In Pursuit of Greatness

I have just come from dinner and had an interesting chat with a ‘young consultant’ who I mentor. He went to Dubai on holiday and was sharing his experience. He told me about his visit to the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa aka Burj Dubai. This building was officially opened on 4 January 2010 amid pomp and fanfare. I asked him about the inspiration he got from looking at the tallest building in the world. His answer shocked me. He said, “I was not positively inspired at all, but got negative inspiration to do something better than building the tallest building”. In further discussion he explained how this building is of no particular use other than to prove that they managed to build the tallest building in the world. In other words it was an ego project of no material human benefit. It was built from borrowed money at a cost of USD1.5 billion. This broke my heart. I thought of some children in Africa who can’t go to school because they don’t have USD5 school fees. I thought of families of six who leave on less than USD1 per day in the less developed parts of the world.

Burj Khalifa measures 828 metres, and can be seen from as far as 95km. It holds more than 14 world records – biggest, highest, fastest, tallest et.c .  Dubai has been turned into a mecca of materialism, but only 30 years ago it was just a small fishing town. However billions of borrowed money has turned it into a paradise of ‘pleasure’. It boasts of a 7 star hotel (oh my word), manmade skiing resorts, air conditioned beaches among other symbols of ostentation and opulence.

Facts and figures are not the point of this article, but I want to have a deep conversation with you. I do not want your life, business, church, organisation to be a Dubai – biggest, fastest, better, brightest, widest but with no material impact. This is the trap of materialism which at best makes you a prisoner to vain pursuit of material riches and at worst a superintendent of a borrowed sand castle waiting to be swept away by winds of debt. I want to share some insights from this Dubai story.

  1. 1. Greatness Is What You Give

You do not become great by what you accumulate but by what you give. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are some of the greatest men in the world not because they have the most money, but because of the tens of billions which they have given to AIDS and other human causes through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Telecom entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi are some of the greatest Zimbabweans not because they have built a billion dollar business, but because of the ten thousands of orphans they are supporting and educating through their Capernaum Trust and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Trust.

It is not about giving money, but giving your gifts, skills, hands, feet, brains and heart.  Mother Theresa had no money, but gave her heart and hands to the poor. Martin Luther King Jr laid down his life to water the tree of freedom in America and today Barack Obama has eaten the fruits from that tree.  Nothing will ever erase the accomplishments of King Jr or Mother Theresa. Buildings like Burj Khalifa will one day be surpassed by other buildings – remember the Empire State Building, Twin Towers and Petronas Towers all once held the tallest building record. We have all forgotten about them now.  Greatness is therefore about giving, than getting.

  1. 2. Greatness Is About Meeting Human Needs

The statement “except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and die, it abides alone, but if it dies it produces much fruit” rings true when it comes to greatness. The greatest tree in a forest is not the tallest tree, but the one from which the whole forest has come from. Your seed of greatness is found in the human needs.  Each one of us carries a seed of greatness. This seed thrives when sown into the soil of human needs and conditions. The best soil to sow this seed is in the needs of your generation and your time. You were created to be fruitful and multiply, subdue and have dominion. In other words you were created to be great. If you do not manifest your seed of greatness, you are like a grain of wheat which abides alone. Your life, including your skills, talent, abilities, hands, heart and feet is like a seed. You need to use it to create opportunities for others, help others find their voice, fulfil their dreams, realise their potential, find their feet and stand on your shoulders.

I know at this time of the year many expect a pep talk about plans, resolutions and getting ready for a terrific 2010. But I felt strongly to share with someone something deeper than resolutions – to awaken them to why they were born in this world for such a time as this. The master plan of your life.  This may not resonate with everyone reading this, but the conversations we have on this forum are about something bigger than ourselves. It is about thinking about the 7th generation and how to leave a legacy. Most importantly it is about awakening you to your generational responsibilities and challenging you to listen to the whispers of the great within. If this year is going to be, it is going to be about advancing your gifts in service to humankind. Greatness is an honour which mankind will confer to you in recognition of selfless application of your gifts to human needs and conditions. Each generation awards medals of greatness to common individuals who make uncommon contributions to societal progress. At the end of this year if your generation was to write a story about you, what would it be about?

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