Excellence has become yet another one of those overused words in this era of hyperbole we are living in. Words that in previous generations had deep significance and meaning tend to get thrown around, are overused, and are applied in ways devoid of meaning. Words like “excellence,” are used by organizations and institutions in ill defined ways to describe mediocre activities. What is the meaning of excellence? Organizations and institutions don’t have the answer. It is something that can be defined only by individuals.
In my first career I was a teacher in an educational institution that prided itself on being a place of “academic excellence.” The phrase sounded great, parents loved it, and we used the phrase quite frequently as a faculty to describe what we did. The problem was however, that the ways in which we measured academic excellence were vague and undefined. What did academic excellence mean? Excellence for whom? How could it be measured and quantified? And how could it be spread among students of different strengths and abilities? In my second career I’ve worked in a psychiatric hospital system that uses the phrase “service excellence” to define ways in which we interact with patients. While the latter is a little more defined it still remains difficult to truly measure. Excellence in this environment continues to be an individual thing, varying with each employee and each interaction that they have with a patient.
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen endeavor.”-Vincent Thomas Lombardi
This quote by Vincent Lombardi holds some of the keys to the dilemma presented by trying to define excellence. “Regardless of their chosen endeavor” is where the answer lies. Each individual knows intuitively when they’ve done their best. Most of us know when we’ve given 100% and when we haven’t. Naturally there are things that we prefer to do and enjoy more than others. Those are the activities that we attend to and give 100% of our efforts. Lombardi’s definition implies that we give 100% even to those endeavors that we find less attractive, tedious, and difficult. Most of us know what these tasks are. We know what we like to do and don’t like to do. How well we attend to tasks we must attend to that we don’t care for is, according to this definition, the key to excellence.
Self-esteem is something that all humans need to feel good about themselves. I’ve facilitated many therapeutic self-esteem groups over the past 20 years. More often than not people identify their self-esteem through the eyes of other people. In other words, if someone else validates a person then they feel they have self-worth. True self-worth, by definition, must come from the self. Each person holds the key to their self-esteem. At the end of the day each of us knows if we’ve committed to excellence that day. If we’ve given our best then we have committed to excellence. That can’t be taken from us nor can it be given to us by anybody else.
“Effort is between you and you. No one can take away effort.”-Raymond Lewis
Another simple explanation of the true meaning of excellence. Excellence cannot be given or received. It is an internal drive and motivation that creates positive self-esteem. An institution cannot created it, it must come from each individual that represents that organization.
It’s very difficult to pursue excellence in every endeavor that we undertake. Giving 100% at all times to everything we undertake is close to impossible. It is however, something to strive for.
“The way that you do one thing is the way that you do everything.”-Unknown
This statement implies that excellence is a habit and can be learned. While your results will not always be perfect, your effort will be excellent if it is the best that you are capable of. We all know on some level when we are doing our best. Excellence, by this definition, creates positive self-esteem. And feeling good about yourself is one of the most positive emotions that one can have.
“The only man that matters is the man in the mirror.”-Hugo Giagiari
As Wayne said, “Be excellent.”
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