I've been thinking about great people lately. I guess I've been reading and learning more about them too. Not just famous people, though quite a few them are probably famous, but the select few who truly excel at something. Who become the best in the world at their field, or who do things people thought were impossible.
What does it take to be someone like that? What kind of psychology and fortitude do you need to have? What must it feel like? These questions are mostly academic - I don't intend to become this type of person anytime soon. It seems like there are a number of tradeoffs anyway and being this kind of person isn't necessarily worth it. These people, the true greatest of the great, seem to be often haunted by their achievements.
Take Michael Jackson. Arguably the world best entertainer, at least in his peak. How hard must that have been? You're competing with literally every other celebrity and wannabe superstar out there. Plus, being black certainly didn't help. It certainly wasn't for the money; he put all of it right into improving his shows or towards charity. He faced an unbelievable number of obstacles and a weaker or lazier person might have quit while they were ahead.
I think that it's quite common for greatness to be perceived in the wrong order. These kinds of people aren't great because of the things they accomplished. I think that they accomplish these things because they simply have no choice, and that drive and persistance is the amazing part. Even if he hadn't become a living legend, Michael Jackson would have pursued music and his shows. He simply wouldn't be able to stop himself.
After a stage accident, MJ was forced to take painkillers (the ones he'd later become addicted to) to continue to practice and perform at the pace he demanded. It would have been the perfect excuse to slow down, or lower the scope of his incredible goals. So many others might have used it as an excuse to retreat from public life to recover or enjoy their fame and wealth. In 2009, Michael Jackson died of anesthetic overdose 3 weeks before the start of his next concert series This Is It, once again trying to once outdo himself at any cost.
Fun fact: because he was such a huge superstar and the internet was still in its infancy, much of the internet crashed from the news. Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, AOL. I don't know if anyone alive today is popular enough to accomplish the same thing.
I think a lot of what I find fascinating about these types of people is encapsulated in this quote by Alex Honnold. He free solo'd El Capitan, or in other words climbed it without ropes or a harness. Before he did it, many people thought it was impossible to do. After years of preparation, he famously did so. Just to reiterate, this man spent 4 straight hours climbing up a wall with no safety equipment. Why? Because he can.
So what did he say to describe his motivations?
Anyone can be happy and cozy. Nothing good happens in the world by being happy and cozy. Nobody achieves anything great because they're happy and cozy.
He clearly feels some calling as well. Some strange inner motivation that compels him to accomplish this tremendous feat of climbing that has never been done before. Despite facing an injury and having the opportunity to put it down and focus on his relationship, he can't stop himself from being sucked back in. He does not seek greatness, but it is a side effect of his inner fire. This is your path and you will pursue it with excellence.
I truly do wonder what that must feel like. To want something so much you dedicate your life to it. I mean you've got to be thinking about it constantly every day. From the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep. Planning, strategizing, dreaming. It sounds tiring to me, but to them I imagine it's the only thing that gives them life.
I want things sometimes. I even occasionally want things badly. I don't know if I've ever wanted something as badly as Alex Honnold wanted to climb that mountain. There are probably lots of feats that can only be done by someone who wants something that badly. Things that require dedicating a lifetime to before they bear fruit. I guess we're lucky to live in a world where these people exist.
I think another common theme in these stories is how easy it seems like it should be to just walk away. Michael Jackson suffered an injury and would have had a fantastic excuse. Alex Honnold tried to forget about the climb when recovering from his injury, but couldn't. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest and most dominant basketball player of all time, even had a period where he quit basketball. He become a baseball player for 2 years after losing his father. On March 18, 1995, Jordan announced his return to the NBA through a two-word press release: "I'm back." He was on the court, playing for the Chicago Bulls the very next day.
Reading about these great people, hearing about their intense drive, it hardens my resolve as well. I can't stress enough how amazing I find these people and their stories; if they're able to grit their teeth and accomplish so much, then why can't I dedicate just a few minutes every day towards my own goals. If their willpower is as solid as steel, then why can't I take the effort to focus a little bit harder and without taking a break.
For all of the greats who become rich and famous, there must be hundreds or thousands of others who never do. Those with the same iron will and indomitable attitude, but working silently on their own amazing projects. Even if I might not count myself among them, these are some of my favorite types of humans and I'd consider myself lucky to meet just one. If I work hard, maybe one day I'll be able to learn a thing or two from them.