Is Greatness Born or Made? Can Anyone Become Great if They Put Their Mind to it?

“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. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” – Nelson Mandela

Americans have the strong belief that if they put their minds to it they can achieve anything. But is this really true? Could your average Joe play pro ball with Mike or take on Warren Buffet in an earnings race? I am not so sure.

In this post I want to take a look at whether greatness is born or made. Is the belief that anyone can achieve anything they want really true? I am going to weigh up BOTH sides of the argument. Perhaps after that you could leave your comments and let me know what you think. An advanced warning – this post has a lot of opinions and very little facts! I am writing more for my own personal interest than anything else.

Greatness is Born: The Arguments

First I want to start off with the idea that greatness is born and not made. There is plenty of evidence to support this side of the argument. Some of it you can find on Youtube.

The first video is of a violin prodigy. Watch the finger movement and the superb control. This guy is only 12. Seeing something like this leads me to believe that true greatness is born because no matter how many hours some of us put in we would never been that good in that amount of time. Check it out:

Now I want to show you a video of a young boy who was on Ellen recently. This kid saw a dancing movie and thought he might like to copy it. The result is some amazing dancing. By anyone’s standard. Again, this leads me to believe that talent and greatness are somehow born within some people and cannot be learned. Myself, as a white male, could never dance as well as this kid. Take a look.

Now take a look at a two year old Tiger Woods. I know a lot of people say that his father made him practice a lot and that he was pushed very hard to become great. But he is two! How many two year olds do you know that can hit a golf ball like this?

Then there is the example of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Kennedy, Gandhi, etc. These people are born with “something” that other people do not seem to have. It might be a charisma or a look in their eye. It might be the way they look or their ability to speak powerful words. Whatever it is it seems as though it is something that cannot be developed. You either have it or you don’t.

Many people (including some scientists) think that greatness, ability, talent, skill, etc. are born into people. They think that only a select few people with perfect genetics and predisposed qualities can rise to be something great. This means that not everybody could be as good as Michael Jordan or as smart as Albert Einstein.

Greatness is Made: The Arguments

Now lets take a look at the arguments that greatness is NOT born in a person but acquired through determination, training and perseverance. There are some good arguments to be made for this side of things.

The major argument is this. No body was ever actually born great. Bill Gates was not born as the CEO of Microsoft. Michael Jordan was not born into the Chicago Bulls. Bruce Lee was not born knowing all those moves. All of these people had to train and work hard. None of them got to be great by sitting around on the couch all day.

Perhaps the question is not whether anyone can be great, it is whether anyone can do what it takes to be great. Some people are habitually lazy. Some people are afraid of trying new things or afraid of failing. These are the types of habits and concerns that great people simply do not have. They have excellent internal discipline and ways to deal with these disturbing thoughts when they arise. Remember, bravery is not the absence of fear, it is being afraid and doing it anyway. Great people are a lot like that.

Here are a few examples that greatness is made.

Oprah Winfrey

“In every aspect of our lives, we are always asking ourselves, How am I of value? What is my worth? Yet I believe that worthiness is our birthright.” – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey started out with nothing. She had no father, was raped at age nine, at fourteen lost a baby in infancy and was sent away to a new city to live with a foster parent. Now she is the richest African American in the world, the most powerful woman in the world, has the most successful talk show in history and inspires millions of people on a daily basis.

Oprah is living proof that greatness is made. Greatness comes about through hard work and pushing through adversity.


“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Gandhi is a prime example of someone whose rise to greatness was solely because of the work he did in his lifetime. When he was trying to make a difference he staged protests. When he wanted people to pay attention he deprived his body of food until they listened. This man studied, meditated and worked until he got the results he wanted. He was continually trying to become a better man.

Lance Armstrong
Lance has had his whole body riddled with cancer and then come back and won more Tour de France races than anyone else. People have accused him of being a drug cheat but in the end I think there is one reason that Lance Armstrong is great. Hard work. Take a look at this inspiring video.

The Argument for Both and Why it Doesn’t Matter

In all honesty I think my personal position is a mixture of the two. I think that while anybody can become good at something they put their mind to, not all of them will turn out great. I think certain people are predisposed to certain activities. Some are natural leaders. Some are natural athletes. Some can do math sums in their head extremely fast. This gives them a massive advantage over the rest of us.

