The Fear of Greatness

joe —  Sun 5-Dec-10

I struggle with greatness. This really dawned on me as I was watching No Ordinary Family, a show where everyone in the family has a super power.

Undercover Super Hero.pngWhat if I had a super power? What if there were one skill in this world that put me in a class of one? What would be expected of me? Would I be happier?

I’ll be honest, the thought of greatness brings out little Woody Allen moments of anxiety. It really set home these past few weeks in, of all things, preparing our team’s 2011 budget.

Budgets are in essence a process where you declare how much money it would take to be great. How much money would it take to deliver a product that would shatter our competition, amaze our customers, and make our shareholders rich beyond their wildest dreams?

But we never get enough money – nobody does. That’s how the economic principles of scarcity work. What if we did? What if our superpower was to persuade the CFO to give us an unlimited budget? What would be expected of us? Would we be happier?

Batman And Robin Help.jpgThat thought came to me as I was asked to “lower my spending expectations” which would kill a new project I wanted to start. The project is complicated and large – lots of moving parts and a significant quantity of things we don’t know. In reality it is a very scary undertaking. In a deep, dark, secretive sort of way I was sort of relieved. I was like that guy in films that is insulted by someone twice his size and lunges at him hoping that one of his friends will hold him back.

Throwing unlimited funds at this project would set up incredible expectations, but if successful would yield incredible greatness. I was sheepishly hoping that someone will hold my economic arms back and ratchet down the expectations a bit even at the prospect of potential greatness.


Something is wrong. I live for these opportunities, don’t I? The moment I felt myself a little relieved was the moment I knew I had to reassess things. Was I scared I would fail? Was I afraid of the dark? If given everything I wanted were all excuses for failure mine alone?

Then I remembered a quote I used to have on my desktop:


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

Marianne Williamson

I believe, like Marianne, we all fear greatness; we all fear power beyond measure. With incredible power comes incredible expectation. Whether or not we choose to recognize that we are powerful beyond measure, we still have it. By not recognizing it in ourselves we are keeping it from everyone else. If no one else knows we have this capacity then we have no expectations, no responsibility to use what we are capable of doing.

Reader’s Digest has given us countless stories of people doing extraordinary things at crucial moments. We know we all have something inside of us that makes us capable of things that even we can’t comprehend yet we still look for the rationalizations that keep us from pursuing this greatness.

Here’s a test – the next time you tell someone “I would love to, but …” see if you feel a bit relieved by the constraint. Would you really “love to” if the constraint weren’t there? If this is true AND knowing that you are powerful beyond measure what super power could you invoke to break the constraint? Does that scare you?

So now I am in mourning over what could have been, but only for a brief moment for I now have another opportunity for greatness – finding a way to get money to fund this audacious program.

Today’s Question
If you had one super power what would it be and what would you do with it?