Having watched this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speeches I can’t help but think about what it means to be great.

With the induction of Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming, I can say that these are players I actually watched while their careers took place. For all the highlights of Magic, Kareem and Jordan I’ve seen, I was never experiencing their peak in the moment. It’s easy to look back on their very best plays and be moved by them, but it is another thing entirely to have watched it happen and remember how it made you feel and what your life was like at the time.

The three men mentioned were all great in their own ways. O’Neal, widely touted as the most dominant center of all time, was a powerhouse. His sheer size, strength and athleticism made him virtually unstoppable and his off-the-court personality kept him in the spotlight. Iverson was the ultimate competitor, happy to play 1 versus 5 if needed and battled guys who were so much more physically imposing. He was fast, determined and skilled and never shied away from a challenge. And Yao was the consummate professional, a towering giant who was the ultimate ambassador for a global sport. He was skilled and score around the basket with ease. Each was great, each had their own way of leaving their mark on the sport of basketball.

The point is that greatness is a very nebulous and subjective word. In music and sports especially, the term is bandied about by people who are finding their footing in their chosen profession. Some early success followed by expectations of more to come. The declaration usually is a show of confidence, of determination and a willingness to do what it takes. But what does it take to be great? Even in a sport like basketball, the three different individuals mentioned came to define greatness in very different ways. From this, we can assume that there are many ways to be great in every pursuit and with so many options available to us, the opportunities to be great are limitless.

It is often said that people who have a plan and are clear of their goals are the ones who succeed. Most people, I would argue, want to be great at what they do, the problem might be that they don’t know how. We all have a general idea, learning our craft, practicing, having mentors and putting in the hours but isn’t everyone else already doing that too? Not every NBA player goes on to the Hall of Fame, not every college player makes the NBA and not every high school player makes it at the college level. As we progress, our number of peers dwindle. So part of becoming great is setting ourselves apart. Some NBA players build a successful career off excelling at one particular skill and even the very best focus on their strengths. Shaq couldn’t shoot free throws, AI couldn’t hit three-pointers and Yao had issues with staying healthy even missing a whole season. None of that mattered. Their strengths more than made up for their weaknesses. Playing to your strengths is the smart move, we can’t be great at everything.

Some NBA players build a successful career off excelling at one particular skill and even the very best focus on their strengths. Shaq couldn’t shoot free throws, AI couldn’t hit three-pointers and Yao had issues with staying healthy even missing a whole season. None of that mattered. Their strengths more than made up for their weaknesses. Playing to your strengths is the smart move, we can’t be great at everything.

Not every pursuit is like basketball but there are parallels that can be drawn from the very best at anything. I think that those who truly succeed and ascend to greatness figure out what they want, how they want to accomplish it, develop their strengths and have an acute sense of self-awareness (the self-awareness aids them in figuring out their strengths and keeps them very much “in their lane”). We can use these same steps to aid us in our pursuits whether they are creative, athletic, academic or in business. We can be the skilled and professional session musician, the powerhouse of a business owner or the determined and super-competitive swimmer. The options are there and we have to figure out what path to greatness we wish to take.