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3 Steps and 3 Questions to Insist On Excellence

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. -Aristotle

Actually, Aristotle never said that.

Still a good quote, but Aristotle didn’t say it.

Though it’s often credited to Aristotle; Will Durant said it.


He’s the author of The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers. Durant was summing up some of Aristotle’s thoughts in part VII of his book, dealing with “Ethics and the Nature of Happiness”. So why mention this here? As a starting point to remind ourselves excellence is not a one-off effort, or a chance event or only for experts and world-class performers.

Three Steps to Maintain Excellence

Get over this.

If you insist on excellence, then you will give up some of your freedoms.

If your freedom is more important, then you’re only kidding yourself when you say excellence matters. Here are 3 simple [read, not easy] rules to intentionally insist on excellence, which if followed, will require the surrender of some of your personal freedoms.

1. Do what is right.

If you have to talk yourself into taking an action, or if you hope no one ever discovers what you’re doing, STOP. You’re violating your conscience which is never right or safe.

2. Do it best of your ability.

Relationships: personal and public. Professional life. Diet, fun, appearance. Everything.

3. Do it for others.

This does not mean you’ll always make life easy for everyone. This does not mean you’ll always say “Yes” to every request. Take the time to learn about those closest to you: what drives them? what is their best work? who do they wish to become? what are their fears that keep them awake at night? and most important, what is the way they feel valued or cared for?

Excellence is the result of everything we’ve done until now. Demean, distort or discount your character and no matter how talented you are, you will not have the right core to insist on excellence. You will not be able to sustain excellence.

Three Questions to Maintain Excellence

1. How many hours a week are you “working”? 60? 80? More?

2. How and when do you recharge? Can you imagine running at your current pace for the next few years? If you’re working more than 60 hours a week without regularly recharging, if you can’t imagine keeping up the same pace for the next few years, then try this: consider, really consider if the work you do is worth doing by you. If it is, get healthy and stay healthy: physically, mentally and spiritually. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

3. What makes you happy?

How do you recharge? Then do that. Go see a movie, take a walk, do laundry [wait, that's my recharging practice]… do something with no redemptive value and recharge.

This week, spend 1-2 hours examining which responsibilities you can let go of and let go of them. Ask someone to take a look at your workload to see what can be delegated, let go of, or set aside for now. Or forever.

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