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Randall Munroe and Zombie Marie Curie on Greatness

States of mind

You already may know about my preoccupation with the remarkably clever and heartfelt stick figure comic series XKCD by cartoonist and former NASA scientist Randall Munroe. Today’s installment of XKCD, “Marie Curie,” makes a key point about greatness, a topic that’s easy to drop into conversation but about which not much practical advice is usually available. Munroe has a little bit of just that kind of practical advice to offer:

It’s that point Zombie Marie Curie makes about greatness that grabs me particularly: “You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.”

Among other ways this connects to what we know about self-motivation is its relationship to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow,” the process of losing yourself in a task and thereby realizing your greatest possible skill at it (see “Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated” and “Some Steps for Getting into a State of Flow“). It also reminds us of the importance of caring more about the process than to how other people might respond to the result.



  1. Lon  •  May 9, 2011 @11:40 am

    One of the alt texts a few weeks back really resonated with me as well:

    “I never trust anyone who’s more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.”

    PS I’ve linked you on my website. Enjoy the extra .4 hits per annum! 😉

  2. Luc  •  May 9, 2011 @12:26 pm

    That’s another good quote. I keep having this weird feeling like Munroe knows what he’s talking about.

    Thanks for the link, too. For anyone who doesn’t already know about Lon, he’s a talented writer of short SF/fantasy/horror, poetry, and nonfiction with many publications to his credit.

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