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Success v/s Greatness

I was watching The Green Room with Paul Provenza last night, and in the episode starring Patrice O’Neal (RIP), Bob Saget(RIP) and Roseanne Barr, I hear something thought provoking.

Roseanne says this is something someone told her a long time ago - Some where in your career you’ll have to choose between success and greatness. And once you make that choice you cannot change your path.

I strongly resonate with that - success and greatness are two different paths in life. To be successful (monetary success), you have to conform to the masses expectations of you… To be great you have to split from the norm and build your own way of doing things, all the while trying to fend for yourself and your family.

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In the comedy world, it’s simple to see - the biggest and the richest are the ones that conform to what the masses want… Kevin Hart is a successful comedian. He’s not the GOAT. That’s Dave Chappelle.

Jimmy Fallon is a successful Late night host - relatively speaking. Conan O’Brian is the GOAT - the Buddha of late night/comedy.

I’m not saying that in the Venn Diagram of greatness and success, there is no overlap - a handful of folks have been great & successful (not just through PR). But that’s not for everyone to follow.

In fact, the vast majority of individuals don’t strive for success or greatness, they’re happy with mediocrity. No, that’s harsh. They’re happy with ‘Good’. And there is nothing wrong with that… majority of the folks do not seek happiness in their work/craft - they find it elsewhere.

Think of it this way - The path to being great is like trying to climb the unclimbable mountain. Very few will even attempt it, and only 1 or 2 achieve it.

The path to success is like trying to climb Mt Everest - a lot of people are trying to do the same and there is a line. It’s an achievement, nonetheless, but not a noteworthy one.

Statistically, 6.6k people have officially ascended Mt Everest - which is, itself, a feat. But those unclimbable mountains? 1 or 2.

That’s the difference between success and greatness - there is tremendous amount of risk at both ends - but the path you choose will determine the kind of risks you’ll face…

Interestingly, greatness and success depend on each other. Greatness needs the successful to hoist their flag and pay them for their craft, while successful need the great to feel good about themselves.

So, the next time you’re thinking about your career and where you want to go, ask yourself, do you want to be great (and endure the hardships associated with finding greatness) or do you want to be successful (and hope to luck it out with the rest of the world)?

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