What Is Greatness?

All true greatness comes 
from the willingness to go after what might not work.

man holding his fist upward

We’ve been discussing the price of greatness over the last several installments; and how it all applies to Ultimate Human Performance.

There’s always a price for the prize. Are you willing to pay it? Read more about it here.

Maybe we should step back and define more clearly what greatness truly means in the context of this conversation.

Greatness and mastery cannot be defined by accolades or societal rewards. It cannot be defined by money or material things acquired. Greatness does not drive a certain car or have a certain business or career.

In fact, a quick perusal of history will prove that even those who society considers great, in many cases where never fully recognized until after their departure from this world.

And many who were great were never known or recognized by society. But someone knows them; and maybe that someone is you.

So what is greatness and how does it apply to Ultimate Performance?

Greatness as we’ll define it here is the ability to achieve what you choose to achieve in the area you choose to achieve it; and to achieve it with excellence and a level of mastery.

Please read that again.

True greatness is the ability to achieve what you choose to achieve in the area you choose to achieve it; and to achieve it with excellence and a level of mastery

girl carrying a barbell

To live your own life on your own terms; and to live it big!

By this time you should realize that going after what you choose to achieve must be congruent with what you’re really here to accomplish.

This is not a certain amount of money in a bank account, a house, a business or a car. Those are all the trimmings that may or may not come, but they’re not why you’re here.

Your greatness is not the values that society imposes upon you. It’s not what your culture or family or peer group tells you that you should go after.

True greatness is utilizing what you are gifted with; and actualizing and fulfilling your particular purpose.

And once again to do this with mastery and excellence.

The question of mastery is: “What do I have the ability to give my entire life to; and thereby develop to a level of mastery and greatness over time?”

What do you have the ability to give your entire life to and develop to a level of mastery and greatness?

girl writing on a chalkboard

Now there are many things you can do. There are many things you could do. But there is only one thing, at most two things, to which you have the ability to bring mastery and greatness.

What’s your One Thing?

Your Magnificent Obsession?

Not in the short-term. For true greatness is never achieved quickly—never. But in the long-term. Remember Ericsson’s ten thousand hours? (reference UHP6)

It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. You only have to be right once and then everyone can tell you that you’re an overnight success.”
 ~ Mark Cuban

Yes, there will be many so-called failures along your journey. This has certainly been true for me. In fact, most of my ideas just plain don’t work!

But how many ideas that do work does it take? You, like me, know the answer is “just one.”

Yet, properly understood all ideas work. For there are two types of people in the world.

There are two types of people in the world. There are winners and learners; and properly understood both win!

man on the finish line

So do you choose greatness?

To walk your own path?

To live life on your own terms?

To harness your unique genius?

To have maximum impact on the world?

Time will wipe you off the board before you know it. Hesitation steals dreams.

hourglass and old clocks

Our number one resource is time and our number one assets are our mind and our energy. Use them wisely. We’ll talk more about this resource and our assets at a later date.

When I learned about Chris Squire dying it was sobering. Chris was a founding member of the band YES; and I spent many hours as a teenager entranced with his complex bass lines. I flashed back to the days of my high school years when YES was bringing intelligence and incredible musicianship to the world.

They just don’t make music like that anymore.

Call me old school if you will, but current pop music can never hold a candle to the musical intricacy and mastery of YES, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson and others.

Justin Bieber?





No way.

These modern Mozart’s fused classical with rock and created an entirely new genre.

No one who knows anything about music and guitar could even begin to argue that Chris Squire wasn’t great. Not if they had a shred of sanity anyway.

He was arguably one of the greatest bass players that ever picked up an instrument.

I recall lying on my bed with my door closed while in high school, and listening to an entire song by YES while solely focusing on the bass line. For Chris Squires’ bass line was no mundane thump, thump, thump. His bass lines could put many lead guitar players to absolute shame.

After that I would listen to the same song again and only pay attention to Steve Howe’s lead guitar riffs. Lead guitar has never been more complicated or complex than Howe’s. I’ve always loved music. Music moves the spirit and soul.

Then there was Rick Wakeman the master of keyboards, Bill Bruford and Alan White playing drums rhythms that were unparalleled; and of course the haunting vocals of John Anderson.

Close to The Edge,  some say their crowning glory; and arguably one of the greatest works of time, stands as a testament to their mastery and greatness.

Close to The Edge is also a great metaphor for life. Isn’t it? For who hasn’t heard it said that if you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space?

Their music was edgy for rock, cutting edge; and much like classical, it tended to only have resonance and appeal for a certain breed of thinker and musical aficionado.

