I’m a big believer in excellence…so much that I wrote a book “The Idea of Excellence,” in 2014. It was written on the belief that if success is measured by how you compare to others, then excellence is how you compare to your potential or capacity. Excellence, therefore, is the true test of character, work ethic, and ultimately defines your legacy.
The other day, I was talking to my brother Britton about building successful corporate cultures as we watched the sun come up after a morning track workout. He, also a believer in the pursuit of excellence, said a quote that struck me.
“On the path to excellence, there are many casualties.” – Britton Barbee
Now, to a complacent mind, this quote probably seems harsh. But to those who pursue excellence in their lives or aspire to follow a path of excellence, this is a fundamental truth. It’s not good, not bad, just a necessary cog in the life cycle of excellence. However, grasping the magnitude of the statement can help you remain on the road to excellence in your life.
1. UNDERSTAND THAT THE TOLL IS HIGH
I asked him to expand on that thought and asked why he thought there were so many causalities. He said, “when you continually raise the level of expected performance, not everyone’s willing to meet the new minimum standard.” Sadly, as you push forward, you find out that everyone talks about becoming a peak performer until they see the thankless job requirements that are necessary to achieve continued excellence. The sacrifices, the continual pursuit of a better tomorrow even on the days you don’t feel like it, the extreme discipline even when you don’t see the finish line or know the next step… scares off most people.
To live a life of excellence, you must continue to stay on the road, regardless of the toll, even when everyone else is exiting toward Easy Street.
2. EXCELLENCE EXPOSES WORK ETHIC OR LACK THEREOF
Imagine your swimming in the beach waters of Waikiki. You’re struggling to keep your head above the waves, but you look and see everyone else seemingly share in your struggle, so you keep swimming. At a certain point, the tide turns, the waves die, and you realize that everyone else had been tall enough to stand the whole time and you were the only one having to work to stay afloat. You might be a bit disappointed, but you accept it for what it is and go on about your day.
Now Let’s say that same swimmer goes into those same waters every day, fighting to swim and stay on top of the waves while everyone else stands in the waters. Eventually, a strange phenomenon happens because of that consistent work. The swimmer learns to trust him or herself to stay afloat no matter how big the waves are. The consistently created the ability to stay afloat. The others, however, placed their faith in the ability to stand in the shallow waters, but what happens to them when they’re thrown in deep waters, or the waves come in stronger? They panic, they drown, they fail. Why? The storms of life exposed their lack of work.
Those who live lives of excellence aren’t afraid of the work. They might not have the advantages of others, but they focus on what they can do, not what others are gifted with. Remember, excellence is about you, not them.
3. YOU CAN’T TAKE EVERYONE WITH YOU
In a picture-perfect world, your friends, family, co-workers, and “day 1’s” all rise to the top with you. But if it’s picture-perfect, then it’s probably Hollywood, aka it’s not real. In real life on the journey to excellence, there are many stops, and most people are exiting before you. That’s not to say that they’re quitters or lesser human beings, it’s just a realization that not everyone thinks as big as you, is willing to go as far as you, or can hold on as long as you.
Think about a rocket ship. It looks great on the launch pad with the Fuel silos attached. At a certain point, the rocket must let go of the empty fuel silos to reach new heights, or else it will fall back to earth as well. Now I’m not suggesting you use people until they run out of fuel and then discard them, I’m simply suggesting everyone plays a role in your life and that doesn’t’ always mean they are with you until the end. Similarly, you play a role in others’ lives to help them reach a certain point and then they must go on.
We owe it to everyone who supported us or believed in us to reach our pinnacle. We can’t do that by hanging on to everyone and trying to bring everyone along. Deadweight slows progress and sadly, sometimes loyalty can be expensive.
Excellence requires you to stay focused on an ideal and in doing so, you create a path for others to follow. Pay the toll, do the work, focus on the mission.