Human Excellence Is Also Happiness
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” — Confucius
In his book The Five Things We Cannot Change, author David Richo states: “The Zen poet Basho says: ‘All who have achieved real excellence in any art possess one thing in common, a mind to obey nature, to be one with nature throughout the four seasons of the year.’ Individual plans are therefore secondary to the larger purposes of a flowing universe.”
I wish to impress upon you that excellence arises when we develop this mental discipline and collaborate with nature’s laws.
To attain excellence we must be acquainted with its qualities. For example, success is measured against others achievements while excellence is an individual pursuit.
Leadership expert Robin Sharma says we should strive to be our best to attain excellence: “Be so ridiculously great at what you do that the world cannot help but give you an audience.”
In a similar vein it was the comedic genius Steve Martin who quipped: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Excellence is achieved by providing more than expected. Not only do we exceed other’s expectations, we enrich their lives by being of service and adding value.
There is a lot of discussion these days regarding attaining success. Thought leaders offer wavering advice on strategies to climb your way to the top. Yet, as we pursue excellence, success is there to greet us if our actions are firm.
Consider the following formula for excellence:
Personal Growth (leads to) Sustained Results (leads to) Success = Excellence
In discussing excellence I’m reminded of those who surpass our wildest expectations. They are: Olympic athletes, music performers, artists, creatives and dancers to name a few, having accumulated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
“It is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence,” states Cal Newport in: So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
Excellence invites us to become the centre of our universe. We are defined by smaller acts of distinction once we have mastered our inner domain.
“Achieving excellence is one part human participation, but the other part is some kind of divine intervention that I am yet to fully understand. It is these types of questions that make me believe that life really is worth living, despite all the pain and gnashing of teeth we must go through,” states Sport Psychologist and Leadership expert Stan Beecham.
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus considered excellence to be natural, in that we inherently seek pleasure and avoid pain. In the Ancient Greek language, the word Areté means excellence of any kind and signifies moral virtue.
Human excellence is the psychological basis for carrying out the activities of a human life in a positive manner; to that extent human excellence is also happiness.1 Similarly, excellence is characterised by moral virtues. The moral virtue relevant to fear, for instance, is courage.1
Equally, it was Aristotle who said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Excellence Is Marked By Continued Improvement
“The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence. Really, it’s a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free.” — Charles R. Swindoll
To live a life of excellence we must identify with our core values and live them as best we can. To live according to our highest virtues while aware of the complexity of our human nature.
To know oneself at a deeper level, we overcome the restraints of our unconscious past to realise inner freedom.
In a similar vein, honouring our emotional wellbeing is paramount for living an authentic life. This is recognised by our commitment to honour our self-worth rather than be dictated by disempowering states.
We refuse to be defined by our limiting beliefs and challenge them when they no longer serve us.
Many people Navigate Life unaware of their limiting beliefs and accept them as the fabric of their being. Yet through our understanding of brain neuroplasticity and epigenetics, we know that nothing is fixed or permanent including our thoughts.
It would be remiss of me to get this far and not mention the work of Carol Dweck who states: “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
So, by adopting a growth mindset we surge towards excellence as the springboard to success.
Excellence is attained when we let go of thoughts and beliefs which do not harmonise with our deepest being. If they don’t allow us to live to our highest moral code, we must dispose of them in place of those that uphold our best conduct.
To live a life of excellence is a call toward wholehearted living, irrespective of our comparisons to others.
It is our authentic power that permits mutual co-operation with others. We answer the call of our inner spirit when we pursue integrity and nurture our commitment to support our highest position.
It is well known that success can lead to complacency, because we are lulled into settling once our goals and objectives are met.
In contrast, excellence is marked by continued improvement instead of being outcome focussed. This is what Carol Dweck refers to when she argues the case for developing a Growth Mindset instead of a Fixed Mindset.
Lastly, the path to excellence is lined with many detours, failures and setbacks. The greatest inventors of our century experienced countless failures and disasters, yet these mistakes did not discourage them from eventual success.
Therefore, an unwavering passion and commitment is paramount for attaining excellence.
Let us not be blinded by the promise of success, rather pursue excellence for what it brings to our lives.
Afterall, success is a destination while excellence is an enduring journey of self-discovery and blinding detours.
May those detours lead you to your highest excellence throughout your life.
1 Parry, Richard, “Ancient Ethical Theory”, The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/ethics-ancient/>.
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Originally published at medium.com