Recently my wife attended an information session for a potential activity for one of our children. The director had told the gathered parents, “We don’t do perfection here. But we do excellence.”
“What do you think that means?” she asked me that evening. “Is excellence that place one click below perfection, and one click above ‘good enough’?” This got me thinking about how we define our terms and whether we are being precise enough when we are communicating our goals and ideals.
So, what is excellence? It is hard to define, because it is applied to so many different endeavors and said so commonplace. When people claim “this is a program of excellence,” what do they mean? Do they even know, or do they just use the word because it is what you’re supposed to say? Is excellence a standard? What does excellence look like? How is it achieved? How do you know if you are excellent?
To me, excellence is a verb. It is an action—an approach to the way things get done. It is doing things according to high standards, and cultivating a consistent approach to doing what is expected of you to the very best of your ability. Simply put, excellence means giving your best at all times and not settling for mediocre effort. To paraphrase Nick Saban, head football coach at the University of Alabama, excellence is doing what you’re supposed to do, the way you’re supposed to do it, when you’re supposed to do it.
Excellence is rigor. It is enjoying the process of working hard, competing, and sacrificing in the pursuit of your goals and dreams. It is saying to yourself “I am capable of digging deep to get this done well and being better. And I can do it over the long haul.” Then, it is rolling up your sleeves and working at it on a daily basis. In this way, excellence is hard. It means bumping up against things you don’t do well over and over so that one day you will be able to excel at it.
Excellence is not accepting mediocre effort and “good enough.” It is putting a personal stamp of quality on everything you do—school, work, conversations, relationships. Excellence is a process, and a vehicle through which goals, dreams, and success are achieved.
It takes a conscious choice to “do” excellence, and it takes a lot of discipline. There is a tendency to give just enough to get by…the least effort for the most reward. But excellence requires that we give our maximum to every circumstance. This kind of approach is uncommon. It requires training yourself with new thoughts and expectations for what your standard will be.
We are all governed by our habits, and for most people the habit of doing just enough to get by is all they know, or is all they are willing to exert. Therefore, a new habit has to be cultivated, one that is built through making the choice at each decision point to say “Yes! I will give my very best right now.” These moments are critical in creating excellence. They are especially critical when you don’t feel like doing it, or when others around you are coasting. These are the occasions when you grow, and you establish habits of excellence.
If you are interested in having Dr. Montgomery give a presentation or work with your group, please complete the form on our Contact page. Thanks for reading and sharing!