I believe I read this saying (originally said by Napoleon) by one of the Gedolim (torah leaders) with respect to one's religious service. Could be it was the Chafetz Chaim. Looking for a source.

the idea I believe is that if one does not aspire to great heights in his service of God, then he cannot even be a simple God fearing Jew.

I found a related idea in Tana d'Bei Eliyahu (ch.25) "one should always tell himself when will my deeds approach those of my forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob". but nothing like the above.

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    Alter Rebbe, maybe? He often talked about Napoleon, as well as the other Lubavitcher rebbes after him. See here: chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1155/jewish/… – ezra Jan 16 '17 at 23:24
  • I understood the idea the opposite way - that even if you do not believe you can be an outstanding gadol yourself (you cannot become a general) at least you can be a loyal soldier (do your best). The idea is not be be depressed that you may not achieve as much as others in serving God. – DanielEvalUlay Jan 17 '17 at 7:45

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