28 May Go be great
“You only get so many idiosyncrasy credits. But you don’t know how many you have until you run out,” a mentor shared with me, quoting a mentor of hers. I grimaced as she said it. While we both saw a sliver truth, neither of us were thrilled with this bleak logic.
Work is, of course, full of traps beyond our control. And yes, that lack of control causes us to trip on our idiosyncrasies – our political blind-spots, incomplete knowledge and triggers. But having an unknown balance of mystery credits as we step into this strange future sounds pretty terrible.
Are we really doomed to blindly sabotaging ourselves with our personalities and political missteps?
Normally, I’d let a question like that sit there. But on this one, I feel compelled to intervene.
No, we’re not doomed.
However, we’ll go nuts trying to foresee all the landmines ahead of us.
A remedy to the idiosyncrasy problem lies in a conversation I had with Daniel, my friend and long-time colleague.
Daniel is an old soul, both younger and wiser than me by a lot. He’s a rare human who can somehow find the growth strategy with the highest integrity and most value. He tells thought-provoking jokes and quotes Aristotle, making you laugh and feel smarter in the same conversation. And he gratefully spends vacations with his wife in places rivaling an adventure travelogue.
“The world desperately needs good neighbors,” he recently told me. “I strive to be one.”
This is no accident. It’s the game he’s playing. Even when no one is looking. Even when no one is counting his credits.
Nevertheless, Daniel once confessed that he didn’t want to have regrets fifteen years from now. And he worried that he’d miss his window. Eager to practice my newly acquired coaching skills, I offered to talk with him.
While sitting in a small room without a clock, I asked him a series of scripted questions. Half-way through the ninety minutes, however, the energy shifted.
The rote questions became something else.
“What’s true no matter what?” I asked him.
Continuously learning. Pushing myself to be uncomfortable. Growing. Creating value. Collaborating. Leading. Focusing on people. Always people.
I drew a timeline and then an arc, connecting now to fifteen years from now, asking him what he wanted to be true in fifteen years.
We sat quietly as he thought about the question. And the story of this future Daniel emerged.
He never settled. He sought out interesting roles and work, contributing to growth of all kinds – of businesses, products and people. He always tried to make things better. And he did make things better.
He was brave enough to challenge conventional thinking, telling compelling stories with style and data and facts. People always learned something working with him.
And he had no regrets.
Daniel knew that on the path to no regrets, everything he’d said would be true – in a year, five years, or fifteen years from now. That’s the constant arc of his story.
So I asked him to think of a short phrase, a mantra really, to remind him where he’s going.
Then two of us sat in silence for many minutes. Five? Twenty? I’ll never know. No clock ticking, no fan blowing. Just the two of us sitting together quietly while Daniel thought.
Finally, he looked at me and said precisely, “Go be great.”
The words hung in the air, surprising us both. And I had no doubt who was coaching whom.
“Go be great.”
Even years later, Daniel’s words continue to ring in my mind. They’re a constant invitation, insisting that I keep going – and growing. That I keep trying, even when I fail. (Definitely when I fail.)
It could be annoying, but it has so much space. Go be great. Not be a huge success or crush it or win.
Despite my idiosyncrasies, Daniel reminds me to be a better… me. To not give up or panic. To not beat myself up when I feel stuck. And also to not stay stuck.
In this simple phrase lies a clear binary choice: great / not great.
And there’s plenty of room for mistakes.
But the funny thing is when these words surface, I always know what to do next. I know the choice that’s soul-crushingly complex or self-sabotaging – and the simple thing that’s great.
I always know. And I’ll go out on a limb and remind you something important: you know too. Even now.
I’ll admit it’s no small thing to go be great, but no harder than the chaos we’re going through. And it doesn’t mean we won’t stumble. (We will.) So think of it this way: by making this elegant choice, we in fact create infinite idiosyncrasy credits.
Isn’t that great?