The Prerequisite to Progress: What the greatest achievers have in common
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
~ Leonardo da Vinci
Over the history of time, there have been among us people who dared to dream big and ended up creating something magnificent as a result. What they had in common was not their station in life, their family inheritance or even necessarily a solid education. Many rose up despite odds that would suggest their lives would be quite ordinary, or insignificant, perhaps growing up amidst gangs and violence and poverty to become leaders whose life stories would inspire millions of others from all backgrounds and circumstances.
What differentiates these people from the rest? And what can we all learn from them?
“Nothing happens unless first a dream.” ~ Carl Sandburg
People who do amazing things in the world often have a dream that they lovingly nurture and protect. From somewhere in the depths of their being, they know they are capable of greatness – not because they were born into it or are particularly more gifted than everyone else, but simply because it is their birthright – as it is for all of us.
Each one of us has the ability to create something extraordinary. We all have different talents and strengths, diverse styles and passions – along with a unique combination of experiences (for better or worse) that allows us to discover and apply them to create something bigger than ourselves. We may not know exactly what form it will take, but if we pay attention to the whispers and yearnings of our hearts, we begin to make out the shape of something that beckons to us.
As children, most of us received mixed messages. We may have been encouraged to follow our hearts and give life to our dreams, in addition to being conditioned to be practical, hedge our bets and take the safest route. Over time, many of us have allowed the roar of public opinion – that often tells us our dreams are frivolous, selfish and unlikely to come to fruition – to silence that small still voice within. But those among us who have risen against their odds have learned to reverse that process and believe in themselves and their dreams despite the overwhelming evidence around them that would suggest that success is improbable.
“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lost that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.” ~ Martin Luther King
The beginning of each year brings with it the question of what you will focus your time, energy and resources into accomplishing. It is an optimal time to reacquaint yourself with your dreams and visions, your purpose and values, and the question of how you can become a living example of that which you most admire. You may be quite sure of what it is you would like to create, do, have or become. Or perhaps you have only small pieces of a bigger puzzle that has not yet come together.
The power of your dream will be bolstered by the degree to which your vision expands beyond your own interests to those of others around you. Spend some time contemplating where you feel most drawn and why. When you land on something that will allow your gifts to align with those of others to accomplish complementary goals, you will join forces with something much greater than yourself. It will lift you up when your energy is low and sustain you through moments of doubt and fear.
Perhaps the whispers of our heart and the calls to greatness that we feel within our souls are essential components of a larger, collective plan that we each play a vital part in. As we rise up to play these parts fully and wholeheartedly, we can revel in the beauty of its mysterious unfolding. In the process, we will discover ourselves to be greater than we thought we were and use each moment of our lives to create something extraordinary for ourselves and others.
“Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams.”
~ Robert K. Greenleaf