Updated: May 10, 2021
Excellence is a core value and underlying motivator for me, and not just professionally. As I see it, excellence is an all-encompassing mindset and never-ending drive in every corner of life. I love seeing people thirst for continuous improvement and have a relentless drive for raising the bar.
So how come I’m having a hard time defining and teaching excellence to my teenage son? He’s the typical shrug-your-shoulder kid when it comes to anything but basketball and maybe golf for his active pursuit of greatness. School is seen as a necessary evil, and personal development is not high on his priorities at the moment. And don’t get me started on his room or attitude about doing chores around the house.
Am I being hard on the boy? Possibly. Are my expectations too high for my kids or teammates when it comes to aiming higher at work? Likely. But I don’t accept “good enough” or anything that resembles going halfway or half speed when more is (and can/should be) within reach. Now we’re talking about the ingredients of excellence, which include hunger and hustle as foundational building blocks.
At the same time, I’ve been wondering how to actually define excellence so I can better teach my kids. Is it an absolute as it appears in my head, or is it relative and a moving target based on different personalities and abilities? Or is it somewhere in between? Who actually gets to define excellence with authority by the way, either personally or professionally?
As I ask myself these questions, my first thought takes me to the Hall of Fame stress test. Meaning if I gave you a ballplayer’s name and you had to give an immediate thumbs up to his Hall of Fame candidacy, you would know in an instant if he was worthy of sports immortality. Hank Aaron? Easy. Joe Montana? Child’s play. But if there’s a player where debate begins and stats are thrown around in favor or against his election, then I’m not so sure they qualify to begin with.
I think that’s a bit how excellence feels when we see it. There’s no arguing what good looks like when it comes to Warren Buffett or Jeff Bezos. Or brands that don’t just have loyalists but evangelists who tell everyone about their favorite products they can’t live without (such as Tesla or Yeti). Excellence oozes from those who are forever determined to make something better and never settle or think that they have arrived.
I also like thinking about excellence in isolation or a vacuum. In other words, let’s say that no one is looking or that there is no grade or performance metrics. No money on the line or applause coming for the achievement. If we still chase and deliver the very best when it’s quiet with no one else to even see it, that’s when I believe excellence is at its purist.
This is the essence of true character and the only criteria that really counts in my book. In fact, an audience of One is all that matters to me. The Bible says that whatever you do, work at it with all your heart “as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Carson Wentz, now with the Indianapolis Colts, completely embodies this (quite literally with a tattoo to prove it) and started his own non-profit called AO1 (Audience of One – check it out). Everything he does on and off the football field is aimed for the glory of God and nothing else that is fleeting and doesn’t last.
And it’s the lasting duration of excellence that makes me reflect the hardest and keep on running the race with vigor. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).
What a worthy pursuit of excellence that I pray I can effectively endow to my son.