The Pursuit Of Excellence
April 6, 2015 AOA
In Thoughts

My posts are generally classified into two broad categories; thoughts and insights, with the majority being insights. Thoughts are based on whatever nags at my consciousness enough for me to write about. Naturally, I think about a lot of different things, from the philosophical to the spiritual, but not everything compels me to put words on paper or screen. Insights are usually Bible based revelations as I have received them.

This post is a thought and not an insight; a thought on excellence. Excellence is one of my most cherished values. Essentially, I can sum up my aspiration in that one word – excellence. I aspire to be excellent in life. Now that applies to anything I find myself doing and though I am not entirely sure what I will be doing ten years from now, I know that I want to be excellent. I aspire to be and it is my ambition to be excellent. It should be yours too as I believe that is the only way to live.

I have a few challenges with the pursuit of excellence though. The first is the fact that I wasn’t born excellent so for me, it had to and is still being learnt. I really don’t believe that people are born excellent. We are born to achieve excellence but just by definition of the idea, it becomes apparent that we are never born excellent. Even the most obsessive of people still require effort and deliberateness to be excellent. Second is that it is just so hard to be excellent. Third is that a commitment to excellence might cause you to exhibit some unattractive traits such as obsession and rigidity. Fourth is the miserable discovery that you might be unable to excel at more than one thing.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

This quote by Aristotle which i have adopted as a reminder of what is required for this pursuit is so robust and it awakens something in me every time I read it. I realize how deficient I am or how short I fall of the mark of excellence daily. One thing is for sure though; I will not stop trying, and neither will I surrender to the curse that is mediocrity. I will continue to do all I can to be better at the things that matter.

Excellence to me is about having the best output. It requires us to do things in ways that cannot be done better under the circumstances. Sometimes, one might in reality need to change the circumstances to achieve excellence. Excellence is being the top 0.1%. Excellence is distinction. It is a state that sets one or one’s work, whatever that work is, far above the competition. Excellence for example is being ten times better as Daniel was. It requires monotony and will definitely breed some boredom along the way. It requires obsession about details and would definitely breed some friction with the average person along the way. The average person wouldn’t understand why you aren’t ok with good and are obsessing over the need to get to best.

I got an email from a blog I subscribe to that drew my attention to a case study in which the requirement for high performance was broken down in numbers. A US Olympic gold medalist Jordan Weiber was asked, “When did you first start doing gymnastics, and how much do you train?”  Her answer was, “4 years old and about 5 hours a day for about 6 days a week” She started at the age of 4 and was 17 years old at the time she was asked this question. Victor, the author of the article analyzed the answer and concluded that she had put in approximately 15,000 hours of training to get to the point of excellence. It has also been widely hypothesized and I believe empirically proven that human beings require 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. So to become an excellent pianist for example, you would need at least 10,000 hours of practice despite your natural talent. This brings me to an important point…

Many people mistake skill for talent while in the true sense, they are different. Talent is natural ability that one possesses. Skill is talent amplified, modified and refined. A skilled pianist has taken his raw natural talent and worked endlessly on it to be considered skilled. However many people are happy to get by on talent alone. We use what comes naturally to us without applying deliberateness, intention, intensity, and investment in development.

A quandary presents though… If 10,000 hours is required for excellence, can one ever really achieve mastery in more than one thing? I mean it requires approximately 13 years and 8 months of 2 undisturbed hours daily to achieve 10,000 hours. Do I really have 2 undisturbed hours a day every day? …And for almost 14 years? How then can one achieve excellence in multiple things? To be honest, I don’t think you can.  My point is we don’t have the luxury of time even for those who are willing to pay the price. There is a gap between willingness and reality that must be bridged.

This leads me to make certain conclusions. First, we must be realistic about narrowing down what we are meant to be doing with our lives. We should decide what will remain a hobby and what would advance our destinies. This is critical to achieving excellence. Though we can excel at everything we do, we can’t excel if we do everything. Taking on everything we feel like is the sure formula to be average at many things but excellent at nothing. Second, we must start early because it takes time. That’s just common sense. Most people reading this means some might need to double up to catch up while those who have logged some hours need to maintain the consistency. Though we are not lost causes by any means; I fully appreciate the possibilities of a resolute mind, we owe it to our children to help them discover their purpose early in life, set them on the right course and teach them what is required to be excellent. They get to save time.

Revisiting the quote, high intention signifies deliberateness and consciousness; sincere effort signifies hard work, and intelligent execution signifies wisdom and systematic application. There are many alternatives but for those who strive for excellence, it starts with an understanding of what is required to achieve it. Live excellently; it is the only way to live. Shalom.