In Pursuit of Excellence
Excellence is a habit. It isn’t something we achieve. It isn’t something we’re born with. It’s a habit that we build and execute on a daily basis. There have been many coaches, business leaders, military leaders, and leaders of faith that have expressed this sentiment. Now just because some old guy said it doesn’t mean it’s true. Old guys have been known to say lots of stuff that isn’t necessarily correct. But the idea of excellence being a habit can be a useful concept.
Vince Lombardi is one of the most famous coaches in history, not just for his win-loss record, but for his philosophy. He truly believed that philosophical outlook of the way we practice, train, and play impact, and are a direct indicator of, our moral fiber. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t give a rat’s patootie about football. But the philosophy of an amazing coach is something worth looking at.
Similar philosophical positions were and are taken by other coaches, even if they aren’t quite as famous because they coached endurance athletes. Examples include Bill Bowerman (Co-founder of Nike and coach of Steve Prefontaine), Joe Vigil (his team won the cross country national championships 19 times during his tenure at Adams State College), Brother Colm O’Connell of Iten Kenya (the “god-father” of Kenyan distance running), and Joe Newton from York Community High in Illinois (who’s cross country team won state 28 times in his 60-year tenure). These are some of the most successful men in the world of distance running, and they all espouse the necessity to dedicate oneself to the habit of excellence. Not just to perform well in races, but to reach your full potential as a human being.
The basic concept is that what we normally attribute with excellence in sport (like winning a major championship), is really an accumulation of intentional habits and routines that set us up to be “excellent”. It is the pattern, the dedication to a particular way of living so that we can reach our goals (whatever they may be), that is what makes us excellent. And this can be seen in all walks of life, not just running or football.
I personally am a firm believer that excellence cannot be achieved; only pursued. It doesn’t matter who you are, how excellent you are, there is always room for improvement. The most important (i.e. useful) part of this particular outlook on the quest for excellence is that it acknowledges that excellence isn’t binary. It’s not an either/or kind of thing. It’s a sliding scale that we can climb, getting incrementally better every day. Because that’s the goal. It isn’t to reach some pinnacle of perfection. It’s to develop the moral and mental fortitude to pursue something that is unattainable. It is the pursuit that is noble. It is the quest to get better that is the point. We just happen to use covering ground on foot as the method to do it.
Once the decision to chase excellence has been made, it seriously empowers us. We may change what our particular goals are. We may change our priorities. Let’s face it; there are more important things in the world than getting our lifetime PR. But that approach of striving for excellence is something that we can intentionally engage with. And we should. It makes us better people.