Excellence. It’s a noble virtue that when practised attentively and diligently, leads to great things. If you believe in excellence, you always give your best. No matter what you are doing, whether you are a beginner or seasoned expert, you are consciously using your very best attitude and energy. You invest yourself whole-heartedly at home, at school, in extra-curricular areas and in your relationships. You pay close attention, you reflect on what you did and what you could do better. You improve little by little.
The pursuit of excellence can and should encompass all that we are and want to become. It is as much about “being” as “doing.” If we set out to achieve excellence in our lives, we need to ensure that our thoughts are excellent as well! How can we expect excellence if we engage in thinking that is self-defeating? When our thoughts and “self-talk” are realistic, encouraging and positive, we are much more likely to achieve excellence in our attitude and in our actions. At the Junior School it’s what we call “green thinking”!
When you are practising excellence you are not trying to be better than everyone else, you are trying to be the best that you can be. This is such an important distinction. When we set ourselves up against others, we are destined for insecurity, stress and disappointment. When we strive to achieve our personal best, we are not in competition but are conscious of our own capabilities and potential. We decide for ourselves how far and how fast to go. We seek balance in our lives.
What about the distinction between excellence and perfection? Excellence is more about the journey; perfection is more about the destination. The practice of excellence creates purpose and pride. It leads to feelings of positive self worth because we have done our best, and because we keep working to do better. Perfection, however, is an arbitrary goal. Even when we do our best, perfection eludes us. Trying to achieve perfection makes us feel that we can never do enough or be good enough, and most often it leaves us feeling anxious, hollow and miserable.
When we think of excellence as a journey, we also recognize that the path it takes is different for each child. It is important to make provision for and honour the individual path children take, nurture its development, provide meaningful, timely feedback, and celebrate the process. There is no one size fits all.
Let’s bring consciousness to the ways in which we shape excellence in our children. We want children pursue to excellence for its intrinsic rewards- the boost to their self-esteem, sense of agency and pride, and not because of pressure or monetary inducements. Instead, the pressure is on us to model excellence ourselves (in a healthy, non-perfectionist way!) and to engage children in conversations about the values and beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that correspond with excellence. When are they best able to demonstrate excellence? When and why does it become difficult? Who are their role models? What do they admire about them? What steps might they take to make the practice of excellence stronger?
Ask your children what would excellence look like if…
You are cleaning up your room?
Someone bumps you in the line-up at school?
You have lots of homework and feel overwhelmed?
You have to wait half an hour for an appointment?
And thoughts to ponder at the dinner table…
Excellence is not being the best. It is doing your best.
Failures provide the foundation upon which excellence can be built upon.
There are no shortcuts to excellence.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant