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Understanding Greatness

and the role of critics and haters.

By Blake A SwanPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 12 min read
Understanding Greatness
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

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Everybody wants to be great. But what does that mean? What would you do if you became great or even the greatest? It’s time to move beyond the words that we say in hyperbole. Start defining our terms because the thing about greatness is that it’s hard to deny. We fully believe we know greatness when we see it. However, today I ask, what is greatness?

Define Your Terms: From Great to GOAT

Greatness is defined as the quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent. Love it when they use the word in the definition. Great, we will define as considerably above normal or nowhere near your average bear. Great is a level beyond normal and beyond good. Being great means you are in the realm of the best. Yet, we use it for everything. Diminishing its meaning to where to be great means little to nothing now. To be called a GOAT carries about the same significance.

What is the GOAT? Who is the GOAT?

By Ray Aucott on Unsplash

For those who don’t know, GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time. It was once a term reserved for Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Prince. Now, kids will use it to refer to McDonald’s fries. We are describing not only the best today, but the best to ever do it. Again, understanding that most people know greatness when they see it, there is a consensus. If we can define what it means to be great, the difficulty comes in attempting to rank greatness. Which gives rise to the GOAT conversation. 

Despite having a definition and understanding of what greatness means in a traditional sense, let’s update the term to reflect on the reality. The reality is greatness comes in two forms. Which is defined by critics and recognized by hate. That’s because I define greatness as when Passion meets Perseverance. 

The Two Forms of Greatness 

Traditional concepts of greatness are limited in their definition because they rely on the perception of others. Finding someone willing to quantify an athlete’s greatness is a non-traditional form is easy. Today, we just call that a “hot take.” Normative data is quite useful to quantify someone’s performance or ability and yet it shows where someone is today.

That's the greatness we always discuss, but have you ever wondered how people get there?

Determining when you become great is difficult using when you’re using the External Definition of Greatness or the EDG. Today, you’ll understand how to greatness from an internal perspective we will call the Internal Definition of Greatness.

How We Become Great

By Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Greatness is when perseverance meets Passion. Passion is a strong and barely controllable emotion. Passion compels us to act despite the world. When we discussed the Stresses of Life, it’s passion that overtakes those Stresses. Let’s examine Mental Stress, Emotional Stress, and Dietary Stress.

You’ll forget about the limitations or your perceptions, much like the person who’s told their too small or the wrong gender. Passion overrides that concept and allows you to dedicate yourself to the process. Overriding the emotions like fear and anger because that desire is greater. Last, you may alter your diet as needed to experience the euphoria you receive from fulfilling your passion. Just as an artist may avoid eating, an athlete may force themselves to eat to achieve the physique required.  

Regardless of the work you put in on yourself, the outside world may not recognize your greatness. Think about an artist that gains fame and recognition after death. Does this mean they were not great before? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. Look no further than sports rankings and projections. People spend their careers ranking athletes and missing much more than they hit.

You can get a sense of passion, but you can’t predict perseverance.

By Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Working with athletes at all levels on thing I can tell you is that it is impossible to predict perseverance. There are a lot of outstanding athletes. Athletes that could become great. Yet, even with every opportunity and every advantage, they plateau. That’s because it requires perseverance. There will be lulls in your passion. We aren’t always happy or sad and trust when we encounter an obstacle in our path to greatness.

It’s easy to lose that passion. Easy to find something different to do. Especially the longer it takes for us to reach that barrier. That top ranked HS athlete never failed until they got to college. That top ranked college athlete never failed until they got to college. It goes on and on. Once we fail, it requires perseverance to continue. Perseverance to push through the lows of our pursuits. 

Interesting enough, this topic is a perfect example. It’s a subject I speak on often, yet writing it down, recording it, speaking it to truth is difficult. There are a dozen other projects I could be doing. I just got back from vacation. There are several excuses to abandon this. I know I’m passionate about it. Helping people is a euphoric rush that keeps me up at night, wondering how I can do it more. 

By Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

No one is here to watch it. No one will give me accolades and praise. It’s the inglorious part of the pursuit that is vital to becoming great. The secret is that if you are persistent, the mere act of persevering is what makes you great. That is greatness. You are and will produce great work. It may take a long time for others to notice and for you to achieve the EDG.

External Definition of Greatness

The EDG is what we all know. It’s what we can quantify and see. Easy to see Tom Brady’s career or LeBron’s career and say they’re great. We are only catching the pieces of greatness they share. We have missed the greatness they achieved on their own. Outside of the spotlights.

We take for granted the greatness we are shown because we have become accustomed to their level of performance. Yet, still they don’t stop. When they become the best in their field, they could rest on their resume. It wouldn’t be difficult and most wouldn’t blame you. Yet, that’s how they became great. The strongest motivator and instigator of greatness is criticism. 

Criticism - The Good with the Bad

Criticism is the feedback system for greatness. It is a tool used to evaluate you regarding the norms. It’s the disapproval of something or someone based on perceived faults or mistakes. What we forget is that a criticism is a part of the critique.

The critique is a detailed analysis and assessment. You cannot have the light without the dark. If we only accept the praise portion of the critique, how do we know how to get better? Today, our problems revolve around our inability to accept the criticism. Not only by the criticized but also by the person who is offering their critique. 

More than ever, people have access to each other through social media. That random trailing thought you had in your head can be shared in an instant with little reflection. Often, we share things we wouldn’t want to hear ourselves. A criticism we wouldn’t even accept ourselves. 

If you want to add to the conversation, you must first add to the conversation.

