What is it about being great?
Three concerts, a tennis match, and a friend's triumph over the odds gave me a glimpse into what makes being great... so...great.
I’m deathly afraid to drive to La Guardia airport. I have successfully avoided the terror of the driver’s seat coming and going from LGA for over 20 years. So what gave me the courage to turn on the car, shift into gear, face my fear and pick up my beloved at Gate C last week?
We had tickets to see O.A.R., one of my favorite bands at Jones Beach.
To get there on time, I had no choice but to pick him up from La Guardia. On a good day, it is terrifying to navigate the twists and turns and terrible NY drivers. That day was a bad day. A Saturday night in the summer. But I did it. It was horrible, awful, worse than a trip to the dentist, but it was worth it.
Why? It was going to be great.
I love the adrenaline rush of hearing my favorite song played live, under the stars, along with tens of thousands of fellow fans.
The concert was amazing. The lights. The crowd. The overpriced wine. But mostly, it was the talent. It felt like they were playing just for me. They were present and focused on doing what they do best. Making music. Flawless. In harmony.
I left the concert inspired. I am tone deaf, have paralyzing stage fright, and couldn’t plug in an electric guitar if my life depended on it however, at that moment, right after the concert, I felt like I could do anything.
Two days later, another brush with musical greatness
This time it was an intimate setting with a living legend, David Bromberg. We sat in the front row as this octogenarian played his guitar with his band with the spark and spirit as if he was playing for the first time.
Then a few days later, it was a solo performer, Ben Folds. Just him, his grand piano, and the spotlight. He played with pure joy. And the audience couldn’t get enough of it.
Okay, three concerts in less than seven days. Not a normal week for me. It was the culmination of COVID cancellations — all in one week.
Then I experienced greatness in tennis
We put on our sunscreen and donned our baseball caps, and headed to Flushing, Queens, to see the world’s best tennis players at the US Open. We like to go early in the tournament to see the lesser-known players - up close. First, we watched a women’s doubles match. Then some incredible men’s singles. And, then we watched an insanely close men’s doubles match. The two teams were playing their best, and the volleys towards the end seemed to go on forever. One small misstep ultimately ended the tie-breaker. My heart broke for the losers, but it soared for the winners.
So, what does it take to be great?
As I watch these musicians and athletes, it is easy to be inspired by their efforts. They are at the peak of their craft.
But, we only see the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know their back story. How hard they work, what has set them back, and their personal challenges.
Every once in a while, you get a chance to go backstage and see what it takes for true greatness to succeed. I have a dear friend who is smart, determined, and fearless. He has a habit of walking into a situation and seeing how to fix it months before anyone else even knows a disaster is brewing. He has ruffled feathers. He doesn’t tolerate fools. He can be extremely frustrating. He knows there was a better way, to do things. A year ago he set out to create a company of his own.
He didn’t have a fancy MBA or Wall Street investment banker contacts. He didn’t have a fancy car or watch. What he did have was emotional intelligence and grit. He walked into dozens of meetings with a clear vision, a good pitch deck (I helped him a little with that), and determination. In response, he got “You are too this,” “not enough that,” and “maybe you should do this” instead. It didn’t stop him. He kept going.
The other day, he called me. The dam finally broke. He had secured the backing he needed to make his dream happen.
As he shared the details, I experienced the same rush of adrenaline as I did when I was attending the concerts and the tennis match. He did it. He made it happen. He did something truly great, and it inspired me.
Greatness comes in all shapes and sizes. It is loud, and it is silent. It is public, and it is private. It is bold in a bright costume or unassuming in wrinkled sweatpants. While we often experience it on stage, center court, or at the finish line, more often, it is happening in the nooks and crannies of daily life - making breakfast, watering the plants, folding clothing, fixing a leak in the basement, caring for a friend. It starts from a place deep inside. It is nurtured with hard work, determination, a willingness to take risks, face failure, and be vulnerable.
It is in all of us. We just need to recognize it.
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