What Campfire-Building Can Teach Us About Achieving Greatness

You’re pretty ambitious. You have goals and dreams, and you’re hardworking. You want to be successful, and you have the drive to make it happen.

You won’t ever be satisfied with average, or even good. You want to be great.

But as you pursue greatness—whether it’s in your academics, your career, your business, your relationships or your life—you sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

The sacrifices, the disappointments, the frustrations… what’s it all for?

In an attempt to do more and be more, maybe you feel like you’ve lost sight of what’s truly valuable.

I’ve by no means achieved greatness—far, far, far from it. But in thinking about what it means to live a great life, I’ve realized that it’s a lot like building a campfire on a cold night.

Allow me to explain this analogy as I share with you some of my reflections.

1. Your legacy isn’t about how awesome of a campfire you built. It’s about how you kept other people warm.

Maybe you have dreams of becoming CEO one day, or maybe you want to attain a certain rank in your company, or maybe you want to start your own business. Whatever your aspirations may be, I’m sure you want to leave behind a wonderful legacy.

A bigger role will give you more opportunities to build a bigger campfire, but people won’t remember you for the size of your campfire.

They won’t remember you for what you accomplished for yourself, regardless of how astonishing those accomplishments might be.

They’ll remember you for what you accomplished for the sake of others. They’ll remember you for the difference you made and the lives you touched.

2. People want to know that you’re willing to sit with them in the cold.

Before you start building a huge campfire in the hopes that you’ll keep a multitude of people warm, bear in mind that people want to know—first and foremost—that you’re willing to sit with them in the cold, even if there’s totally no way you could build a campfire.

They want to know that you’re prepared to make the effort to listen to them, to understand what they’re going through.

They want to know that you’re willing to be with them, although you might not be able to do anything for them.

They want to know that you’re a caring human being first, campfire-builder second.

They want to know that you see them as people, not as a project.

They want to know that even if it were utterly impossible to provide them with physical warmth, you’d stay there with them to provide them with emotional warmth.

3. Not everyone knows how to build a campfire, and that’s alright.

What if you just don’t have the knowledge or abilities to build a campfire?

You don’t have to worry, because there’s still a vital role for you to play. As marketing guru Harry Beckwith once said, “There’s no such thing as an ordinary job. There are only people who choose to perform them in ordinary ways.”

Your skill might be making a good cup of hot chocolate, or it might be knitting a sweater—both of which will also help to keep others warm.

Your skill might even simply be cheering people up with your kindness!

These jobs might not be glamorous, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.

4. Whatever skills you have, you can always get better.

No matter how good you are at building a campfire, making a cup of hot chocolate, knitting a sweater, or cheering people up, you can always improve.

There’s always another level to strive for, and there’s always something new to learn.

If you keep honing your skills, you’ll undoubtedly keep more people warm.

5. It’s vital that you keep yourself warm first.

Even though you want to help as many people as possible—and as quickly as possible, too—it’s still a freezing night, and you’ll get frostbite if you don’t look out for your own safety.

You need to ensure that your own clothing is suitably warm and that you’re not overworked.

In the pursuit of greatness, it’s vital that you make it a priority to take care of your own needs: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If you neglect any of these areas, you’re likely to experience burnout.

Taking care of your own needs isn’t selfish; it’s the right thing to do. You won’t be able to effectively add value to other people if you’re not in an optimal condition yourself.

In conclusion…

Attempting to create a masterpiece out of your life really is like building a campfire. It’s tiring, it’s fun, and it’s rewarding.

It’s a good thing that greatness isn’t about you and your campfire, because the most epic campfire could never compare to the innocent beauty of touching lives and of keeping people warm and happy.

So greatness is about you, but not really. It’s mainly about others.

There’s work to be done. Let’s get started. :)


  1. Lisa H. says

    I loved your analogy to building a campfire. How great you are is only how great someone else thinks you are. Caring, followed by action is the greatest gift you can give. :-) A lending ear, a helping hand, a hug, a smile.

    • says

      Thanks, Lisa. You’re completely right– we often get so consumed by taking action that we forget what our real motivation should be in the first place!

  2. says

    Hi Daniel,

    This was a really well written post and the analogy with the campfire was brilliant.

    I found it to be a great reminder that the main goal is how much of an impact we can make on the lives of others. Sure personal wealth and power might be a byproduct of this, but its better to not view these aspects as being the main driving goals.

  3. says

    Hey Hiten,

    I completely agree with you! I’m reminded of what business philosopher Jim Collins said: “Profit to a company is like what food and water are to the human body– the more of it you have the better, but it’s not the reason you exist.”