with the talents we were given. I don't need to perform on Broadway, learn 20 languages, or win gold medals to use my talents to build the kingdom... I just need to be willing to use and develop them the best I can. The reason why the Lord gives us each talents, skills, blessings, trials, and difficulties is to help us grow to become more like Him, and to help others – that all may be profited thereby. True greatness comes from improving our talents, using our skills and blessings to help others, enduring our trials well, and learning from and overcoming our difficulties. He expects us to do all that we can to improve ourselves – to become great – and He will do the rest. As long as I am doing my best and trust in Him, it doesn't matter if I have become great in all things. What matters is that I became great in my willingness to follow God.

I look at my own life and the things that I do. I definitely have a long way to go before I ever reach 'greatness.' And that's ok. Greatness is just a step on the pathway to perfection, and I don't expect to arrive there very soon... The good news is that greatness is possible for each of us, no matter who we are or what we have done in our lives. We can become great – people that inspire others to come unto Christ and change the world with their very existence.

The road to greatness differs with each one of us, but it is always possible. We are children of God, and He expects us to become great – to become loving members of His kingdom, willing to give everything we have to the building up of Zion. I know that the true measure of whether we have used our talents and blessings wisely will not be whether we won an Academy Award... but whether we learned how to turn to God and to bless the lives of others. That is why which talents we have, and how much of them, is irrelevant to the pursuit of greatness – no matter what we were given, it will take a lifetime of work. And that's ok. God will bless and guide us in our quest. Stay on the path to greatness and help others find it, too – go out and be missionaries!


  1. thanks for sharing. remember you met me at that fireside a few weeks ago? well thanks again!


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