If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings.
Proverbs 22: 29a
I do my work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill.
There is a direct relationship between excellence and income. People who are excellent in a particular area will be in demand. Since excellence is in short supply, as long as you are excellent in a field that is useful to society, you will have work and be rewarded. When I was a teenager thinking about my future, my father told me, "I don't care what job you pursue, just be the best one out there." His words had special credibility, as he was a world-class ear surgeon, who piloted innovative techniques to restore hearing. While what you chose to do is important, deciding to do it with excellence will ensure long-term satisfaction and compensation.
Excellence can be grasped, but not acquired. You can become first in your class in high school, but then, the day after graduation, you have to reset your goal to become first in college. In a profession, you may achieve excellence momentarily, but will have to learn new skills to continue to stay on top. Here are a few practical ideas to pursue excellence:
• Set your goal to be the best, and commit to spending the time and energy to get there. Most people set their goals too low and settle for mediocre results. With a goal to be number one, even if you don't make it, you'll be in the top group. When I went to the Naval Academy, I set a goal to be first in my class. I spent countless hours studying and striving to be the best. I didn't get to number one, but I did graduate fifth out of 935, which was more than satisfying.
• Be a lifelong learner. There are always new ideas to learn and try. Leaders, for example, should always be reading a leadership book. If you Goggle the term "leadership books," you'll get over 10 million hits. There are plenty to choose from, and you have no excuse for not having something to read.
• Always search for a better way. Take best practices from others and improve on them. Challenge yourself and your team to be faster, better, smarter. Look at problems as opportunities.
• Stay humble. Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, humble experts realize that they don't know everything, and must be willing to learn from others.
• Experiment constantly. Doctors "practice" medicine, meaning they are always trying new procedures and medicines to achieve better outcomes. Similarly, you should try new ideas and ways of doing things, both personally and professionally.
• Foster personal creativity. Excellent performers provide creative solutions to problems—new approaches that no one has considered. This requires having different experiences—books, travel, relationships—outside your normal area of expertise, and applying those experiences to problem areas.
Excellence begets excellence. As you become known for excellence, other people of excellence will join you, as leaders, peers, friends and mentors challenging you to be better. You'll have an excellent life.
• Set your goals to be the best in your chosen area and do the work to get there.
• Read constantly—always have a book with you.
• Look for problems and solve them.
• Learn from others.
• Try new things.
• Have different experiences.
Personal excellence, professional success, wealth and a fascinating, exciting life!