"For what is the best choice, for each individual is the highest it is possible for him to achieve." ~ Aristotle
What is "greatness"? What is "excellence"? Is there some absolute standard that applies for all people at all times, or is it a relative thing?
I think it's both absolute and relative in the Aristotelian sense of individual non-relative excellence. How about that for confusing?? Eh?
Runners can get caught up in the numbers - the measuring - and remeasuring of one's self against others. We log on to Dailymile, we post our runs on Facebook - we yearn for community and support, and we reach out to others who are just like us - runners. We compare, we contrast, we compete, we congratulate, we cajole...This may serve to fuel our drive and passion. This may bring with it personal greatness. Or it may make us feel like we don't, and never can, measure up to some standard that seems to remain forever out of reach.
But what does "excellence" mean? For Aristotle "excellence" requires functioning well as a human being. Our excellence as humans is reasoning well and participating well as a social and political beings. That's what we do better than anything else, and so, we function best when we do these things well. Then, and only then, are we excellent human beings
And excellent human being exercise the virtues - Virtues being those admirable characteristics that suffer neither deficiency nor excess. So 'courage' is a mean of action where one feels just the right amount of fear, not too much and not too little. But here's the catch with courage - THE courageous act in any situation is not the same for everyone.
Let's suppose you are standing on the beach. The surf is rough and dark, menacing waves roll in fast and furious. You see someone flailing about in the water. You don't know how to swim. Should you attempt to save the person? Well, given YOUR ability, it would be foolhardy of you to wade in after the drowning swimmer. Likewise, it would also be cowardly to simply run away in fear or become hysterical. In this situation you have to ask: What is the rational thing to do given the situation and MY abilities? Now let's suppose that you are an experienced swimmer and a certified Life Guard. This situation is importantly different because YOU are different. Each one of us has A 'mean of action' - an absolute that is relative to each of us - but that mean varies from person to person depending on the person - their physical skills and strength, their experience, even their physical make-up. For instance, two trained swimmers, one 100lbs and one 200lbs, might have a different mean of action.
So what does this have to do with finding your greatness? Well, your greatness is your own. Your greatness is where you push yourself, given your particular situation - not compared to someone else. I may not run a 2:20 marathon, but I'm still out there pounding the pavement at 4:30 a.m. I still wake-up and drag myself out of bed while the rest of the house quietly sleeps. I still push myself onward as my muscles cramp up with fatigue and pain. Why? Because something in me will not settle for less.
Others may call me a glorified jogger. They may make thoughtless, disparaging comments. They may not even be aware of how deep these seemingly innocent comments can cut. I could just throw my arms up in disgust and resignation, and say "What's the point of all of this? I'm never going to be great! I'm never going to be the best!" But down even deeper, deeper than anyone can cut me, I know that this matters for me and my life. I need to shut out all the naysayers, all the belittlers, all the people who tell me that what I hold as important is silly and pointless. This is my life.
I may never be GREAT in the absolute sense, but then that kind of human greatness may never exist - Rather, this life is about each of us reaching for and discovering out OWN limits - our own greatness. I can admire the greatest athletes and all those who are faster and stronger and more skilled than me. But I am my own person - and my greatness is in my hands alone and is completely independent of the achievements of others. If only we could each embrace this instead of forever being dragged down by those who just don't get it.
Because the fact is - this is all about YOU - this life is what you have. Make it great.