So what is excellence?
If you were blessed with special physical, mental or artistic gifts, then a commitment to excellence means making the most of your talents and striving to be in the top 1% in your field - possibly even being the best in the world at what you do.
Excellence is not necessarily winning or being number one, however (although winning is certainly a by-product of excellence). Excellence simply means that you make the decision to be the best YOU can possibly be. Excellence also means continually striving to become better than you used to be.
For example, excellence in your fitness or bodybuilding endeavors means making the commitment to get in the absolute best shape you can given your genetic potential.
Your commitment to excellence should not end with a decision to get in great shape - although that's a good place to start. Excellence is a state of mind that should permeate every area of your life.
WHO IS EXCELLENT?
One way to get a better idea of what excellence means is to look at some excellent people:
In sports you have Wayne Gretzky, Pele, Muhammad Ali, Michael Johnson, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Steve Prefontaine, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Nadia Comaneci, Babe Ruth, Chris Everet and Joe Montana, just to name a few.
In music you have your Mozart's and Beethoven's.
In fitness and bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenneger, Lee Labrada, Frank Zane, Skip Lacour, Monica Brant and Cory Everson.
In business there's Jack Welch of GE, Fred Smith of Federal Express, Thomas Monaghan of Domino's, Walt Disney, Michael Dell, Ted Turner, Bill Gates, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie.
In coaching you have Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, Pat Riley, Lou Holtz and Rick Pitino.
In invention there's Leonardo DaVinci, Edison, Tesla, Marconi and Buckminster Fuller.
In poetry, philosophy and literature there's Blake, Frost, Shakespeare, Emerson, Allen, Longfellow, Dickens, James, Thoreau, Milton, Goethe, Whitman, Gibran, Epictetus, Aristotle, and too many more to mention.
In art, of course, there's Michelangelo
In teaching; Marva Collins
In psychology, Freud, Jung and Maslow
In peacekeeping and humanitarianism; Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and The Dalai Lama.
In dance; Baryshnikov.
In self-help and personal development: Steven Covey, Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn, Bob Proctor, Og Mandino, Earl Nightingale and Napoleon Hill.
In Science, Einstein, Newton, Hawking, Darwin, Hubble, Salk.
In the financial field, how about Peter Lynch, Sir John Templeton or Warren Buffet?
In martial arts...Bruce Lee.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE EXCELLENT?
Being excellent is not easy. It requires several unique qualities.
1. High standards
The number one key to excellence is setting high standards and keeping them up. Always ask yourself, "Am I settling for less than I can be?" You must set the bar high and continually raise it if you want to become excellent. Michael Jordan describes high standards like this:
"Many people have God-given talent, and I'm certainly one of them. But what has set me apart throughout my entire life is that you'll never find anyone more competitive than I am. I will not settle for second in anything. Every day I demand more of myself than anyone else could possibly demand from me."
2. Burning desire
Second, you must have burning desire. I wrote about this in the January edition of BFS, but let me repeat the heart of that message: Until you want to achieve and excel as bad as you want a breath of air when you are held underwater, you don't know what real burning desire means. You gotta want it.
3. Hard, hard, hard work
Bear Bryant, the great Alabama football coach said, "It's not the will to win that counts as much as the will to prepare to win." You see, everyone says they want to win, but very few people want it badly enough to put forth the exhausting effort and preparation it takes to be the best. A commitment to excellence means incredibly hard work. And in direct proportion to your labors, so shall you reap the fruits.
Being excellent requires the courage to pursue your big dream. Courage means saying no to doubt and fear and just going for it. It doesn't mean you don't have doubts or fears, it means you forge ahead in spite of them.
I know dozens of people who would like to compete in fitness, figure or bodybuilding but they won't make the commitment because they're afraid to fail.
What if you did fail - so what? You'll have become a better person for having made the attempt. "If you aspire to the highest place," said Cicero, "it is no disgrace to stop at the second or even the third place." Excellence is not as much being the greatest as it is aspiring to be the greatest. It's the courage to make the effort that counts.
