“No one ever attains very eminent success by simply doing what is required of him; it is the amount and excellence of what is over and above the required that determines the greatness of ultimate distinction” (Charles Kendall Adams).
WE SHOW GRATITUDE FOR THE GIFT OF LIFE WHEN WE STRIVE FOR THE HIGHEST AND BEST THAT IS WITHIN US. Against the powerful pull of mediocrity, we must exert our best effort. “Good enough” is simply not good enough. In the giving of ourselves, we need to give nothing less than our personal best.
The concept of “excelling” is a noble one. It’s unfortunate that we so often think of it in competitive terms, as if the thing that we’re to surpass is someone else’s performance. But in the highest sense, excellence has to do not with comparisons to other people but our relationship to an objective standard. Just as there is such a thing as beauty, there is such a thing as excellence, and we ought to value it greatly.
Even when we do think of excellence in comparative terms, the thing that we ought to compare ourselves to is our own past effort, not that of some other person. What matters most in life is not how many other people we surpass, but how often we excel what we have previously done. The best lives in the world are lived by those who’re always looking to improve themselves, not for competitive advantage but for the inherent value of greater and greater excellence.
Since life is a growth process, we need to see the pursuit of excellence as a continual effort, an ongoing work. There will surely be days when the quality of our efforts is disappointing, perhaps grievously or tragically so. But those who truly wish to excel will not be defeated by individual disappointments. As long as life lasts, there is at least some of our story that remains to be written, and we should determine that the next part will be better than any we’ve written yet.
A commitment to excellence is possible for every one of us, no matter how insignificant we may think we are. Pursuit of the best is not just for the high and the mighty; it’s for every living soul. Indeed, we are never more noble than when we confer our best effort on the simple daily duties that are the stuff of ordinary life.
“Great works do not always lie in our way, but every moment we may do little ones excellently, that is, with great love” (Francis de Sales).