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I just watched Novak Djokovic defeat Danill Medvedev in the finals of the U.S. Open tennis championship for an unprecedented 24th Grand Slam title of his career, more than anyone in the modern history of the game. He was gritty, vulnerable, yet outlasted his opponent who was terrific. After the win, he tore his shirt off and donned a tee shirt honoring his inspirational friend the late Kobe Bryant. The shirt inscribed “Mamba Forever” with a picture of Kobe and him together.
Djokovic’s performance was brilliant. There were times in the match that it looked like he would lose. Yet, he fought back and prevailed.
After watching the event and listening to the interviews that seemed to last forever, once again I began to reflect on the concept of brilliance. I had written about the subject in a book I authored entitled, Dare to Be Average: Finding Brilliance in the Commonplace. I thought to myself this feat of accomplishment is not commonplace. Here is an unbelievable athlete with tremendous drive inspired by another past great athlete of another sport. The two of them represent great achievement, excellence, and unparalleled brilliance.
At best, I can be inspired to work harder with my time and talents so that I too can become a champion in my own right and venue in life. Of course, these aspirations are fine and motivate many to fight through all sorts of obstacles to achieve certain goals.
The reality is that there can be only one U.S. Open champion at a time which lasts only one year until it must be repeated again. Does a championship dim the brilliance of the opponent? Medvedev in his own right performed brilliantly. He was stellar with grit, determination and at times seemed to be the better player with greater endurance. Yet he lost. Does the loss mean he wasn’t brilliant? And, what about all the other competitors who succumbed in defeat leading up to the title match? Does their loss exclude them from being brilliant? And what about all the other people in the world who don’t play tennis or any other sport? Must they compete to be number 1 in something, somewhere in their life? My question led me to an understanding that there is no unparalleled brilliance because brilliance is about being and not doing or achieving great feats.
People think to become great or brilliant they must perform illustrious accomplishments. It is appropriate to recognize achievement, but the essence of brilliance comes from being. It is the understanding that what is etched in stone is that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe regardless of result. No victory will add to this reality and no defeat will take away from it. It’s deeper than being a good sport about losing. It’s about being connected and embracing all of yourself—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s an understanding that life is a tapestry weaving together the bitter and the sweet, success, failure, triumph and tragedy. An outcome never defines personal brilliance. Definition is defined by the vision of destiny from within which supersedes any result.
Josh McCown is a classic example of brilliance that goes beyond results. He was a journeyman quarterback who carved out a 16-year career in the NFL. He played for 12 teams during that span. He never achieved becoming a sustained starting quarterback with any team. Yet the number of years he played in the NFL is greater than many designated franchise quarterbacks in the league. At the end of his career, he coached the high school team that his two sons played on, while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason game. throwing 2 touchdown passes and achieving a 122 quarterback rating. He was a backup quarterback who played in the post season playoffs for the Eagles in 2020, while coaching high school football. He was 18 for 24 with 174 yards passing! Quite a brilliant resume for a high school coach who was an average journeyman quarterback in the NFL.
Some of the greatest champions of all time are single-parent women who engage the relentless challenge of championing each day to make a living, care for self, and raise children without a partner and little to no help. Though unsung and unnoticed, these women rely upon their own brilliance to get it all done.
The ingenuity of homeless people that live in and around my home in Phoenix is a testimony of awe and astonishment. Listening to stories of innovation and creativity from those who survive the 115-120 degree summer heat is a testimony of personal brilliance and an example of a different kind of wisdom.
Wisdom comes in many different expressions. My late friend Sunny Weingarten was struck down by polio in the 1950’s as a young boy and confined to an iron lung. Over time he learned to force air into his lungs enabling him to get out of the iron lung for several hours a day. Ingeniously, he used time while in the lung to invent a portable lung and eventually flew to various parts of the world, offering his invention to the world!
The reality is that we all have relentless brilliance in our being. We often do not recognize it because we do not know the language of our own wisdom. It is tempting to adopt someone else’s definition of brilliance and compare our insides with others’ outsides.
People who are brilliant academically are often compared to Albert Einstein. Yet, I would suggest that Einstein was not brilliant because he figured out the theory of relativity but rather the theory of relativity came from what was brilliant within him. By going within he was able to unveil the wisdom that others identify as him being smart. His intelligence came from within rather than from the outside/in.
All living and non-living existence contain brilliance. There is mysterious brilliance in cicadas who stay underground for 17 years to avoid being eaten by predators! There is brilliance in the bar-tailed godwit, a bird who flies a migratory pattern from Alaska to New Zealand without stopping! There is brilliance in the interconnectedness of trees who release chemical signals to warn other trees of danger and help them prepare a defense. Finally, there is brilliance in the rock formations throughout the world and universe that house scientific wisdom yet to be mined or excavated!
Your wisdom is housed within your being. Before the events of each day of your life, brilliance prevails and is independent of the results at the end of the day. It is best revealed when you connect your focus with congruency of your values of heart.
Rather than Djokovic’s performance being described as unparalleled brilliance, it is in reality an example of the brilliance that lies within us all.