Being independent means having the strength to stand alone, if necessary. One reason some people refuse to climb the ladder of excellence is because it can be lonely at the top. Not many people will want to join you up there. Some may even try to drag you down. Why? Because it's easier to knock down someone else's building than to build one of your own.
To become excellent you may have to discard some old relationships if they aren't serving you. You'll always become like those you spend the most time with, so if you want to be excellent, you have to surround yourself with excellent people.
WHY COMMIT TO BECOMING EXCELLENT?
If the path to excellence is such a difficult road to travel, then why should you even make the commitment? The answer is because the rewards are worth the effort many times over.
Here are some reasons why you should make the commitment.
1. Personal Growth and Self-Actualization
Life is about expansion and growth. Life is about discovering your gifts and then using them. Life is about fulfilling your unrealized potentials. Abraham Maslow put it best: "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be he must be." Spinoza said, "To become what we are capable of becoming is the only aim of life."
Self-actualized, happy, fulfilled human beings are in a constant state of becoming. If you're not continually in pursuit of some worthy goal or ideal, there will always be an unhappy, unfulfilled and empty feeling inside you.
It's not important what you GET in life, what's important is what you BECOME in life and what you leave behind as a result of what you become. And that leads us to the second reason to make the commitment to excellence...
2. Excellence leaves a legacy.
Excellence endures, thereby inspiring and helping others to pursue the path of excellence and see the greatness within themselves.
During the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, lighting the torch was none other than the incomparable Muhammad Ali. 85,000 people greeted him with a roaring ovation and an estimated 3.5 billion television viewers witnessed the event. Why is Ali still remembered and respected over 20 years after his retirement? Why is he one of the most famous people in the world? Because he was excellent.
Preceding the torch lighting ceremony was the Parade of Nations. Walking proudly into the Olympic stadium in the procession was the oldest living Olympic gold medallist. Few people had even heard of this man, but the crowd leaped to its feet and cheered. The president cried. Why? Because 70 years ago, this man was the best in the world at what he did. He was excellent.
Excellence is always remembered and celebrated. Just go back and look at that list of excellent people if you have any doubt.
3. You must become excellent to avoid being left in the dust.
Here's a third reason to become excellent: Competition. If you don't make a commitment to become excellent in your chosen field, you don't stand a chance of making it in today's competitive society.
If you don't become excellent, you're not going anywhere. Your income won't improve, your skills won't improve and your knowledge won't improve. Your body won't improve, your health won't improve and your relationships won't improve.
Nothing will improve unless you commit to be excellent. And guess what? If you're not improving and moving forward, you're moving backward! You're being passed by! You're in someone's dust!
4. Becoming excellent increases your self esteem
When you do something well it makes you feel good about yourself. It gives you joy. When you're mediocre, it makes you feel... well... mediocre. How can you feel good about yourself after doing a job in a mediocre way? Do you really want to settle for "average?" Nothing gives you more self esteem and self respect than being good at what you do.
EXCELLENCE MEANS "OPENING YOUR GIFTS"
You may be thinking, "This is all well and good Tom, and highly motivational, but what does this have to do with me? I'll never win bodybuilding contests like you. I'll never make it to the Olympics, I'll never sculpt, paint or write a book; I'll never or achieve anything on that level because I wasn't born with that kind of TALENT! So what now, Mr. Positive, huh, huh huh???"
That may be true; you may never sculpt, paint, win a gold medal or write a great piece of prose. However, you have seeds of greatness within you whether you realize it or not. You might possess different kinds of seeds than other people, but nevertheless the seeds are there. It's the birthright of every human being.
I believe that every person on this planet has the ability to be excellent in at least one area. Yes, every single one of us - even the homeless bum lying in the gutter. Every person has gifts; the problem is most people don't "open their gifts." Most people don't even look for them. They are asleep to their own innate power and potential.
Most people are so mired down in mediocrity; just scraping by eking out an existence instead of creating a life, that they don't even realize that 90% of their potential lies untapped within them; submerged like a giant iceberg with only the very tip visible to the naked eye.
The only difference between the excellent person and the bum in the gutter is that the excellent person sees their inner potential and the bum does not. The person aspiring for excellence has a VISION. The only way the bum can get out of the gutter is to stop looking at the curb; he has to lift his head up and look to a higher place.
