When the Pursuit of Greatness Does More Harm Than Good

“Seek not greatness, but seek truth and you will find both.” ~Horace Mann

You’re destined for greatness. Don’t settle for mediocrity. You can be extraordinary.

Have you ever heard one of these motivating statements? I see them all the time around the web, and while I understand the intention, I sometimes have mixed feelings about the implication.

We all want to make a difference in the world. We all want to make some kind of impact, both to contribute to mankind and to feel that our lives mean something.

It’s a great, big world out there, and at times it can feel like we don’t matter unless we’re doing something huge. We might even be tempted to label our lives as unworthy if we’re not doing something that garners attention and admiration.

This was the foundation of my early interest in performing. It wasn’t just that I loved expressing myself creatively, though I did; I’ve always had a wellspring of emotion that craved some type of artistic outlet.

It was more that I needed that feeling of standing above a crowd that was fixated on me. I desperately craved their approval and applause, their confirmation that I was a valuable person—that I was someone with talent.

Talent made me special. It made me stand out. When I held a microphone or moved center stage, I felt good about me.

But when the house lights came on at the end of the night, that feeling depended on whether or not I received verbal confirmation of my greatness. If another actor received more flowers or compliments, I feared that I wasn’t good enough.

This, right here, is what I dislike about the implication we can and should strive for greatness—it seems to imply that where we are right now isn’t already great.

And the race to be extraordinary, to me this just feeds into the type of thinking that suggests we need to stand out, to prove we’re somehow better than ordinary.

Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try to make an impact on the world, or that we should stifle our energy or efforts in order to play small.

This isn’t a judgment that small is better than big, though clearly I’m a proponent of focusing on the tiny things.

It’s just that we tend to feel more satisfied in the big things we create over time if we’re not focusing on the whole, but rather the many enjoyable parts that create it.

And we tend to be more effective if we’re drawn by a meaningful motive, rather than the need to reach some level of achievement.

When we strive for greatness, we feel a sense that we need to make a difference someday.

When we focus on our purpose, we feel a sense that we can make a difference right now.

When we aim to be extraordinary, we can get caught up competing and comparing, as if what we’re doing isn’t good enough.

When we endeavor to be meaningful, we make choices based on what aligns with our intentions, and feel good about each step along the way.

When we try to avoid mediocrity, we focus on what we don’t want to be, and create fear and pressure to excel.

When we embrace our passion, we focus on what we do want to do, and create excitement that naturally creates momentum.

If we have a compelling reason to do something, the doing itself feels great.

Now a caveat: As black and white as this may seem, naturally it isn’t. We may always feel that need for approval, at least on some level. We’re social creatures, and especially in our social media-driven world, we’re even more status-driven than ever.

This isn’t about completely relinquishing the desire to achieve and receive attention for it. It’s about recognizing how and when this desire creates more stress than inspiration.

At the end of the day, that’s what we really want—not just to seem inspiring, but also to feel inspired. We can only do that if we release the blocks that keep us gazing toward the future, looking for confirmation of our worth.

What’s your meaningful motive, and what can you do today to act on it with passion?

 Photo by Eddi van W.

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She started the site after struggling with depression, bulimia, c-PTSD, and toxic shame so she could recycle her former pain into something useful and inspire others do the same. She recently created the Breaking Barriers to Self-Care eCourse to help people overcome internal blocks to meeting their needs—so they can feel their best, be their best, and live their best possible life. If you’re ready to start thriving instead of merely surviving, you can learn more and get instant access here.

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