Quality is Relative, Excellence is Less So

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

–  Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), Greek philosopher

Not until Ricky Bobby had anyone captured the essence of excellence as Aristotle did.  (Candidly, the quote seems a little loosey-goosey for a Greek translation, but it’s consistent with some other things attributed to Aristotle, but I digress.)

Whether we’re a big, hairy, American winning machine, a waiter in a small-town diner, or a white-collar, client-facing business type — excellence is not just a habit, it’s an attitude — and perhaps most of all, it’s a decision.

There’s a video of Russel Wilson, an NFL quarterback with a broken finger (and therefore he can’t play — turns out fingers matter when throwing a football among 300-pound dudes trying to harm you) going through his entire pregame routine, knowing full-well that he wasn’t even going to be in uniform for Sunday’s game.  Wilson decided long ago that he was going to be excellent, and he maintains a ruthless, almost maniacal commitment to the habit of excellence.

Today, we’ll all be faced with a dozen or more decisions.  We’ll have to decide to be “just ok” at something, or really excellent at something more important.

The good news is, the choice is not an either / or, it’s an “ok, and” call.  Just ok, or average, or meeting the basic requirements of some element of our work is just fine.  Unless the decision takes place in the intersection between being excellent or average in the larger scheme.  An excellent quarterback might throw the ball away if his choices are 45% get sacked, 45% throw and interception, or 10% make an amazing play and look like he did it on purpose.  An excellent quarterback, in other words, might choose to intentionally be bad at a play, in order to be excellent in his role.

Think of yourself under pressure, under the gun.  The time is running out, the deadline is upon you.  The deal hangs in the balance.  Have we practiced this moment?  Have we role-played it in our mind, with our teammates, and in front of the mirror so many times that we know what we’ll decide and we know what we’ll do and we know what we’ll say and how we’ll say it?  Or will we “wing it,” and try to throw the miracle pass to a place where three defenders are hoping we’ll try to throw the miracle pass?

Today, someone may ask you to compromise on a value or a principle.  Excellence is knowing that you won’t and how you’ll make that decision an asset instead of a liability.  Someone might ask you to cut a corner, skip a dry-run before a big Client engagement meeting or “just wing it,” because “you’re the best presenter in the team!”

Decisions will be made in those moments, among them, the decision to be excellent — consciously, purposefully excellent — and we ought to cling desperately to the foundations upon which our success is built.

Repeatedly be excellent.  Make it a habit.  Decide to make it a habit and a reality.

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