Characteristics of Great People

If You Wish to Do Great Things, Begin by Doing Small Things Greatly

Is your life full? If so, full of what? Anxiety, fear, and worry? If that’s the case, your life may be full, but it’s not fulfilled. A life full of negativity is an empty life. Empty of peace, joy, and excitement. It’s like a vacuum waiting to be filled. And until it is, it’s painful. The pain is trying to tell us something. It’s screaming, “It’s time to stretch yourself, unleash your potential, and grow into greatness.” The reason our inner voice is screaming is because so few are listening. Busy with trying to cope with the complexities of life, we have forgotten our true nature.

Whether we’re in prison or in a hospital bed, employed or unemployed, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, we carry within us the seeds of greatness. Seeds are nothing more than potential unless they are fed by soil and nurtured by the sun. So it is with our seeds of greatness. It is only after they are brought into the light of awareness and nurtured by positive thoughts and actions that they bloom. Can I become good when I think I’m bad? Great when I think I’m insignificant? Worthy when I think I’m worthless? No, I cannot because it is a law of life that action is preceded by thought. So, if I think I’m helpless, I act that way, and vice versa.

Insignificant people have insignificant thoughts while the minds of great people are occupied by great thoughts. The irony is no one is insignificant unless they think they are. The message is clear. If we’re leading unfulfilled lives, it’s time to awaken to our seeds of greatness. When we realize that deep within is greatness aching to be expressed, we become inspired. When inspired, we act with greatness. Finally, when we act with greatness, we become great.

Greatness is not power, wealth, fame, beauty, or talent. William Arthur Ward describes it, “Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service and character.” In other words, it is becoming someone you admire. Not because of egoism, but because of the innate desire to be and do one’s best. Why not add greatness of character to our lives? For when we do so, we add value to them. And when we have value, our life has meaning.

If you find it difficult to remember the seeds of greatness that live within you, read the biographies of great people. Their stories will stir your heart and launch you into action. But be careful because we tend to read, watch, and listen without digesting the information we’re exposed to. To unlock the power of knowledge, we must apply what we learn. Here’s a good habit to get into, which will help you to focus on applying what you learn. Mainly, whenever you learn something of value, immediately ask yourself, “How can I apply this to my life? When should I apply it? Where should I use this? Why should I use it?” Use the power of questions to ignite the potential locked in the knowledge you gain.

The opportunity for greatness is often missed. Even when it is staring us in the face. What happens if we lose our job, have a serious accident, or get gravely ill? If we view these events as disasters, we grow anxious, stressful, and fearful. Yet, those who see the same events as opportunities to grow manage to call up courage, faith, and perseverance. Isn’t the “catastrophe” we’re facing really a mountain waiting to be scaled? How can we rise to greatness without scaling mountains?

For the same reason, Cavett Robert wrote, “If we study the lives of great men and women carefully and unemotionally we find that, invariably, greatness was developed, tested and revealed through the darker periods of their lives. One of the largest tributaries of the River of Greatness is always the Stream of Adversity.”

Still not convinced? Perhaps William M. Thackeray (1811~1863) can persuade you, “To endure is greater than to dare; to tire out hostile fortune; to be daunted by no difficulty; to keep heart when all have lost it; to go through intrigue spotless; to forego even ambition when the end is gained — who can say this is not greatness?” Isn’t it clear, then, that when we flee from “disaster,” we run from greatness?

When we do more, we become more; we become greater. This is why William Arthur Ward calls us to do more: “Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.” What shall we work toward? Gil Bailie explains, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Don’t underestimate the potency of your actions. Although few of us have the power to change the course of history; nevertheless, our small acts accumulate and help weave the period of history we live in. We can and should make a difference, for as Henry Van Dyke wrote, “There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.”

Some Characteristics of Great People

Here is a list of some of the characteristics of great men and women. These are qualities that we need to cultivate and practice if we wish to share in greatness.

1. Self-Discipline. Ordinary people often share in the same ideas and wishes of great people, but fail to materialize them because they succumb to the desire for pleasure. They spend hours before the TV, for example, instead of improving themselves by attending night school, working out in the gym, or reading a good book.

2. Live with purpose. Great people understand that the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.

3. They prioritize. Because they live with purpose, they prioritize their activities, always focusing on the most important things.

