The Pursuit of Excellence

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Excellence should be demanded by our peers.  Labeling those that demand excellence as haters, bashers, etc only promotes mediocrity.  -Paulo Sousa

Paulo laid this gem on twitter a few days ago, interestingly enough mediocrity was referenced again when I checked google reader this morning by Coach Troy – “…Someone, somewhere, is training more and harder than you are… in the sunshine, and you know it.  Actually, the naysayers are nuts for living a life of mediocrity and without any physical suffering…”

In fact google reader has been full of posts about goals, targets, plans and missions that last few days.  It always seems to me that the things I need to hear in life always seem to show up in the blogs I follow – just when I need to hear them most.  Perhaps it’s some coincidental twist of fate, that those I find worth reading know what I need to hear, or perhaps it’s just me assigning value to random words, by random people.  Regardless – the topic of Excellence has been looming large in my mind these last few weeks since Kona.

Many years ago as an age-group swimmer, I had a goal of qualifying to swim in the Olympics – I went so far as to tape a sheet of paper to my bathroom mirror with goal times.  My goal time for the 200 meter freestyle (LCM) was something ridiculous like 1:50 – mind you this was in 1994 and I wanted to go in 1996.  For some reason my young brain was convinced that if I set a goal and wanted it badly enough it would just happen.  I could go on and provide many examples of this over my life, but that example is pretty poignant – a goal does not happen, you simple do not get from point A to point B, beat the local fast guy, qualify for Kona, or podium at Kona – simple because you set a goal and want it to happen, or because time will magically make it happen next year (or at some other far off point).

The unfortunate reality is – we often set a goal, and fail to reach that goal.  When I was a swimmer in college one of my goals was to best the school records for my high school in my three events.  Besides the fact that I was 4 years late and many dollars short – I went into my last individual college swim race having done just that in the 50 free and 100 butterfly – however my 48.12 100 free (SCY) in said final race, fell just short of the 47.99 mark I needed.  Despite having bettered the PR I had set just a few hours early in prelims by 2/10ths – I was very disappointed.  The point is – failing to reach a clearly defined goal is hard to handle, should that goal be public declared – it can be even more difficult.  This can lead to embarrassment, frustration, low motivation – basically all sorts of bad things.

At this point, I’m not surprised if your asking yourself – but goals are important, they provide us motivation to get out the door for a workout (or in the basement as the case may be!) – how can you improve if you don’t set a goal?  Goals are important, but it’s important to make a distinction between a goal (mission) and a desired outcome (target).  The goal or the mission is *how* you achieve the desired outcome – the goal is *not* the outcome.

For example – if you want to qualify for Vegas or Kona – that (the act of qualifying) is the outcome you want.  To reach that outcome you must have a goal to become a better (the best) triathlete you can be.  This is the crucial step I was missing as a youngster; I would define a desired outcome, but I wouldn’t pursue the path of being the best swimmer I could be – so that I would move towards that outcome.  Instead – I just kept doing what I had been doing – which *was* moving me closer, but was also holding me back.

So back to the title of this post…  Don’t pursue an outcome – pursue excellence.  Wake up each morning and do the best job you can of being an employee, a triathlete, a father, a mother, whatever.  The path of excellence will only move you closer to where you want to be, never holding you back.  Best of all you can evaluate yourself daily on if you are living up to your goal, and if you fall a bit short of your outcome – you can take pride in knowing that you accomplished your goal of being your best.

Be excellent.