Many years ago I was recruited on a quest. A quest for excellence. When I signed up, I had no idea how I would be forever changed.
Nobody in particular recruited me, I volunteered. I did have many mentors and role models who were committed to the odyssey of optimization. Yet, ultimately it was with my own volition that I decided to dedicate myself to giving and becoming my best.
This journey into the wilderness of personal development, quality work and a commitment to high standards has been assuaging, and arduous. On one hand, understanding what excellence is, and what it takes has been rewarding, fulfilling and highly transformative. On the other hand, it has increased my tendencies towards the judgement of others, lead to disappointments, and cost me many opportunities. People often use the phrase “a gift and a curse” to describe something that can be a blessing and a burden simultaneously. That’s how I feel about the constant quest for excellence — there are many virtuous aspects of the voyage, and there are some villainous ones too.
Is a lifelong commitment to excellence worth it? Is it even possible? Is it more of a gift, or a curse?
Read on for my determinations after a decade on my crusade of commitment.
At some point, we all make choices regarding our commitment to an excellent life. As we determine how we spend our time and lives we can choose to do so in the pursuit of the best expression of our potential as a human, or we can choose willful ignorance in manifesting greatness.
When I started learning what excellence was, and what it took, I was 18 years old, working in construction for my uncle. After high-school, I chose to go to Texas to learn how to work and to get strong. I still don’t quite know how or why I made that choice when there were many others available. But, I think this was my first step in my quest. My uncle was more than willing to have me join in his toil, and triumphs. He was ruthlessly committed to quality and hard work. His drive to deliver the highest standards in design, assembly, and customer service set a benchmark inside me. I could never allow myself to fall below his expectations afterwards without feeling tremendous shame.
This early exposure to excellence and hard work enabled me to internalize many things that I’m only now realizing. My decision to self-identify as the hardest worker in the room, and my tremendous guilt and pain I feel when I cut a corner or forget about quality, all started with my uncle. His lessons in the Texas heat forged a spirit of powerful work ethic. I was also gifted an understanding of the distinctions between someone who’s willing to get the job done any way they see fit, and someone who’s committed to doing it right — even if it’s way harder.
After my time in construction I returned to time in the hospitality industry. But, I was becoming so different after my uncle’s impact I began to feel alienated from many of my peers and colleagues. When someone was willing to do things the wrong way, be lazy, or demonstrate willful disregard for quality, I was unable to be around them or work with them for very long.
Fortunately, I found some amazing mentors, friends, and colleagues over the years. They all taught me about excellence and creating a culture that supports it. I was always thrilled to find other likeminded people who weren’t just throwing slop on a plate. I always liked those who weren’t cutting every corner imaginable in the name of the “bottom line” (make it faster and cheaper — even if that means making it worse).
Several chefs I served under in brigades made it known that the standards were higher than we could attain with anything but our very best effort. There was no hope for anybody willing to do things the easy way. Our livelihoods depended on our willingness to continually strive, grow, and rise up to the challenges placed in front of us by our chefs.
I truly enjoyed the battles we endured, the victories and the defeats. None of it was easy, but none of the pain wasn’t worth it looking back.
So is working hard and committing to delivering quality work worth it? Yes. It is. However, it can be very hard to sustain day in and day out.
Here are some pros and cons for those that determine they are willing to commit to excellence in their vocations or lives:
-The tremendous satisfaction you begin to derive from each time you overcome the excuses and just do something the right way.
-Anchoring rewards to the process of work itself — knowing you gave everything you could to do a great job helps you want to keep doing a great job.
-High transferability to other industries or careers — when you work with the best, their standards rub off on you and you absorb their lessons, which you can take with you and apply to any other field and set yourself apart.
-You might have a hard time working ‘just anywhere’ — places and people that don’t strive to be better or do things correctly will make you feel a physical discomfort. Left unchecked this can lead to a tremendous amount of pain and suffering (more than the quest for excellence does)
-You might feel diminished self-worth when you don’t meet your own standards — When you choose to cut a corner or do something wrong, you’ll know it and think of one of your comrade's quizzical looks: “hmmm is that the way you’re going to do that?” If you waiver off the path, the guilt and shame can amass silently and potentially erode your self-worth if you’re not careful.
-Similar to the quest for perfection, satisfaction can be fleeting — Without taking time to savor the process, and acknowledging when you’ve done something well, you might find yourself always looking to what’s next and constantly dissatisfied with yourself and your results.
After these years participating in the war for excellence in myself, and observing others in battle, I learned more than I could ever have learned theorizing or philosophizing about excellence. Witnessing people work in the culinary arts, construction, fitness, creative arts, knowledge work, and across all industries as a whole I have developed an ingrained understanding of what it means to do a good job. I don’t always do a good job if I’m honest. But, with the same honesty, I can say I am always focused on it and working for it — and that’s excellence.
I have a standard that I expect of myself beyond the experiences of my past. I must carry forward this commitment into all other endeavors I pursue.
This writing may not be the highest expression of my excellence, but it is an expression of my commitment to striving for it.
Thank you for reading!
This is the 81st installment of Writing Wednesday. A commitment to myself to actually pursue my dreams of becoming a writer. I have resumed this practice after almost an entire years absence.
I am a writer.
Let me know what you think, and follow my journey on Instagram/Twitter (@multitude27)