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Being Excellent in the Age of Mediocrity

By Dr. Laura Hills, President, Blue Pencil Institute, www.bluepencilinstitute.com

Excellence – it’sshutterstock_122845336 (2) what we admire in others and what we strive for every day. But what does it mean to be excellent? Are we excellent because we achieve excellent results? Does how we achieve those results matter? Do excellent efforts and intentions make us excellent, regardless of the outcome? Must we strive for excellence in everything we do? Can we justify being excellent in some areas of our work and our lives and not in others?

If you’ve already achieved a high level of excellence, you may be further concerned about whether and how you can sustain your excellence day after day, year after year, or even, decade after decade. You may wonder how you can prevent that all too common “whatever” or “good enough” attitude that creeps into place when we fall prey to inertia, boredom, arrogance, and complacency. How do we remain excellent when it seems that no one notices or cares what we do, when we are surrounded by others who don’t share our value of excellence, when we are operating in a time that others have dubbed the “age of mediocrity”?

Excellence is a hungry mouth. It clamors for constant feeding. And it can vanish in an instant. That means that we must be vigilant about our excellence. It’s not enough to have been excellent at one time. We can’t rest on those laurels. We’re only as excellent as we are right now, in this moment, in these circumstances. Consider Colin Powell, who says, “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it’s a prevailing attitude.”  That sounds a lot to me like Aristotle, who is attributed as having said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

What I’ve learned working with career professionals for more than 30 years is that the best way to become and remain excellent is to develop excellence as a habit. Excellence, therefore, must become not only what we think or what we want to be, but who we are. That means three things: that excellence in small things does indeed matter, that we must surround ourselves with individuals who can support our excellence, and most of all, that we must repeat excellence again and again and again — until excellence becomes engrained in us.