I believe almost anyone can become great at a given discipline. But make no mistake, the defining trait of a true genius is that they are born with a gift.
Genius is far rarer than we'd like to admit. And it's rarer still than someone with a natural gift gets the recognition and opportunity to cultivate it to reach the pinnacle of their craft. To excel beyond what seems imaginable, one must have not just the gift, but an extraordinary alignment of circumstances to take full advantage of that gift.
Rarely is this so apparent as when the world watches the highest levels of athletics at the olympics. Here, relatively unknown athletes are vying for the public attention almost exclusively on their athletic capabilities. And yet even here, we see a few regular standouts, those so utterly dominant in their field, it becomes a functional race for the silver for any other competitor. Rest assured, all those cross-country skiers two-minutes behind the podium finishers are great athletes. The best of the best. But not genius.
Who are the geniuses, in my opinion? In athletics, the three Michaels come to mind. Michael Phelps, Michael Schumacher, and Michael Jordan. In music, perhaps stars like Birgit Nilsson or Freddie Mercury. Businessman Warren Buffet likely makes the list. There are of course more, and these are just those lucky ones who found their calling. There are thousands more unsung geniuses out there.
Look carefully to discover your genius. But don't lament if you don't find it. The world is full of opportunity for those who seize the chance to be merely “great”.