Judaism encourages us to strive for greatness. Because we are created in the image of God, every human being is instilled with a thirst to be God-like. In every field of human endeavor – sports, business, entertainment, spirituality – people are seeking greatness.

But we need to differentiate between greatness and grandiosity.

True greatness evolves from the inside, out. The truly great person possesses great character and inner strength which is manifest in his actions. Abraham was a great person because he built himself into a tower of strength and became a great person by passing ten difficult life tests. Our tradition describes Abraham as “solid wall with no cracks in it.”

Greatness is built slowly through consistent hard work day in and day out. Great people are patient. It starts by taking an honest accounting of who one is, one’s strengths and weakness and then setting a course forward based on actualizing one’s creative potential while patiently working with ones limitations. The great person embraces his imperfection and moves forward with measured efficiency. The great person doesn’t worry about his place in history or his legacy. He is too busy creatively growing in the present and enjoying the process of living and growing.

Grandiosity on the other hand is impatient and restless, always looking for the big breakthrough that will catapult one to the top of the charts. The grandiose person is obsessed with his legacy and being a winner.

Greatness comes from a place of strength, self-acceptance, self-love, and confidence. Great people know themselves and like themselves. They are motivated not by trying to become a copy of someone else, but by striving to develop their own uniqueness

Grandiosity comes from a place of insecurity and emptiness. The grandiose person is always trying to fill their inner void with success and accomplishments. Because they are often quite lost and confused, they run after trying to be like someone else.

Perhaps the most important difference between greatness and grandiosity is that greatness is grounded in a desire to give, while grandiosity is grounded in a need to take. Greatness is about giving, while grandiosity is about taking. True greatness is motivated by a sincere desire to help others. Grandiosity is motivated by ego gratification which is ultimately about serving oneself, not others.

The grandiose person may be involved in a humanitarian cause, but at his core, he cares more about himself than the people he is trying to help. His real agenda is about himself, therefore his acts of giving are really acts of taking. Grandiosity may look powerful and charismatic, but it is superficial and shallow.

Great people experience a deep inner calm, vitality and truly feel alive. Even when they fail they feel vitalized. He enjoys the process of making his best effort; failure does not detract from his value as a human being.

Grandiose people experience constant dissatisfaction, anxiety, self-doubting, and jealousy. Even when they feel on top of the world flushed with success, the high is impossible to sustain. When he tastes defeat and failure he feels diminished and devalued as a human being.

We all have the potential for greatness, but to get on the path towards genuine greatness, we must be honest with our self and deal with one’s artificial sense of grandiosity.

Exploring the following questions will help you clarify greatness from grandiosity:

  • What drives me most – a desire to help others or a need to build myself-up?
  • Do I generally feel happy and vitalized or unhappy and lifeless?
  • Do I believe success will fulfill me and make me happy?
  • What do I truly care about?
  • What can I do that will make a difference in the world?
  • What are my unique strengths and talents and how can I utilize them to make the biggest impact on others?