Words by Craig Wilkinson

The quality of our lives is directly proportional to our commitment to excellence. Our health, wealth and well-being, how much we get out of life, how much we enjoy life, our level of fulfillment and success, the contribution we make to society, the legacy we leave, the quality of what we are able to give to our family and loved ones – all of these are determined by how committed we are to excellence.

Our lives have all been impacted by excellence.

If this one commitment can have such a huge impact on the quality of our lives, why are so few people passionate about living excellent lives? We admire excellence. We pay lots of money for it: that perfect steak at Le Chic Snob, the expensive jacket, the performance of a famous artist. Our lives have all been impacted by excellence. There’s the teacher that helped us believe in ourselves, the coach that inspired us to make the team, the song or poem that moved us to tears or the book that changed the way we think. Yet for most of us, excellence is something that other people achieve, not us. It’s something we either have to pay for or observe from the sidelines. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us have quietly and unconsciously given up on excellence and passively embraced its opposite, mediocrity.

Most of us have quietly and unconsciously given up on excellence and passively embraced its opposite, mediocrity.

The reality is that every one of us has the capacity to live an excellent life. If embracing excellence increases the quality of our lives and the lives of those we love, why aren’t we all 100% committed?

Here are seven of the most common reasons people fail to pursue excellence:

  1. We compare ourselves to others. We look at the achievements of other people and think, “I can’t do that”. And we stop trying. It’s the Facebook syndrome, in which we compare our experience to everyone else’s Hollywood moments and feel mildly depressed that we’re not living the life. Every person’s circumstances are different, every person has a different set of skills, talents, and resources. Comparison leads to paralysis.
  2. We don’t believe we can. Very few people will ever attempt something they don’t feel capable of achieving. We will generally only go after something we believe we have a realistic chance of getting. It’s the story of the lonely supermodel who is not asked on dates because men believe she is out of their league. If we don’t believe we can, we won’t even try. In the words of Henry Ford, “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”.
  3. We don’t believe we deserve to. The messages we grew up with about who we are, our station in life and what we are worthy of often place a ceiling on what we believe we deserve. And for most people, the message was that greatness is for other people. It’s the reason why people who win big on the lottery often blow the money in a few short years; they don’t believe they deserve it so they subconsciously sabotage their own success. We will only pursue what we believe we are worthy of.
  4. We fear it. Being excellent means standing out from the crowd and that can come with the fear of being lonely or being a target. Mediocrity loves company. In striving for excellence you will always encounter the naysayers, detractors and discourages. There will always be a group of people, often your own friends and family, who want you to join them in their mediocrity. Excellence shows them up and they don’t like that. Most people succumb to the lure of “tolerable mediocrity”. It’s tolerable because it’s better than some but it’s mediocre because it’s not as good as it could be. The greatest enemy of excellence is mediocrity.
  5. It’s much easier not to excel. Excellence comes at a price. It means getting out of your comfort zone and making a real effort. It’s much easier to go out with friends instead of studying and get the C instead of the A. It’s easier to eat the cake or drink the beer than snack on a salad and go for a run. Excellence requires sacrifice, effort and a level of discomfort. The rewards are far greater than the sacrifice, but they don’t come for free.
  6. We don’t know how to excel. Too few people grow up with the skills necessary for excellence. Schools and universities often don’t equip people for excellence in life. They give us academic knowledge but not the life skills needed for excellence. Parents play a crucial role in imparting life skills to their children but for many reasons are often unable, unwilling or unavailable to do so.
  7. Excellence hasn’t been modeled for us. The family and community we grow up in provides us with a model of what the norm is. This influences what we aspire to. If we grew up surrounded by people who embraced mediocrity, then that is the life we know. Mediocrity becomes our normal and it takes something or someone special to show us a different standard. In the words of Dolly Parton, “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.”

Most of us can identify with at least a few of these obstacles to excellence. Every one of us can work to overcome them. The bottom line is that excellence is in your hands. It’s not just for the talented few; it’s for me and you. And only you can make it happen. What are you waiting for?

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