Coping with Excellence

April 3, 2011

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle

“Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.” –Bertrand Russell

““I have offered teachings and practices in 35 countries, and yet in Vietnam, my books are still banned.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

I’m a firm believer in the never-ending pursuit of excellence in all its forms. I would go so far as to say if you’re not trying to be better than everyone else, you’re not trying hard enough.  Yes, that means competition.  Yes, that means sacrifice.  It also means passion and effort and all the things that make life worth living.  We should all be striving to be the absolute best at whatever we happen to pursue.  Unfortunately, though, we live in what is, largely, a culture of mediocrity, where political correctness and “sensitivity” often trump honesty and reality.

The fact is that real excellence, by definition, marks the excellent as an outsider. In order to be excellent, you must perform at a level beyond that of the average person, and we all know that people reject what is different, what they don’t understand.  Your excellence will threaten them.  So the question is: how, while pursuing your best possible self, do you keep other people from holding you back with resentment of your progress, criticism of your difference, or bitterness about your passion? Here are three strategies that I find helpful:

Surround yourself with passionate people. The easiest method to dealing with critics and the resentful is simply not to include these types of people in your life.  Cultivating a network of other passionate people who excel in their chosen fields will make your life richer and more interesting while avoiding the bad attitudes of the dispassionate.  More on this can be found at Leo Babauta’s website, zenhabits, here.

Remind yourself of the value of what you’re doing. In a world where non-achievers are jealous and resentful, it can make a world of difference to simply remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Other people don’t need to understand what sets you apart if you’re confident in your choices.  Make a list of what your work contributes to the world, do morning affirmations, whatever; just get into some sort of routine of active recognition of the value of being different.  Remind yourself that you can not excel while being conventional.  Excellence requires departure.

Be open to criticism. It sounds counterintuitive, but at the same time as you’re reminding yourself that these criticisms come from jealousy, be sure to evaluate each one for any practical value it may have.  Nothing is more empowering than learning to use criticism (constructive or otherwise) to better yourself.  Don’t let yourself be ruled by the opinions of others, but use those criticisms as a jumping off point for honest self-evaluation.  If there’s anything to them, address the problem, and know that the criticism, rather than bringing you down, has brought you further along the path to being your best possible self.

Bottom line: you’re here because you are interested in taking control of your life.  In taking control, you’re bound to upset someone – nothing frustrates people more than seeing someone else act with the courage they wish they had. Act with conviction and integrity and you can rest assured that the criticisms of others come from jealousy.  Look for your mistakes and learn from them, be ruthlessly self-evaluative when others critique you, and (this is important) ignore everything else.

Be mindful.  Be excellent.  Be well.

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Feedback: what are your strategies for handling bad attitudes from others?  How do you cope with excellence?

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