4. They have patience. They continue pursuing their dreams long past the time others give up.

5. They persevere. They are undaunted by obstacles or fear of hard work, but do whatever it takes to succeed.

6. They practice at what they wish to excel at. “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.” (Attributed to Vladimir Horowitz, Ignace Paderewski, or Luciano Pavarotti.)

7. They are passionate. They fervently believe in what they do, so they are committed, enthusiastic, and motivated.

8. They are positive. Because of their positive outlook they are optimistic and hopeful. They willingly proceed in endeavors that the naysayers believe cannot be done. They realize that whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you are right, for your belief makes it so.

9. They are leaders. They willingly embrace added responsibilities, and as Winston Churchill (1874~1965) said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”

10. They are courageous, curious, and adventurous. These are the traits we all had as infants but were programmed out of by our parents, teachers, peers, and society. But as Mencius (372~289 BC?) taught, “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart.”

11. They have a sense of humor. Their sense of humor serves as shock absorbers, enabling them to safely travel along the bumpy roads of life.

12. They are humble, gentle, and kind. Greatness is not what we have (talent, possessions, power, wealth), but what we are (humble, gentle, kind, generous, compassionate, encouraging, accepting) and what we do (kind acts).

13. They are friendly. A major source of their power is their ability to get along with everyone. They hold no grudges, are forgiving and demonstrate their greatness by making everyone they meet feel great.

14. They are interested in big ideas. Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people, and the smallest talk about themselves.

15. They are flexible. They have dreams and set goals, but are visionary enough to adapt, adjust, and alter their plans to align with changing circumstances.

16. They have faith in themselves and their dreams. They follow their heart, not the crowd.

17. Hard work. They are no more afraid of hard work than athletes are afraid of arduous practice sessions.

18. They are open-minded; yet not gullible. Their open-mindedness allows them to see opportunities where others do not.

19. They have integrity. They live up to their word, are sincere, and do not pretend to be what they are not.

20. Their lives are defined by acts of service. The lives of great men and women are examples of what Christ taught his disciples: “They were silent, for on the way they had been arguing about who should be the greatest. Jesus sat down and called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If any man wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.’”(Mark 9:34-35, J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Recipe for Greatness

“Recipe for greatness? To bear up under loss, to fight the bitterness of defeat and the weakness of grief, to be victor over anger, to smile when tears are close, to resist evil men and base instincts, to hate hate and to love love, to go on when it would seem good to die, to seek ever after the glory and the dream, to look up with unquenchable faith in something evermore about to be, that is what any man can do, and so be great.” (Zane Grey, 1875~1939)


“The man who is anybody and who does anything is surely going to be criticized, vilified, and misunderstood. This is a part of the penalty for greatness, and every great man understands it; and understands, too, that it is no proof of greatness. The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure contumely without resentment.” (Elbert Green Hubbard, 1856~1915) w


“A man who has once perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe. He will see himself and life and the world as truly as our human limitations will permit; realizing the brevity and minuteness of human life, he will realize also that in individual minds is concentrated whatever of value the known universe contains. And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world. In emancipation from the fears that beset the slave of circumstance he will experience a profound joy, and through all the vicissitudes of his outward life he will remain in the depths of his being a happy man.” (Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 1872~1970)

The Path to Greatness

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” (Woodrow Wilson, 1856~1924)

How do we take the path to greatness? We can begin by asking ourselves a series of questions. What can I do to make the world a better place? What do I want to do? What do I feel like doing?

What do I choose to do? Greatness can be a decision. For example, we can say to ourselves, “I won’t settle for mediocrity, only greatness.”

So, what is the path to greatness? It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3, 4.

1. Make a decision.
2. Make a plan.
3. Follow the plan.
4. Monitor the results and adjust your plan accordingly.

Although you can take the four steps in your mind, I think you will agree that you are much more likely to succeed if you were to use a notebook to help you develop and implement your plan. Some tools are better than others. I find software more helpful than notebooks, for instance.

Whether we succeed or not at becoming great, we will find it is well worth the effort. For as Harry S. Truman (1884~1972) said, “Well, I wouldn’t say that I was in the great class, but I had a great time while I was trying to be great.”

Shh! Be still for a moment and listen. Can you hear it? It is the call to greatness. How will you respond?

Are you ready to give up all that you are for all that you can become? Let’s start, today, on the greatest quest in life, the path to greatness. After all, everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You can start today. If you wish to do great things, begin by doing small things greatly.