Greatness or Grandiosity?

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Judaism encourages us to strive for greatness. What’s more, one of the greatest needs of a human being is to be great.  This is because we are created in the image of G-d and every human being is instilled with a thirst to be G-d-like.  We see this everywhere we look, in every field of human endeavor: sports, business, entertainment, and spirituality, people are seeking greatness.  But is it greatness we are seeking or grandiosity?

True greatness evolves from the inside, out. The truly great person, above all, possesses great character and inner strength which is manifest in his actions.  Abraham was a great person because he built himself into a tower of strength and became a great person by passing ten difficult life tests.  Our tradition describes Abraham as “solid wall with no cracks in it.”

Greatness is built slowly through consistent hard work day in and day out. Great people are patient.  It starts by taking an honest accounting of who one is, ones strengths and weakness and then setting a course forward based on actualizing one’s creative potential while patiently working with ones limitations.  The great person embraces his imperfection and moves forward with measured efficiency.  The great person never panics and worries about her place in history or her legacy.  She is too busy creatively growing in the present and enjoying the process of living and growing.

Grandiosity on the other hand is impatient and restless; always looking for the big breakthrough that will catapult one to the top of the charts. The grandiose person is obsessed with his legacy and being a winner.

Greatness comes from a place of strength, self-acceptance, self-love, and confidence. Great people know themselves and like themselves.  They are motivated not by trying to become a copy of someone else, but by striving to develop their own uniqueness

Grandiosity, on the other hand, comes from a place of insecurity and emptiness. The grandiose person is always trying to fill their inner void with success and accomplishments.  Because they are often quite lost and confused, they run after trying to be like someone else.

Perhaps the most important difference between greatness and grandiosity is that greatness is grounded in a desire to give, while grandiosity is grounded in a need to take. Greatness is about giving, while grandiosity is about taking.  True greatness is motivated by a sincere desire to help others.  Grandiosity is motivated by ego gratification which is ultimately about serving oneself, not others.  The grandiose person may well be involved in a humanitarian cause, but at her core, she cares more about herself then the people she is trying to help.  Greatness is about giving and loving, while grandiosity is about taking and building-up ones deflated ego.  The grandiose person may well be a leader of a cause, but her real agenda is about herself and therefore his acts of giving are really acts of taking.  Grandiosity may look powerful and charismatic, but it is superficial and a shallow attempt to appear great.

Great people experience a deep inner calm, vitality, and truly feel alive. Great people even when they fail feel vitalized.  When ones goals are to better the lives of others, one feels bad for those he failed to help, but does not feel like a failure.  He enjoys the process of making his best effort and doesn’t experience failure as detracting from his value as a human being.   .

Grandiose people, on the other hand, experience constant dissatisfaction, anxiety, self-doubting, and jealousy. The grandiose person may feel on top of the world when he’s succeeding and in the spot light, but since such a high is impossible to sustain, he often sinks into a depression when he tastes defeat and failure.  For the grandiose person, failure is always experienced as diminishing his value as a human being.

Everyone has the potential for greatness, but to get on the path towards genuine greatness, one must be honest with oneself and deal with ones grandiosity. With this in mind, I suggest you explore the following questions.

What drives me most—a desire to help others or a need to build myself-up?

Do I generally feel happy and vitalized or unhappy and lifeless?

Do I believe success will fulfill me and make me happy?

What do I truly care about?

Who do I enjoy helping?

What can I do that will make a difference in the world?

What are my unique strengths and talents and how can I utilize them to make the biggest impact on others?