The Difference Between Being Good and Being GreatPosted: March 14, 2005
My wife made a comment to me the other day during one of our discussions as to what I was going to do. We have these conversations from time to time, usually during one of those short periods that may extend only a week or two, or maybe less, which define the next few years of your life. It happens that now is one of those times, and things may continue as they are for rest of the year or they may change right now. However, all the options before me are not exactly what I would consider great.
The crux of the problem is this: nothing comes without sacrifices. You can be good at a lot of things but, in my observation, you can only be great at one. Rarely do you see an instance where someone achieves notoriety for something they have done where they are also a great husband or a great father, or at least they’re not both simultaneously. I suppose the key to doing something great is to do it and to move on to the next big thing. For some, it’s their next company or their next command or their next office, and for others it’s fatherhood or motherhood or it’s re-committing themselves to their marriage or slipping away into a great retirement.
I seem to try to do everything early and along the way I seem to skip a few important things (like College). I started my career early, I got married early, and now I’m feeling washed up early. Kinda sad to feel washed up at 24 isn’t it? I’m going to miss my goal of making a million by 25, but I’ve accepted that as an impossibility long ago. However, while my wife and I were having our aforementioned conversation, which was about doing another startup, she mentioned that she felt I would always do something great. There’s an inherent problem with this. It’s impossible to have a normal life and attempt to achieve greatness. Something has to give, and the question is, am I, and to a larger extent, is she, willing to sacrifice everything on a chance?
The chance is that a deal will come along, either of my own creation or through a contact, which basically involves leaving a cushy corporate job with good salary and good benefits to take at best an OK salary and OK benefits with the idea that if by the sheer will of you and your co-workers, you can make something out of this thing you’re calling a company and all come out with enough money to either not have to work ever again, or at least not work for quite a while. Obviously, there are a lot of factors which I won’t go into in deciding whether this is a good deal or not, but even with the best qualifications at picking these, there’s a big chance it’s going to end up in failure. Failure could mean at best that you’re out of a job. At worst if could mean you’re out of a job with no savings and lot of debt to go with it. Obviously, this is a significant amount of risk, especially when we’re not exactly the most financially stable couple. However, significant reward doesn’t come without significant risk. It’s certainly a pickle, and the most interesting thing about this decision is that it’s only theoretical at this point. I have no path to greatness even sitting before me at this point.
Part of the lure of the startup isn’t even the monetary gain. It’s just damn fun. If you’re working in a small company trying to make it big, the success of the company is largely in your hands. I feel an overwhelming urge to have more responsibility, even though I may not always be deserving. I have an inherent belief that given that responsibility that I’ll do well, or better yet even shine. I believe that since I’ve been a part of failure that I have learned from my mistakes, and the next time I take a big risk I will succeed. It’s easy to convince yourself of this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to end up in failure yet again.
So, while this isn’t necessarily a permanent or even imminent decision, I’m feeling a pressure that I’ve placed on myself to make this decision between being good and being great. As most of you know, I’m an incredibly egotisitcal person. I think I’m awesome. I think I’m smart. I think I’m destined to do something great, but I’m realizing as I get older that the chances are slimming. I’m also realizing that some of things I decided to forego were somewhat important to achieving greatness. It’s certainly not impossible but the odds are definitely stacked against me. I’m also missing motivation. I’m a cyclically motivated guy. When something new comes around I’m incredibly motivated to work hard, but when the newness wears off I tend to slack. I suppose no one who achieved greatness didn’t have to overcome adversity, but I think remaining motivated may be something I’ll never be able to overcome.
So the alternative is to be good. I am good at what I do. Without much effort I can continue to be very good, and at the same time I could probably take the extra time that I normally spend goofing off and focus that on being good at other things, like being a good husband (again, we have a motivation issue, but my wife has unique and powerful ways to motivate me when she herself feels motivated to do so 🙂 ). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about being just good as well, and frankly there’s a lot of pros on that side as well. You can be good at a lot of things, not have to sacrifice much, and live a long, prosperous, and happy life. Some people would feel lucky to have these two options to choose from, and certainly I could live the rest of my life with my wife and hopefully some children, clawing my way to middle management, and hope to impart my legacy on the world through my children or perhaps just spend the rest of my life smelling the roses.
Sometimes I think that I’d be totally content spending the rest of my life working and spending time with my wife. I think being just good would probably be a great life, after all it seems to work for everyone that isn’t written about. However, having made this decision will I also have a life of regret? Regret of passing up my potential? Living with the feeling that I could have been great had I have not chosen the easy path? Is being good good enough?
So it’s come time. In the next month, or the next year, or the next 5 years I’m going to have to decide. I honestly can’t tell you which is better or what I’ll decide. Hopefully I don’t overestimate my talents, and hopefully whatever decision I make will bring me happiness.