Thoughts on Excellence

It takes the commitment to persistently chip away the dullness of mediocrity. And above all it takes the unwavering faith that there is indeed something extraordinary hidden in the ordinary. Therein lies the treasure. Therein lies the radiant life.

It is the pursuit of excellence that perhaps is the real worth. The pursuit of being one’s best is the quest to rise above the staleness of the status quo into the fresh air of significance. The pursuit of excellence is the treasure unto itself. The Greeks believed that the use of all one’s talents in pursuit of excellence defined happiness. 

The truth is inescapable. A life of excellence is a life well lived. It is the way we have been created. Striving to be our best is when we are at our best. It is the quest itself that lifts us higher. In its purest form, it is not fueled by selfish gain, self-pride, or vainglory. According to Aristotle, excellence was virtuous. Webster defines excellence as surpassing good. So in its truest form, excellence rises above not only mediocrity, but also vanity and selfishness as well.  The pursuit of excellence is our responsibility. It is our responsibility to our fellow man and to ourselves. Albert Einstein believed “it is our sacred responsibility.” The selfless pursuit of excellence leads to a higher quality of life.

Perhaps Vince Lombardi said it best. “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” It matters not our role in life. A father, a mother, a son, or a daughter. An artist, a bricklayer, a doctor, a professor. A salesman, an employee, a politician, a preacher, a student, a teacher, a dogcatcher. The quality of our life and the meaning and purpose of our life rises when we fill it with a commitment to excellence. And that quality growing within inevitably reaches out. The impact of excellence ripples out to touch our families, our customers, our friends, our co-workers, our fellow man. Our commitment to excellence, the desire to be our best, touches the world around us. Excellence begets quality. Quality begets impact.

But the desire for excellence must be driven from within. The source of the wellspring must be from the inside, not the outside. 

A story is told of a gentleman visiting a cathedral under construction. He noticed a craftsman carving a statue. Lying next to the artist was an identical statue. The gentleman was curious and inquired, “Why do you need two of the same statues?” The sculptor quickly replied, “Oh, we only need one, but the first one was damaged as I completed it.”  The inquisitive gentleman examined the discarded piece of sculpture and could see no damage. “Where is the damage?” he asked. “There is a small scratch right on top of the figure’s shoulder,” replied the artist. The artist went on to explain that the final piece was to be placed 100 feet at the top of the cathedral. Puzzled, the gentleman asked yet another question, “100 feet in the air? Who will know there is a small scratch on the shoulder?” The sculptor looked intently at the gentleman and replied with a confident smile, “God would know and I would know.”

True excellence, pure excellence is not a finite goal. It is an attitude that is continuous and has no end. Excellence is not a destination. It is a journey. A state of constantly striving to be better. To do the common in the most uncommon way. It is a life long journey. And the fact remains, on the journey to excellence, there are no easy roads. There are hurdles and potholes. Inclines and declines. There is hard work and focus and patience and endurance. All, depending on the traveler, are deterrents or encouragements. Mistaken as detours, disguised as fast paths, they are in fact lesser roads. Futile routes that lead to nowhere. They are the lesser roads of mediocrity, greed, pride, and vanity. 

The universal truth remains. There are no side roads, no alternate routes, no detours to excellence. The path is straight and narrow. The path is challenging and trying. But the path will always lead to significance.