Paths to Greatness: Birth, Achievement, and Circumstance


In William Shakespeare's comedic play "Twelfth Night," a fabricated letter, ostensibly written by Olivia (but actually penned by Maria), is left for Malvolio to discover and read aloud. The famous quote within the letter— "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em" (Act II, Scene V)—becomes a central theme, exploring the diverse avenues through which individuals attain greatness. Whether through birth, achievement, or circumstances, greatness manifests in various ways, each path offering unique insights into human nature.

Born Great: Destiny and Inherent Potential

Greatness, according to the quote, can be a result of being born into it. While some individuals are destined for greatness, born into circumstances that set them on a trajectory of success, others come from more humble beginnings. The children of renowned Hollywood stars Will Smith, namely Jaden and Willow Smith, exemplify those born into greatness. Their familial background and early exposure to wealth and fame lay the foundation for a life that inherently carries the label of greatness.

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However, being born great doesn't necessarily mean achieving greatness. In the case of Jaden and Willow Smith, their potential for greatness is realized through their own efforts in the fields of film and music. This underscores the idea that while birth may provide a platform, it is the individual's actions and accomplishments that truly define their greatness.

Expanding on the concept of being born great, it's essential to delve into the various factors that contribute to one's inherent potential. Family background, socioeconomic status, and early exposure to opportunities all play crucial roles in shaping an individual's trajectory.

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For the Smith siblings, their access to the world of entertainment from a young age positioned them within an environment conducive to greatness. The influence of their parents, coupled with the resources at their disposal, allowed them to cultivate their talents and navigate a path to prominence.

Moreover, the idea of being born great extends beyond the realm of celebrity. In many societies, individuals born into privilege, whether through financial affluence or social standing, are often perceived as possessing inherent greatness. This raises pertinent questions about societal structures and the extent to which they contribute to the preconceived notions of greatness associated with specific individuals. Exploring these dynamics provides a nuanced understanding of how societal factors intersect with the concept of being born great.

Achieving Greatness: The Admirable Journey

Contrary to those born into privilege, there are countless individuals who achieve greatness through hard work, determination, and resilience. This form of greatness, arguably the most admirable, is accessible to anyone willing to put in the effort. Barack Obama, the former President of the United States, serves as a compelling example of someone who achieved greatness through his own struggles.

Obama's journey from a relatively ordinary background to the pinnacle of political leadership illustrates the transformative power of personal effort. His story underscores the notion that greatness is not solely the domain of the privileged but can be attained by those who navigate challenges with perseverance and dedication.

Delving deeper into the theme of achieving greatness, it's crucial to explore the various elements that contribute to this admirable journey. Education, mentorship, and personal development emerge as key components that empower individuals to transcend their circumstances and strive for greatness. Obama's commitment to education, evident in his academic achievements and dedication to community organizing, exemplifies how a focus on personal development can pave the way for impactful leadership.

Furthermore, the concept of mentorship plays a significant role in guiding individuals on their journey to greatness. Mentors provide valuable insights, support, and encouragement, shaping the trajectory of aspiring individuals. Examining the influence of mentors in the lives of those who have achieved greatness offers valuable lessons on the importance of guidance and collaboration in the pursuit of personal and societal goals.

Greatness Thrust Upon: Navigating Unexpected Circumstances

There exists a category of individuals who have greatness thrust upon them—those placed in extraordinary circumstances that demand exceptional actions. A poignant example is the American troops and soldiers who serve their country. While some may volunteer for such a duty, many find themselves in situations where they are compelled to act heroically to safeguard their nation.

These individuals may not have actively sought greatness, yet their response to challenging circumstances thrusts them into a position of profound influence. The sacrifices made by soldiers exemplify a form of greatness that emerges in response to unexpected challenges, showcasing the human capacity for courage and selflessness.

Expanding on the theme of greatness thrust upon individuals, it's imperative to explore the psychological and emotional dimensions of facing unforeseen challenges. The impact of external pressures on individuals, whether in the form of societal expectations or unexpected crises, significantly influences their response to greatness. Understanding the resilience and fortitude exhibited by those who navigate such circumstances offers profound insights into the human capacity to rise above adversity.

Moreover, delving into historical and contemporary examples of individuals who experienced greatness thrust upon them unveils the intricate dynamics of leadership during times of crisis. Analyzing the qualities that enable individuals to rise to the occasion provides valuable lessons for current and future generations on navigating challenges with grace and determination.


Exploring the pathways to greatness in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" offers valuable insights into the diverse nature of human achievement. Whether through the privileges of birth, the admirable journey of personal accomplishment, or the response to unforeseen circumstances, greatness manifests in myriad forms. Understanding and appreciating these diverse paths not only enriches our comprehension of human potential but also inspires us to recognize and cultivate greatness within ourselves and others.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Paths to Greatness: Birth, Achievement, and Circumstance. (2016, Dec 29). Retrieved from

Paths to Greatness: Birth, Achievement, and Circumstance essay
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