“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” ~Aristotle
Excellence is seen as a requirement for success in today’s culture. Somehow to simply do a good job is not enough. Average has been branded as mediocre and very good is barely enough. The problem with this thinking is it creates unrealistic expectations. No one can be great at everything all the time. Comparing ourselves to a certain standard of excellence can be beneficial and challenging in a healthy way. Comparing ourselves to others can be defeating and discouraging. There is a quote that has been floating around social media: “Don’t compare someone else’s highlight reel to your behind-the-scenes bloopers”. It is time to rethink our definitions and rebuild our beliefs around excellence.
In researching The Belief Quotient it was surprising to discover the high number of people who believe they strive for excellence but how few of these people believe they ever achieve it. Digging deeper we found skewed perceptions about mediocrity, excellence and perfectionism. Many of those we interviewed believed that if they were not the best in their field, they were not excellent and therefore were mediocre. This definition of excellence is based on comparing yourself and your work to others. The weakness in this method of defining excellence is that the measure is a moveable object and very subjective. Excellence needs to be based on an objective measure, goal or target.
We also talked to a number of people who believed that excellence means perfection. These folks analyze their efforts and scrutinize for any possible flaw. Praise for their work is discounted because they can always find something that could be better. They cannot claim excellence because perfection is an impossible goal.
Rebuild your beliefs around excellence by focusing on these statements:
1. Excellence is a process, not an outcome.
2. Excellence is a reflection of character, not achievement.
3. Excellence allows for learning from mistakes, not harsh criticism.
4. Excellence sees others in a supportive role, not an adversarial role.
5. Excellence is willing to wait for mastery to be achieved and does not expect immediate results.
Anne Lamott says it well: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
(Excerpt from The Belief Quotient, due out this summer!)