commitment to excellence

I have a commitment to excellence. Talk to anyone who has a commitment to excellence and a few common themes will emerge:

  • willingness to take responsibility for your intentions, actions, behaviors, responses, attitudes in every single situation.
  • regularly checking in with yourself to see if you are living according to your values and integrity—in fact, such a deep desire to live in alignment with your integrity that you will search yourself to find the places where you aren’t doing that, intentionally, before anyone else notices.
  • understanding of what is, and isn’t, a priority.
  • making a decision to face all fears, directly, rather than fighting them away or pretending that they aren’t there.
  • awareness of common weak spots or places where you are inclined to justify and make excuses, and a refusal to justify or make excuses—commitment to excellence wants to see what those spots are and do things to address them, not avoid them.
  • willingness to address those weak spots proactively, before they can “hook” you, combined with willingness to admit to mistakes and do what can be done to learn from them and take corrective action.
  • humility and remembering that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that everyone has stuff they don’t know, so compassion and grace are necessary.
  • intentionally finding ways to make small but consistent progress.
  • focusing more on process than on external outcomes; the goal is inner work and inner shifts, not some flashy thing that you can parade around and show off to everyone else.
  • focusing more on yourself and your responses and reactions, not comparisons.

When you don’t (yet) have a commitment to excellence, the list above will sound like “a lot of work.” It’ll sound intimidating. Maybe way too straight-laced.

It’ll definitely sound like way too much pressure to live up to.

The pressure? Therein lies the fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to try to live your life this way:

a commitment to excellence is not the same as trying to be perfect.

“Trying to be perfect” is just perfectionism, and it differs from a commitment to excellence in some key ways:

  • Perfectionism monitors all of the intentions, actions, behaviors, responses, attitudes in every situation, adheres to a rigid code of behavior—and adds a walloping dose of insults when you don’t meet that rigid code. Perfectionism, over time, will erode you rather than build you.
  • Perfectionism makes the checking in with yourself about being perfect, not about the value in doing the check-in.
  • Perfectionism takes on everything as a priority, instead of having select focused priorities.
  • Perfectionism sees weakness as a problem that must be obliterated, rather than a part of being human that can be worked on. Again—perfectionism, over time, will erode you rather than build you.
  • Perfectionism either avoids fear (these are the people who will say, “Oh, fear isn’t really a problem in my life”) or berates it (telling fear to shut up, go away, “I’m not listening to my fear!”). Perfectionism ignores the fact that these approaches are a total waste of time, that they haven’t ever worked and therefore are not likely to ever work. Perfectionism just keeps towing the line of hating their fear, instead of doing the work of excellence which is about understanding and working with fear.
  • Perfectionism will try to monitor so many things that it becomes more and more difficult to both monitor all of the current things and also proactively look at what else might be happening.
  • Perfectionists are oh-so-secretly not humble. They may pretend to be, because perfectionists always know what “looks good” to others, and being arrogant doesn’t look good. But you know you’re stuck in perfectionism when you’re quietly comparing your progress to other people’s progress and inwardly smiling about how you’re better; when you’re feeling smug and self-righteous because other people are fumbling and foolish; when you’re judging others for not being quite as on their game as you. In other words, the commitment to excellence gets distorted as this thing that makes you “better” than others (and thinking you’re “better” than others? That’s not a commitment to excellence).
  • Perfectionism will have you trying to do ALL the things, not making small but regular and consistent doses of progress.
  • Perfectionism is overly focused on the big win, the thing that will look good to everyone else, rather than the small wins that are available daily or the “big wins” that reflect you trying your best.

In other words, the punishing and unrelenting attitude of perfectionism is the hallmark that makes all the difference. A commitment to excellence can be tough yet rewarding. Practicing the attitude and behaviors of perfectionism is high on tough and low on rewarding, sort of like trying to hold your breath for as long as possible and berating yourself when you inevitably need to inhale and exhale.

With perfectionism, you will burn out with time. It is an inevitability. Most people who think they are aiming for excellence are actually practicing perfectionism (and hey, I’ve been there—most of us have). Perfectionism wears you down instead of building you up.

A commitment to excellence will build you up. It will humble you but you will be grateful for having been humbled (you’ll reframe your most vulnerable and humbling moments as some of the greatest gifts of your life). A commitment to excellence will show you who you are, both at your weakest moments and at the moments when you realize that you are capable of so, so much more.

If you want to be shown who you truly are and what you’re truly capable of, you probably already feel it. Reading these words, maybe something in you felt stirred, excited—an inner “Yes!”

Follow that yes. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Print out this article. Post it somewhere visible in your home, at your office. This idea that excellence is something you “just do” without any helpful prompts is fiction. I have things that inspire me and remind me of my commitment hung in my office and elsewhere.
  2. Surround yourself with others who commit to excellence. This won’t mean abandoning your current friends. It just means upping your contact time with others who are on the same journey. Hit up your local CrossFit gym if you want to see people who are committed to excellence. Become part of communities where people share values of courage and integrity. Or consider that person whose integrity you’ve always admired—get a dinner on the books just to talk about life. Listen to podcasts where a commitment to excellence is the back bone of the podcast.
  3. Take charge of your time. This doesn’t need to mean color-coding every hour of your day, but it will mean that you need to declare enough sovereignty over your schedule for two things: 10-20 minutes for a daily check-in on your commitment to excellence, and 10-20 minutes of meditation. So, in total, as little as 20 minutes for both activities, or as much as 40 minutes. If you absolutely cannot do as little as 20 minutes, your first focus is to ask yourself about any way in which you are telling yourself a lie that you don’t have 20 minutes. 99% of the time when someone tells me they don’t have time for a practice like this, they’re lying to themselves—not intentionally, but lying nonetheless. But if you truly don’t think you have a minimum of 20 minutes, make it your focus to let go of other things in your life that don’t mean as much or that erode your commitment to excellence (internet surfing, Pinterest, Netflix and chill, shooting the shit on text messaging, etc.).
  4. Get clear on why excellence matters, for you, which is really to say: get clear on the value of your life, the fact that your life matters, the fact that none of us ever get as much time on this earth as we want or deserve, so this means that every day needs to count. You don’t ever want to look back with regret. Get clear on how painful it would be to take your last breath and never have written that book, never have forgiven your mother, never have contributed to a cause greater than yourself, never have used your body physically in all the ways that it is capable of moving. Get clear on how much the world needs you to step forward, contribute your vision and voice, and get clear on the fact that every single person who has ever done or said anything that helped you live a better life, had to get over their own fear of “What if I’m not good enough?” or “Who am I to…” and all of that. If they hadn’t done that work to become the people they became and help you, your life would not be the same right now.

When we get into perfectionism, we short-change ourselves. When we hide out, we short-change ourselves.

You can stop short-changing yourself. You can commit to excellence, now. Right here, right now.

It requires no special ceremony. It requires no special skill.

And the best part? Committing to excellence has a 100% success rate. There is no person alive who has committed to excellence in their life, who has not seen excellence emerge—because again, this isn’t about flashy external results. It’s about aligning with integrity in your life, making your life truly matter to yourself and enjoying the process along the way. That’s something that only you can give to yourself, and every moment you aren’t giving it to yourself you are actually taking it away from yourself because you’re one moment closer to the final moment, the moment when the choice to commit or not is totally taken off of the table.

Again—you can commit. Right now. Literally, whether or not you live this way starts and ends with you, right now.

This requires no special skill. You do not have to be inordinately talented, to commit to excellence.

You only need to be willing.

So…are you?

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