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  • Writer's pictureRobin Koerner

Greatness, defined?

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

The first quote in my 240-page commonplace book (see the first blog entry above) is this.

If you wish to proceed into the infinite, explore the finite in all directions.

– Goethe.

For all I can remember, that might have been the quote that convinced me (at the tender age of 21 or thereabouts) to start keeping a commonplace book in the first place.

It recently struck me (as I was wondering about my minor problem of not being Michael Jordan that the resonance of this quote with me might explain why I’m not Michael Jordan. (It also explains why I wouldn’t give up the experience of being me for the experience of being him, glorious and wonderful though I am certain it is, even given the choice.)

The quote resonates with me because, whereas MJ feels like a competitor, I feel like a seeker.

Actually, it does more than resonate: it’s almost a statement of my raison d’etre.

I seek deep Truths, whose objects are not limited to the physical and whose expression is not limited to the verbal. How, in a world of things and words, can I hope to touch, let alone, glimpse such Truths? In the words of Goethe, how can I hope to proceed into the infinite?

Goethe’s quote - the first of my commonplace book - provides the answer.

I am trying to find things out. MJ is trying to do things, or perhaps prove things. I suspect these differences in what we are motivated by translate to the difference in how we experience that motivation.

Of course, since (as I decided in my previous post) MJ and I are made of the same stuff, I also want to prove things and he also wants to find things out. So this is not an either-or proposition … But since we’re made of the same stuff but in very different proportions, MJ’s finding things out is secondary to his doing and proving things while my doing and proving things is secondary to my finding things out.

The extent to which those statements are true is the extent to which I am unable to manufacture for myself MJ-style motivation.

What, then, is the positive lesson MJ has for a person like me? Is there one?

I think so and it is this: to be as like MJ as one can be or should ever seek to be (apparently, that’s what all the kids want these days), one shouldn’t seek to be more like him, but to be more like oneself. One must embrace what one is as much as he embraces what he is.

Fearlessly embracing self is the way to maximize motivation and, in that sense, become the best possible version of yourself; trying to be more like the best (and even most motivated) person you know isn’t the way.

In other words, great people have in common not some part of what they are – but that they are what they are completely.

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