Until recently I thought that it was a word that could not be applied to me. I could only use it when talking about others.
One day I was asked by someone, as part of a development exercise, to make a list of the things that I had done with my life that could be seen as personal achievements. With a sharp intake of breath I wrote: a happy marriage; two beautiful children; several degrees; a professional career… I stopped in embarrassment. Mine was a positive list of treasures and I felt shallow and self-absorbed to be nothing other than delighted with how my first forty years had panned out. Why then did I not feel qualified to use the E word?
And then it hit me. Those were things that I had accomplished in spite of myself. My general frame of mind was far from excellent and my previous lifestyle choices and behaviours were not conducive to achieving anything other than an expanding waistline, problematic health and a general feeling that I did not have a grip on myself and my life. To an outsider the outcomes may have appeared successful, but I knew the process was haphazard, patchy, frustrating, and in many respects characterised by self-sabotaging behaviours. My habits were far from excellent and any success that I’d had felt superficial. I’d never really put everything on the line in the pursuit of excellence and I felt like I could give and achieve so much more with a better philosophy. More importantly, I was far from being happy and this affected every facet of my life including my relationships.
I did something about it; I had to. When the wheels come off you’ve only two choices: denial or growth.
Through relentless reading, listening, talking and learning I came to realise that personal excellence occurs when goals, attitudes, mindsets and behaviours are aligned. You can’t fake personal excellence. This is where I’d had it all wrong: my ‘excellence’ was an act and not a habit.
I came to realise that personal excellence is the grind, the work, the slog. It’s far from glamorous and it’s never the outcome, it’s the habitual routine. I’m never going to be the world record holder for the marathon, but I can still work hard to become the best runner that I can be; the best teacher that I can be; the best parent that I can be; and the best version of myself that I can be. This is my understanding of personal excellence: when you’ve risked it all, when you’ve made the sacrifice, when you’ve learned from your mistakes and when you’ve, in the words of Pindar, ‘exhausted the limits of the possible’. It may be cliched, but it really is all about the habit.
In 2015 I decided to make the effort to help others wherever I could. My aim then (as now) is to reach out to people who feel they would benefit from help to unleash their potential, set free their ambition, and liberate the best version of themselves. I’ve always approached teaching children in this way. It is an honour to be able to help others to realise that the most significant barriers to success are most often fictional – unhelpful stories that they and others have repeatedly articulated. The status quo is always a flimsy narrative.
This blog attempts to capture what I learn along the way.
If, like me, you want to #BeHappier, I’d love to hear from you. You can click here to find out more.