It all starts with a single decision; a commitment. You must consciously choose excellence - because excellence is not going to choose you. You have to get hungry and go after it.
EXCELLENCE MEANS BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE IN EVERYTHING YOU DO
Obviously, the level of talent in people can vary. Not every one can compose music and play the piano like a Mozart at the age of five. Not everyone can build the muscle Arnold Schwarzenneger had at 19. Not everyone can run like Michael Johnson, write like Shakespeare, sculpt like Michelangelo... regardless of how hard they try.
Truly these are special gifts and amazing talents. But that doesn't mean you can't be excellent in your own unique way.
A commitment to excellence simply means being the best you can be, right where you are, with exactly what you have, doing whatever you're doing.
For example, if you're interested in health and fitness, could you strive to get in the absolute best shape that you possibly can given your genetic potential? Of course you can - everybody can do that.
Excellence means that anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you can look yourself in the mirror every night and say "I got in the game today and I did my best," then you are on the path of excellence.
Martin Luther King summed it up this way:
"If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well."
As Emerson put it, "every calling is great when greatly pursued." What matters is being in the game and playing your game the best you can.
"Seek above all else a game worth playing," wrote Robert DeRopp. "Having found the game, play it with intensity - play it as if your life and sanity depended on it (they do). If life does not seem to offer a game worth playing, then INVENT one. For it must be clear, even to the most clouded intelligence, that any game is better than no game."
EXCELLENT QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Here are a few questions to think about:
If you COULD become excellent, then SHOULDN'T you?
If you were blessed with the innate talent to be in the top 1% in your field, then shouldn't you cast your doubts and fears aside and go for it?
If you don't have the God-given talent to be in the top 1% in your field, then shouldn't you simply strive to become better than you used to be?
Isn't it true that if you make the commitment to excellence and begin the journey, at the very least, you won't end up in the same place you started?
GET IN THE GAME AND BECOME EXCELLENT
Don't sit on the sidelines of life. We were put here on this Earth to be more than "Joe six pack," that poor soul who comes home every night, cracks open a beer and zones out for five hours in front of that mind-numbing, income-reducing device known as a television. You were born to win!
You have within you at least one thing that you can do better than 99% of other people on this planet. Maybe you already know what it is. If so develop it; tap into it; harness it; nourish the seeds; actualize the potential.
If you don't know what it is, think about it; search for it, dig for it, find it - because it's there. Find your game. Find your music. Then PLAY IT WITH PASSION!
Whatever you do, do it your best. Don't die with your music still in you, because the greatest tragedy of all is unfulfilled potential and a life not lived to the fullest.
POWERFUL THOUGHTS ON EXCELLENCE
"Reaching excellence in any area of life means setting the highest standards, and refusing to fall back from them; asking the most of oneself, even when accepting the least would hardly be noticed (perhaps, especially then)
- Neale Donald Walsch
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit."
"The quality of your life will be determined by the depth of your commitment to excellence more than by any other factor"
- Vince Lombardi
"The foundation of a great life is for you to achieve excellence at doing something that is important to you. It is only when you're really good at what you do that you feel like a winner and you enjoy high levels of self esteem and a tremendous feeling of self respect and self fulfillment."
- Brian Tracy, Achievement and Success expert
"Excellence means that I set the highest standards for myself in everything I do. I do my very best in every situation and under all circumstances. I constantly strive to be better in my work, and as a person in my relationships. I recognize that excellence is a life long journey and I work every day to become better and better in everything I do."
- Brian Tracy, Achievement and Success expert
"Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. Did I make my best effort? That is what matters. The goal in life is the same as in sports: make the effort to do the best you are capable of doing - In marriage, at your job, in the community, for your country. Making the effort is what counts. The effort is what counts in everything. Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts. You never fail if you know in your heart you did the best of which you are capable. Excellence is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."
- Coach John Wooden
"Excellence always endures...It remains long after cost is forgotten."
"Excellence is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution and the vision to see obstacles as opportunities."