It’s an analysis or an assessment. To only focus on criticizing someone puts you at fault. As a coach, it’s easy to notice what went wrong. Knowing that I work with multiple age groups to build credibility with my clients, I always offer the good and the bad. This works, this needs work. As a person who cares about the outcomes, of course I offer a critique.

Understanding that criticism, while unsavory, is a crucial component. It’s the only way we advance our skill set and our entire game. Taking us from a talented artist to a great artist and a competent writer to a brilliant writer. The benefit in athletics is that there is a tangible, easily measurable change more often than not.

The greatest, the GOATs all have a chip on their shoulder. They find motivation under their pillows at night and even in their imaginations. It helps them get focused on the task at hand. Greatness, through passion and perseverance, takes criticism and turns it into something better. Knowing that it’s another obstacle to keep you going once the world has already recognized your greatness.

By Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

However, criticism without assessment or analysis is not a critique. If you are more concerned with what you dislike or hate in the performance and that overrides the analysis, you have crossed over from giving a critique to giving hate. Which is actually a sign that you’re on the right track.

What is a Hater? 

A hater is defined as a person who doesn’t want to see you succeed. They are unjustly critical of someone or something, regardless of merit. People who take time and energy out of their day to deter you from what you’re doing. We mentioned before that the true sign of a hater is that the inability to offer a critique. If their analysis and assessment is devoid of comparative and reflections, it’s falling into the category of hate. 

Again, with so many people able to express themselves via social media, it becomes quite difficult to differentiate between a terrible, limited critique and hate. 

By Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Having haters is not a bad sign, however. Haters are actually a major marker of success. What you are doing or have done has reached enough people that they have taken notice. The path of your own is creating a reaction. Through proper evaluation, on yourself or through other professionals, you can understand the true issues within your work.

Even if you changed everything about yourself to appease them, the hater will still disapprove. Which brings me to my biggest lesson of the day about being great. It’s the reason haters are useful.

Everyone knows greatness when they see it

Greatness is where perseverance meets passion. Passion will always guide you towards improving your craft and integrity. Perseverance will carry you through your mistakes and the countless times your work won’t be good enough for you, let alone other people. 

So if every knows greatness and sees greatness, that also includes your haters. Even before the rest of the world knows about your greatness, the surrounding people can see it. The truth about haters is:

Haters don’t hate your greatness. They hate the fact that your greatness eliminates their excuse for not being great.

No one watches someone else dunk and isn’t impressed. They may say they aren’t impressed, but as soon as someone leaps into the air, we all stop and look. Watching a goalie in hockey capture a puck, a golfer sink, a putt, or even a soccer goalie punting the ball.

We are consumed and glued to greatness. Until we recognize ourselves in the person performing the skill.

They are our size; same weight; from our town, etc. Recognizing someone that has the same or less of a disposition than us, or the player we admire, drives us into a mental stress situation. You’ve told everyone so many “if only” statements you’d think you were a programmer. This person has overcome every limitation.

A physical representation of your own limitations being insignificant towards your goals. That you lacked the passion or perseverance and that is quite a difficult thing to cope with. So we resort to diminish their accomplishments. Or, perhaps even worse, we aim to get them to stop in the most deceptive way possible.

Two Types of Haters: Negative, and Positive

Just like the two types of greatness, we have two types of haters. The second type of hater is extremely deceptive. So much so that if you have one of them in your life, they are probably your best friend. This hater is the positive hater.

A positive hater sees where you are in life and, again, they don’t like it. It could be them and they have moved into the position that it should’ve been them. Now there’s room for them to do the same thing. Which is why they will attempt to ruin your perseverance with praise. Telling you how good you are. 

“You’ve done enough and have nothing left to prove. Everyone knows you’ve done enough. Greatness is unquestionable thus why do you continue to work so hard?”

By LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Passion drove you into your profession. Nothing flourishes in this world without stress. Knowing this, by removing the surrounding stress, they hope to stunt growth. Making you run away from legitimate critiques into a world of comfort. One they will use to fill their shoes while you get lazy, rusty, and inflexible.

In terms of Free The SOL, they are dulling your intellectual, emotional, and mental stress, hoping to derail your career. Hoping they will fill in once the world passes you by. Relationships, friendships and dating life, jobs, careers, lifestyles, each can be susceptible to positive haters who will infiltrate your circle and kill you with kindness.

Greatness does not just belong to the external world. It’s not something that just magically appears once someone else recognizes. There is an internal factor that is crucial for moving well beyond the realms of average and good. Driven through passion and sustained through perseverance, we are great well before our work reflects it.

That’s the key. Practicing what makes you great consistently is what makes you great. Making you receptive to critique to improve our craft.

There will never be enough time to work on your craft. Yet, with the feedback from the external world, it’s important to recognize where it’s coming from. On one hand, it’s going to make you learn about your passion and hone your technique. When you’ve become great enough for it to be recognized, part of that recognition will be hate.

People who see what you’re doing and where you’re headed and they identify with it and with you. Until you exceed the limitations they set for themselves. Creating the type of mental stress that blinds them to accepting the reality of their situation. For others, they may accept the reality and decide that they can replace you. Not through competition, but through convincing you to stop doing the things that make you great.

By Phil Shaw on Unsplash

Regardless of the type of hater in your life, they are the midpoint where your Internal Definition of Greatness meets the External Definition of Greatness. It means the world has taken notice and you are well above the norm. Quickly becoming the best in your field because you allowed your passion to guide you and persevered through the highs and lows of your endeavors.


About the Creator

Blake A Swan

NCSA Strength and Conditioning Professional certified as a CSCS, TSAC-F, and CPT. I have my FMS Certification as well, and spent over a decade working with athletes in various sports. Including youth, high school, college, Olympic and Pro.

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