Wikipedia defines excellence as “a talent or quality which is unusually good and so surpasses ordinary standards”.
Excellence is a constantly moving target. You don’t achieve a level of excellence in any area of life by staying the same. Forward progress is required for anyone striving for excellence. Professional athletes don’t just show up to a game without putting in long, hard hours of practice. Authors don’t just publish a book without countless hours of writing, rewriting, and revising their work. CFO’s don’t take on huge organizational responsibility without years of studying, understanding and applying financial literacy.
Average is to excellence what good is to great. And Jim Collins says it best
Good is the enemy of great.
If you think about it, many people are average (or good) at many things in life. But very few achieve excellence (or greatness). Excellence requires us to show up, day after day, giving our very best effort, with laser focus and determination. Excellence is…HARD. So we settle for average, or good enough. We settle for comfort, ease, and the path of least resistance.
I recently attended a talk by Matthew Kelly called Living Every Day With Passion and Purpose. During his talk, he shared several qualities all individuals who have achieved a level of excellence have in common. These qualities are universally understood and applied, from professional athletes to comedians, doctors to teachers. These qualities include:
- A hunger for best practices. Once you have identified something you want to improve upon, research and find others who are considered “the best” in that industry. If you want to improve your photography skills, follow the best ones on Instagram. If you are looking to sharpen your leadership skills, reading a book by the one and only John C. Maxwell certainly wouldn’t hurt. Excellence requires a hunger for new, fresh perspectives and practices.
- Commitment to continuous learning (on-going personal growth). Learning doesn’t end when we graduate from school. The world is constantly evolving and changing. We live in an age of information abundance, and it’s up to us to find the information we need and apply it. Attend a workshop, watch a documentary, listen to a podcast, read a book, have coffee with an industry expert, subscribe to blogs and newsletters. Put a system in place to continually learn from the industry experts. Just imagine all you could learn in a year if you just spent ten minutes a day learning something new.
- Personal clarity. When you know who you are, what you are here for, what matters most and what matters least, you can get really good at saying no. In order to achieve excellence, you have to get good at saying NO, so your yes can be a fiery, passionate, energetic YES. Olympic athletes have personal clarity. They push through all those years of 4:30 a.m. workouts because they know exactly what they are training for. When we don’t have clarity, we are easily distracted and influenced by popular culture. We become swept away by what’s new, popular, easy, and fast. “Oh look, a squirrel!”
- Have a mentor, coach, or accountability partner. Those olympic athletes aren’t showing up alone for 4:30 a.m. practice. They have coaches, helping them develop and implement a training plan. If there is something you want to achieve, it’s imperative you have a coach, mentor or accountability partner. No one has ever achieved excellence alone. When I started a new job at Discovery Education, I immediately found a mentor. We read books together and discussed our key learnings, and she held me accountable for goals I wanted to accomplish. A few months into the job, I told her I wanted to go back to school to get my Master’s degree. She gave me a deadline, and even sent me a link for more information on the company’s reimbursement policy. I can promise you there is NO WAY I would have followed through with the application process if I didn’t have someone holding me accountable. Similarly, in every city I’ve lived, I’ve made it a priority to find running buddies to tackle those early morning runs. I wake up and get my butt out of bed 100% of the time when I know someone is counting on me to run with them. If I’m attempting a 5:30 a.m. run solo, there is a good chance it isn’t going to happen. Find someone to hold you accountable for goals you know will help make you a better version of yourself.
Excellence isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight. You have to show up for practice, day after day, not just when you feel like it. Establish daily habits that will help you achieve your goal, and over time you’ll find yourself experiencing a level of excellence you’ve been dreaming of.