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 full of traps outside our control. And that lack of control does cause us to trip over 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 just awful. Are we 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.

Still, we’ll go nuts trying to foresee all the traps and landmines ahead of us. Thankfully, a conversation with my friend Daniel offers a simple solution to the idiosyncrasy dilemma.

Daniel’s an old soul, both younger and wiser than me by a lot. He’s a rare human who can somehow find the best 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.”

Indeed, he is one.

But it’s 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 new coaching tools, I offered to talk through it with him. So we sat in a small room without a clock while I asked him a series of scripted questions. Mid-way through the ninety minutes, however, something changed.

The rote questions became something else.

“What’s true no matter what?” I asked him.

Daniel’s reply:

Continuously learning. Pushing myself to be uncomfortable. Growing. Creating value. Collaborating. Leading. Focusing on people. Always people.

Then, I stood up and drew a timeline on the whiteboard, connecting now to fifteen years from now and asking, “What’s 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. And he not only tried to make things better, 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.

Most importantly, he had no regrets.

No regrets.

That’s the constant arc of his story. And on the path to no regrets, Daniel knew everything he’d just said would be true – in a year, five years, or fifteen years from now. On another hunch, I nudged him to think of a short phrase to remind him where he’s going.

Then we sat in silence for many minutes. Five? Twenty? I’ll never know.

With no clock ticking or fan blowing, the two of sat together, quietly waiting for Daniel’s answer. At last, he looked at me and said precisely, “Go be great.”

The words hung in the air, surprising us both and leaving no doubt who was coaching whom.

Go be great.

Not crush it or win. Not be productive or efficient or effective. Just go be great. The words have so much space – while still insisting we keep going, even when when we stumble.

And despite my idiosyncrasies, Daniel’s words remind me to be a better… me. To not give up or panic when I feel stuck. Oh, and also to not stay stuck.

Moreover, this simple phrase offers us a clear choice: great OR not great.

And there’s plenty of room for mistakes.

Funny enough, when I think about these three simple words, I always know what to do next. I know the choice that’s soul-crushing or self-sabotaging – and the simple thing that’s great. I always know.

I’ll go out on a limb and remind you something important.

You know too.

You really do.

Now it may feel like no small thing to go be great, but is it harder than the chaos we’ve already lived through?

I won’t answer that. But I will say that making this choice keeps us growing, not only when we stumble, but also when life beats us up. Maybe especially when life beats us up.

This arc not only pulls our stories forward, it creates infinite idiosyncrasy credits. The miracle, however, is we no longer need them.

carolyn solares
I help people re-wire, re-think and go be great.
(My brother calls me a workshrink.)

Work with me at murphymerton.
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Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash