In a little while – a year or two, in my books – a man named Novak Djokovic will join an elite group of tennis greats. The likes of Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Sampras, Agassi, Federer, Nadal. He’s already playing at that level, as any World number one would be, but I am not convinced that is enough to be labelled “great”. “Good”, most definitely. “Fantastic”? Yes, on occasion…
But greatness is both doing something at the required level, and doing it for more than just a little while. (The media like to sensationalise and make bold statements early, but I’d like to think we should be patient, and allow him to achieve greatness the old way – by actually passing a stack of tests, and being proven great over time, not merely by being hyped)
There is another factor, too. There is a book called “The Edge of Greatness” and it is the story of Michael Schumacher. Amazingly the author contends that despite 7 Formula 1 World Championships, Michael Schumacher may not be really “great”. He may just be “almost great”. And the difference lies, apparently, in charisma. In the carrying of one’s achievements. In the style, the grace, the integrity and the humility of a person…
It seems incredible, doesn’t it, that talent, hard work, and achievement might not actually be enough?
My father was – is – a long distance runner. He ran the ultra marathons, and I had the privilege of growing up watching him train (endless hours on the road) and achieve awesome results that nobody except his friends and family ever knew about. He ran countless races, and 10 Comrades Marathons, coming 19th, amongst his many, many other achievements. I only found out on his 75th Birthday that back in the day, he was ranked in the top 10 in South Africa in the standard marathon as well!
Gone, it seems, are the days when achievements were sought by people not because of the fame, but because of the personal discipline and personal victory they represented. The role models I grew up with were all these marathon runner types. Hard strong men who pounded the very earth, hill by relentless hill, into submission.
Their deepest and most treasured achievements were personal victories, shared quietly and only with those who had achieved similarly. There was no money, no glory, and no need to win by any other means than hard work and talent.
Being “proven” is long, hard work, and it is not popular with some people. Those who get satisfaction from adulation and recognition often resist the idea that greatness and a strong reputation are earned and acquired over time, and in many small, often unseen, incremental steps. They tend to demand quick publicity and hype, because, deep down, that is their core need. The talent and achievement is merely the route to recognition and applause.
The prize does not always go to the quick or the strong. Sometimes it goes to the persistent, the faithful, the meek and the enduring. It all depends what kind of race we are in, and what we set ourselves up for at the outset. Incredibly, the longest, hardest race seems to be the one for sustained integrity and moral fibre. THAT race has no finish line this side of eternity!
But let’s face it, maybe that’s a good thing! What exactly do we want to hold up to our children as role models? It is very hard work finding a role model nowadays who is flawless or at the very least not deeply flawed. There was Tiger, and then there wasn’t Tiger. There was Lance, and then there wasn’t Lance. There are many such stories. Should we excuse moral flaws and say that a role model can just be based on achievement only? Even a talented sporting role model?
I don’t think so. I think we owe it to ourselves and to our children to be selective. Very, very selective indeed. I am grateful for those role models whose story involves hard work, talent, persistence, and results. I am MORE grateful for those role models whose story involves hard work, talent, persistence, results and integrity.
Personally, I think we should be vary careful when including as role models, those who do not deliver in the morality/integrity arena. I want my children to aspire to be whole people, not just performers. And I want them to understand what that is, for themselves. We will not impart those lessons by holding up flawed heroes as examples of anything except of flaws.
I want them to be smart and balanced enough to know that fame and glory and reputation and excellence can come at too high a price. Fame and victory are not worth the loss of family or friends. Not worth compromised integrity. Not worth secrets or hidden shame. Not worth deceit.
Hopefully I am a worthy role model as well, only time will tell. But a young man needs more than one. I am pinning my hopes on the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and hopefully, soon Novak Djokovic, to be role models of excellence in ALL areas. Gentlemen whose example I can hold up to the light and say to my sons, “It would be good to aspire to that” and not have to explain “But not in THAT area…”