Here was a band of masterful solo artists bringing their solos together to create the most synergistic and sophisticated music that rock has ever seen.

I never met any of the members of YES, I was blessed to see them live 4-5 times; but given what I know, I’d bet dollars to donuts that music was (and is) their entire life.

It was and is there One Thing. There’s no way they could develop that level of musical greatness while doing two or three things. Are you thinking?

How many things can you master? How many horses can you successfully ride at the same time? In both cases the answer is obviously one. Find your One Thing and give your entire life to it.

riding horse while playing golf

When the Beatles were asked to play for eight hours straight seven nights a week in Hamburg, Germany (something unheard of; musicians normally play ninety minutes tops), they didn’t complain that they “needed time off.” Please.

They jumped at the chance!

This was their opportunity to do their One Thing.

To do what they love.


Ten thousand hours was just a warm up.

Practice isn’t just something you do to become great.
Practice is something you do when you’re already great to become greater.


Chris Squire left his mark.

Will you?

You see the problem is that we think we have time. We don’t!

Chris left this earth at sixty-seven years of age. Young by current standards of life span potential. Modern medical research now tells us that your body is equipped to go healthfully for up to one hundred and twenty-five years!

Yes, you read that correctly.

Of course that presupposes that you eat right, exercise right, think right, and most of all live an inspired and fulfilling life.

Many people’s spirit dies long before their physical demise.
Are you going to truly live?

face and smoke

Yes, time is an opponent that will wipe you off the game board if you hesitate.

Most people don’t consider that they’re trading their life and their legacy for every party, every distraction, every lazy Sunday, every TV program and every superfluous shallow activity.

Tick tock.

Most think these things are life.

But they’re not.

Those are the things that kill the spirit.

Those are the things that bring most individuals to the end filled with regret. Survey after survey, psychological research after research proves this true.

You are a spiritual being;
And spirit will not invest itself in mediocrity.

You’re here to live an inspired life.

Every single one of us, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, has a deep desire to leave this life and be able to look back and state, “I’m leaving this to the world.”

“This is my legacy and my contribution.”

“This is why I was here.”

Each of us wants future generations to be able to say, “Wow, she was here; and she left the world a better place because of the life she lived.”

This is your Ultimate Performance.

This is your greatness.

Either consciously or unconsciously this is why many if not most (beyond ego gratification), have children. Yet the life of quiet desperation, fear and shallow focus they’re living as parents is not setting the example of greatness for their children.

A little bread and a little circus does not an example of greatness set.

Think about it.

And the meaningless cycle continues.

Who’s going to break it?

Someone needs to.

Will it be you?

Will you become great?

When would NOW be the time to decide?

And the journey continues…

Stay Awake, Love Life, and Be Epic,

james arthur ray


6 Responses

  1. Wow James! I didn’t know you were such a Music connoisseur!

    As a former lead guitarist I must agree with you 100%! I am glad to know you have that taste in music too!
    Music as many other areas has become more and more simplistic. Sad to say but if you compare a composition of, let´s say, Mozart, compared to a modern composition, the complexity and artfulness cannot be compared. Not in a million years.

    Compositors are no longer concern with complex scales and composition techniques, therefore their music is more simplistic, the listener is getting used to “lighter” less meaningful music and they listen to those simple sounds all day. Music affects brain waves and brain waves affect ourselves in many ways….

    Well, getting off course here, sorry.

    I am not doing things for the money, accolades or recognition anymore, so I hope I am getting closer to claim I have found my way to greatness.

    Thank you James once more for this life lesson. A very important one indeed!

  2. You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail. – Charlie Parker

    Both failure and success leave clues… often the same ones. Call them whatever you like, but failure and success are essentially the same depending upon perspective. The path is success; the identified goals are objects or events ones’ 'play' manifests. Capture, acquire, and complete enough goals and the caterpillar will form a chrysalis.

    Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you. – Charlie Parker

    Let your dreams play you too! When greatness comes, it won’t be for chasing it. We live in a culture and time psychologized, analyzed and hyper-evaluated, past the brim by everyone we come in contact including ourselves. Mindfulness, witnessing ones' self-awareness, does not happen with psychological insight or analysis. Whether by accident or on purpose, long hours of practice set the stage and the audience for the ‘transformation’ to happen.

    My studies of defenselessness, integrity, acceptance, responsibility and effortlessness all come back to the same place. Success is doing what you said you would do with clarity, focus, ease and grace in action. Ease is not easy by the way and grace is always a gift.

    Thank you James honoring the path.

  3. Wonderful post! Incredibly inspiring!! Precisely the message I wish to convey to my mentees. I will refer them to this post.

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