“We are what we repeatedly do. Therefore, excellence is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle
Choice words from a man who understood excellence intimately. As an entrepreneur, professional musician, humanitarian, and passionate competitor in the sport of life, I have always held myself to a high standard of excellence in order to achieve those things in my life that I deem important to me, and in some cases, important to others. I have had the fortune of working and learning from some incredible people over the years. Just like anyone else, I am no perfect being and I have had my successes and failures along the way. I’ve always contended that if you succeed, succeed with all of your passion, blood, sweat and tears. If you fail, fail spectacularly with no regrets or bitterness. Anything in the middle is unacceptable.
This may sound extreme on the surface. However, if you hold yourself to a pace of excellence then this is how your successes and failures naturally play out. Anything in the middle only means that you settled for just good enough or just bad enough without having truly tested and pushed yourself to your utmost limits. This is why great athletes are laser focused. This is why great artists suffer tragically for their art. This is why great humanitarians make tremendous personal sacrifice to better the world. It is the pace of excellence that they live and breathe everyday, walking the edge of the thinnest line. It is an obsession that can threaten to consume a person. However, this obsession can be mastered. This is also part of the pace of excellence: not to let your obsessions rule you. A pace of excellence is useless without command of excellence.
In entrepreneurship, I have observed from successful teams this pace of excellence and that it is not only held at the executive level, but at all levels of company infrastructure. The best teammates don’t settle for anything less than excellence from each other. Without this trait, teams tend to flounder into mediocrity without focus and discipline. It is hard enough to start a a successful company based on an idea of assumption which, undoubtedly, other teams are trying to compete and tackle simultaneously. If a team doesn’t give it their all, they set themselves up for failure from the get go. Never assume you are the only one working on any particular idea. There is always competition and it is the team that operates at a pace of excellence that dominates the market.
Maintaining a pace of excellence takes incredible will, discipline, and sacrifice. Whatever it is you are trying to build must be at the forefront of your thoughts from the moment you wake to the moment you sleep and, somewhere in between, you even dream of it. I contend that if you don’t dream of what you are building in your sleep and wake up at the slightest hint of inspiration to work through your serendipity, then you do not understand excellence. This doesn’t mean that you must let it rule your every moment. Command of excellence is intentional and you must actively create and hold space for it. The concept inherently carries the hottest sparks of passion which requires a gardener’s eye.
I highly recommend sleeping with a notebook next to you. I have done so for many years. Throughout my career, I have dreamed entire compositions in my sleep or solutions to product and business problems which I must wake from and write down immediately to work through lest I forget them in the morning. When I competed at a professional level for beach volleyball, I would often dream of not only winning, but how to win against my many opponents. I would wake up to jot down these strategies and ponder them more closely the next day.
Tempered obsession is a crucial building block of excellence. When I was in my teens and teaching myself guitar, for the first ten years I practiced 3 – 4 hrs a day. I would practice until my fingers bled raw. The next day, instead of resting, I would put on band-aids and learn to play with them on. I wanted to be a great musician and this is what it took. When I trained for volleyball, I set specific training goals for the day and, come hell or high water, I would achieve them, even if it meant playing into the hours of night by moonlight. When I became an entrepreneur and started my first business, a mobile recording studio, I trained my ears and devoured the information and skills needed to be a great audio engineer. This was when the internet was in its nascent stages, so it sometimes meant very long hours at libraries or at friends’ studios. I knew that musicians would be depending on me to produce the best audio product and set out to exceed expectations. As a humanitarian, I take the work I do with ending human trafficking very seriously. There are peoples lives at stake and to trifle with an aloof attitude is simply wrong. It takes great consideration and thought to tackle a heavy social problem. To this very living moment, I carry the spirit and pace of excellence in everything I do. Anything less is unacceptable.
Be fair warned that to commit yourself to a pace of excellence oftentimes means great personal sacrifice. I learned this lesson the hard way when the single most important relationship I have had fell to ruins because of my intense focus. I was young and foolish and not in command of my obsessions. This was a lesson to be learned in command of excellence and it is why I do not set out to do anything unless I know I am willing to sacrifice much for it. Just as Aristotle, I have become very intimate with the concept of excellence. I am still not perfect, but I’ll be damned if I don’t strive to be an excellent human being.
To quote the venerable Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
What pace will you set for yourself?
– Excellently Paced Rabbit.