All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare. – Baruch Spinoza
What does that mean?
Depending on your age and background, ‘excellent’ may have become part of your vocabulary as a simple statement of agreement. However, it really means that the item in question is of the best or finest quality.
The quote says that excellent things are quite rare, a statement with which I would agree. While the most common items can be of high quality, the word excellent is used to define the very best of the best. Even in a field where there are very high quality standards, some will still stand out, and they are what is excellent.
The other reason for excellent items being rare is the level of effort or difficulty in creating them. Anything shiny can go from common to excellent if you are willing to put in the hours necessary to polish it to the finest shine possible. That is the difficult part, isn’t it?
Why is putting forth the effort to achieve excellence important?
Now not everything we do is suitable for excellence. Is it really worth the effort to make a sandwich to the level of excellence? While we might be able to contrive a situation (say an interview for a chef), that’s generally not the place where you want to spend the time and effort, right?
However, for the important things in our lives, the effort required to achieve excellence may well be worth it. When they have to reduce the size of a workforce, do they lay off the employees who are excellent at their job, or those who just barely do what is required?
What about our relationships and social lives, is excellence appropriate there? Well, do you want to be know as a mediocre lover, or an excellent one? Do you want to throw average parties or excellent ones? I believe that excellence, applied to the proper portions of your life, can make a great difference.
Where can I apply this in my life?
As I mentioned above, just throwing excellent at everything will result in almost nothing getting done. Raising anything to the level of excellence requires a great deal of effort. If every breakfast was to be excellent, you’d have to develop a great deal of skill and get up extra early, right?
If every time you washed your face and brushed your teeth, you expected excellence, you might look really sharp, but how long would it take you to get ready? If your job involves being seen, like a trial lawyer or TV personality, it would probably be worth it. For the rest of us, it’s probably overkill, right?
So, in my opinion, the first thing to do is to determine what aspects of your life are worthy of this level of effort. Since I believe my personal relationships and my work, as well as my blog are worthy, they are where I put my effort.
Grab some paper and write down three or four aspects of your life where you think being excellent would be a good idea. Next to each aspect, write down what the benefits would be if you were excellent in this area. Then write down what might happen if you were just average in those areas.
Is the value of excellence becoming a little more clear to you? I hope so. Now, for each aspect you have listed, write down what you think excellence in that area looks like. How would you know when you have achieved that level yourself?
How you would recognise that excellence in someone else? Are there many (or any) examples of which you can recall? If it isn’t at least a little rare, you might not have your sights set high enough. If you can’t find any examples, you might have your sights set too high.
Select the aspect you want to start with, and come up with a few ideas on how you might take your game to the next level. How will you move from where you are, to the next step towards excellence? Realize that this will be a journey of a lifetime, not a ‘do it once and you’re done’ kind of thing.
Just look at pro sports, and the handful of standouts who would be rated as being excellent. Now look at all the rest in the top tier, but just short of excellence. What keeps them from being excellent? In some cases it might be an old injury, in other cases it might be that they are talented but not as much as those in the excellent category.
However, many of them are merely great players because they feel they have arrived and no longer strive for excellence the way they once did. While I’m not in pro sports, I have seen it in kids sports and at work. I have seen this attitude too many times.
People get better and better, work harder, work smarter. They take training, and the y practice. Then, they reach a comfortable place, and they stop striving for excellence. They settle for ‘good enough.’ It is an easy decision to make. But once you stop, will you ever get back on the path?
Excellence is difficult. Excellence takes time and effort. But the rewards are great, if you are willing to be that rare individual. Just remember, excellence is a path, not a destination. You will never be excellent, but you can always be becoming more and more excellent.