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Word of the Week – Excellence

Definition of the word of the week (EXCELLENCE): 1) The state, quality or condition of excelling; superiority. 2) Something in which one excels

Most people want to achieve excellence in some area. The piano novice envisions herself playing in a symphony, the middle school student trying out for the football team dreams of playing in the NFL. And, of course, most students would like to get an “A” in their academic courses. They want to get an “A” but are they willing to put forth the committed work to achieve it? Famous racecar driver, Mario Andretti, once said, “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” Wanting excellence is a start, but working to achieve it makes its attainment possible.
Although striving for excellence is admirable, striving for perfection is a waste of time—it is important to understand the difference. Years ago, I was in charge of a 107mm mortar platoon and we worked hard to be proficient in our craft because it was our duty and failing to do so could cost lives. One of our essential tasks was, while moving, to respond to a fire mission by stopping our armored vehicles and setting up the mortars, “laying the guns” with an aiming circle to make sure they were pointed in exactly the right direction and sending the first mortar round downrange within seven minutes. With training, we were able to easily achieve this standard. So, what’s next is our quest for excellence?
One leader took the approach that he would change the standard from seven minutes to six minutes and continue to reduce the time until the crew was “perfect.” But this approach inevitably led to failure. One should never set an unachievable goal—it is counterproductive. Another leader took the approach of keeping the same standard but changing the conditions. If seven minutes was easily achieved, now let’s see if we can do it in seven minutes with our chemical protective gear on and once that was achieved, let’s see if we can do it with chemical gear and in the dark. This approach was challenging but still achievable and the soldiers put forth a maximum effort and achieved excellence.
In school, as in life, we should do more than desire to excel, we must put forth the effort to achieve it and, contrary to some students’ hopes, this effort is life-long. Denis Waitley, the American author and peak performance expert, once noted, “All of the top achievers I know are life-long learners… Looking for new skills, insights and ideas. If they’re not learning, they’re not growing…not moving toward excellence.”

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. Vince Lombardi, Football Coach

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. Harriet Braiker, Psychologist

When a book raises your spirit, and inspires you with noble and manly thoughts, seek for no other test of its excellence. It is good, and made by a good workman. Jean De La Bruyre, Classical French writer

The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential…these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence. Eddie Robinson, football coach

Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In Communism, inequality comes from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. Pierre Proudhoo, political theorist

Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price. Samuel Johnson

If happiness is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence. Aristotle

Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way. Booker T. Washington

Poetry is an art, the easiest to dabble in, but the hardest to reach true excellence. Captain J. G. Stedman, British author

Excellence encourages one about life generally; it shows the spiritual wealth of the world. George Elliot, British novelist

I have always struggles to achieve excellence. One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle, it’s not going to be satisfying. Greg LeMond, American 3-time winner of the Tour d’ France

Simplicity in character, in manners, in style; in all things the supreme excellence is simplicity. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. James Connant

Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy. Coach Joe Paterno, Penn State

The idea for which this nation stands will not survive if the highest goal free man can set for himself is an amiable mediocrity. Excellence implies striving for the highest standards in every phase of life. John Gardner, American educator

Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind. Marcus Cicero

There is a canyon of difference between doing your best to glorify God and doing whatever it takes to glorify yourself. The quest for excellence is a mark of maturity. The quest for power is childish. Max Lucado, American author

I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism. Oprah Winfrey

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better. Pat Riley

Don’t waste your time striving for perfection, instead, strive for excellence – doing your best. Sir Lawrence Olivier

If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work. Thomas Watson

LTC Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us