Why most people won’t ever achieve greatness

Michael Jordan
Nathaniel S. Butler | Getty Images
Michael Jordan

Anyone can achieve greatness. Anyone.

Greatness is relative, yes. The results might look different; for some, simply quitting an addiction means greatness. For others, creating a Fortune 500 company means greatness.

Anyone can do this. But most people won't.

I'm not talking about simple averages and logistics, where "obviously everyone can't be in the top 5 percent." That's bull. If you take a class of 100 students, 100 students could achieve greatness.

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This is because we all have a choice, every moment of every day. As author Rebecca Eanes once wrote, "In between every action and reaction, there is a space." In this moment, you choose how you will react.

This moment is very small, sometimes small enough we don't believe it's there. This is where phrases like "I had no choice" or "I couldn't help it" come from. Yes, you could. You just chose not to. Stop lying to yourself.

More and more people are hiding behind the excuse that their behaviors, actions, and choices are out of their control. They claim the economy, Donald Trump, their boss, their landlord, the cops, societal norms, and a hundred other things control their life.

It's time to unlearn this prison of a belief. Not dissect it, or analyze it, or debate it.

Just completely unlearn it.

Why is so much of the world mediocre?

"Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life." -Jim Collins

You may wonder: if 100 out of 100 people could achieve greatness, why do so few ever do?

It's not even that they tried and failed, either; most people never even try at all.They spend their lives without even as much as an attempt to create their masterpiece.

Why do so few people ever achieve greatness (even when they could)?

It's a good question. The answer is simple:

Because it's easier to let someone else call the shots.

And as long as someone else is calling the shots, greatness isn't attainable.

It's scary to be the CEO of your life. It's an enormous responsibility. It means you can't blame other people for your problems anymore — every failure, every missed opportunity, and every failed attempt is on you.

Most people don't want this heavy responsibility. So they begin stacking excuses like bricks, sealing themselves inside a box of explanations and rationalizations.

To this, author David Schwartz once quipped: "The fellow who has gone nowhere and has no plans for getting anywhere always has a bookful of reasons to explain why."

For most people, it's just easier to blame unchangeable external factors for their lack of success.

It becomes extremely difficult to help people get out of this limiting mindset, too. In his book, "Choose Yourself," James Altucher wrote: "If someone insists they need to be in prison even though the door is unlocked, then I am not going to argue. They are free to stay in prison."

Why is so much of the world mediocre?

Because they choose to be.

Anyone can achieve greatness. And anyone who claims they can't is simply trying to explain why they can't leave their cell — even though the door is unlocked.

"The moment you accept total responsibility for everything in your life is the day you claim the power the change anything in your life." -Hal Elrod

Increase your clarity to avoid settling for second-best

"We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal." Robert Brault

No one wakes up, brushes their teeth, and puffs out their chest with a confident smile and yells, "Today, I am going to SUCK!"

I mean, maybe some people do.

No — most people would claim they want to live exciting, extraordinary lives. They might even appear to work very hard at it. But they never really make any progress.

These people make up what author Hal Elrod once labeled the "Mediocre Majority." These are people that, despite their good intentions, still end up settling for second-best.

Their problem isn't that they willingly and intentionally dive face-first into a brick wall of mediocrity. Their problem is that the path to mediocrity is simply more clear than the path to greatness.

You follow the path that is most clear.

And since most people have marked the path to mediocrity pretty well, that's the one most people follow. It's what they know.

If you want to live an extraordinary life, you need to develop clarity on exactly how to do that.

Extremely successful people have high levels of clarity on everything that is most important. These top-tier individuals know if you don't know where you're headed, there's no telling where you'll end up.

In the famous words of Bilbo Baggins: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Finding clarity isn't always easy. In the past 5 years, I've had at least a dozen different ideas for my life  —  a Navy SEAL, a novelist, a career coach, even a chef at a 5-star restaurant. "Clarity" was rarely available.

Yet clarity is exactly what you need if you want to end up settling for the mediocrity most people slowly slip into. (This 20-minute exercise was incredibly helpful for me).

How to achieve greatness, starting today

"If you want to live an exceptional and extraordinary life, you have to give up many of the things that are part of a normal one." -Srinivas Rao

Achieving greatness is simply a matter of consistently going from point A to point B, every single day.

In the words of Tim Grover, personal trainer to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant: "People are always asking me about the secrets and tricks I use to get results. Sorry if this disappoints you: there are no secrets. There are no tricks. It's simple. Ask yourself where you are now, and where you want to be instead. Ask yourself what you're willing to do to get there. Then make a plan to get there. Act on it."

This isn't sexy advice. There are no shortcuts or "hacks." It's not easy.

But it's simple: consistent progress, every day.

What does "greatness" mean to you? No one else can define that for you.

Once you determine what that means, what can you do today to get a little closer there?

By the way, we've stumbled upon the very formula that is responsible for the greatest accomplishments by the most successful leaders the world has ever witnessed:

Moving one step closer, every day.

That's it.

Hundreds of the world's most prolific creators, rulers, humanitarians, and leaders have been saying this in different ways for thousands of years. Their advice is just as refreshingly relevant today as it was then. It will be in the year 3000, too.

In conclusion

"Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline." -Jim Collins

Greatness doesn't happen by chance.

Settling for mediocrity doesn't, either.

They're both choices. Both require work. Sometimes, it takes just as much work — maybe more — to remain in mediocrity. Sitting with the mental stress and disappointment of mediocrity is an enormous daily drain.

If you're reading this, you have a choice today — to move from point A to point B; to take a step closer to personal evolution.

Most people won't ever achieve greatness.

But you can. And all you need to do is take one step today.

Anthony Moore is the founder of StuffGradsLike.com where he coaches 20 and 30 somethings to achieve success in career, finances, and passion.

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This article originally appeared on Medium.