The tricky question is “why”? Why do some people have this natural ability and others don’t? Perhaps it is in the genetics and passed down from parent to child? This might be the case for certain sports people. Perhaps it is something to do with karma and how the particular person was in their previous lives? Perhaps it is to do with the early upbringing? I am not sure.

And in then end I don’t think it matters. I think the pursuit of greatness is completely hollow unless it is in order to help others. Do you ever ask yourself why you want to be different to who you are now? I ask myself this all the time and I still am not sure. It is almost like I’ve been brain washed. For so many years I have been told to do something great and wonderful that when I can’t achieve it I get anxious. I am stressed because I don’t feel like life is where it should be.

I think people (myself included) should start focussing on making other people happy instead of trying to make themselves better than everyone else. What do you think?

top image:Creative Commons License photo credit: Mars Hill Church Seattle

15 thoughts on “Is Greatness Born or Made? Can Anyone Become Great if They Put Their Mind to it?

  1. Awesome post, I really like the conclusion too it really isn’t important unless the motivation is right, or at the very least you are enjoying what you are doing, otherwise its just hollow accumulation of ego and we forget that a lot of the time.

    BTW I think that Nelson may have been quoting Marianne Williamson when he said that but who knows maybe she was biting his rhymes

  2. Making others happy will ultimately make us happier and therefore it is right to focus on others well being. I actually think a post will be devoted on such a topic.

  3. Hi,

    I love your site!
    I did want to confirm that the quote attributed to Nelson Mandela was written originally by Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love.

    I agree with what you said at the end of the article—it reminds me of the motto of Tina at, “To get what you want, help others get what they want, first”

  4. Danny – Excellently put.

    GreenTea – Thanks for the compliment and thanks for confirming the quote. I don’t know anything about Marianna Williamson so I think I should probably do some more research!


  5. I have been browsing through your blog more than any other on the web so far, and I want to thank you so much for the time and effort you put into your posts! The subjects you touch on are always very fresh and interesting.

    I found this post and your posts on charisma to be very inspiring. I’ve recently been trying to change my lazy ways and coax my mind into picking my many ideas and dreams off the ground. Your blog is part of my motivation!

  6. Brittany – thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. What you say makes all the writing worth while, I really appreciate it.

    Good luck with the laziness – and make sure you head back here for more articles and motivation. We’re all helping each other.


  7. Hi TDM-

    I think there are two different issues going on here. One, the “nature vs. nurture” debate. IMO, I think in cases of very successful or motivated people, nature IS nurtured and they both essential components of someone’s success.

    second issue: helping others. I think this quote sums it all up: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good”.
    -Samuel Johnson

    keep up the awesome posts. 😀


  8. I think greatness is an inner and external expression of who we are. It is our choice to explore and discover what our individual greatness is and how or whether we are ready to express it fully. Because we are all One – interconnected in the Universe, when we express our inner or outer greatness it helps others see how they might express theirs. That for me is natural effect described in the “role models” you’ve presented.

  9. i THink that everyone has the potential to become something great… it just depends on what you think greatness is. Sometimes i think that greatness can be simply standing up for something you believe in, even if it is just to a small group of people.
    I think you just have to have the motivation and drive to find out what you are great at. Being a natural at something is the easy part… sticking with it and working at it is the hard part… and that is what makes great people.

  10. Just an FYI. I have a tape of Marianne Williamson and she wrote down Nelson Mandela’s quote. You are accurate that the words were his. She did give him credit. Also in the movie Mekayla and the Bee the same quote is used and Nelson Mandela is given credit.

    I appreciate what you do and check sometimes between email updates to see if I have missed anything. I was just searching you site and found this.


  11. Nice post i must confess. But i have a question to ask you, what should greatness be measured on, is it on successes that are based on morals or on courage? Because i think that there were a lot of great people in history who didnt influence the world positively.

  12. I disagree with Mandela. We are not afraid of our light. We are afraid of ostracisement. I do agree with Gandhi, be the change you want to see in this world, and agree with Winfrey, in retrospecting to reassess our worthyness in order to grow.

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