I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we strive for personal excellence. I’ve also been thinking that personal excellence is often confused with perfectionism. Because we’re a curious species, I’ve been wondering why we bother striving for personal excellence (or perfection.)
Obviously there’s a mythos around personal excellence. Your religion tells you to be excellent in all your actions, deeds, and thoughts. Your philosophy likewise inspires you to it. Societal pressures us into being the best we can as well. These are all indicators that we need to go in a certain direction in order to be better/best/great/awesome (fill in your adjective here) human beings.
Now if you turn the question of ‘why’ on its head and ask, how does my personal excellence change the world? Does it change the world? Does it even matter? Time and perspective play into this. In a hundred years from now, in two hundred years from now, all our actions and excellence probably won’t amount to very much. That would depend on the type of legacy you leave behind when your body dies. In a thousand years from now, if there are still human beings on this planet, all your personal excellence and or perfectionism won’t amount to anything.
However, what you do now, today, and for the next year, the next five years, the next ten or twenty years, all your actions of personal excellence does influence your sphere of people. You might be thinking, well, that’s great for my sphere of people, but what about the larger world around me? If you think about it, all your friends and acquaintances also have friends and acquaintances that you don’t know and so on and so forth. So there is a ripple effect. The more personal excellence you strive for every day, the more love and compassion you show others, the more of your time and attention you’re willing to sacrifice away from your own small concerns to give your time and attention instead to your friends and acquaintances, the more of a direct impact you’ll have on your sphere of influence. This impact is whatever you decide to make it each day. People and circumstances rarely ever have the true power to dictate how you act, think, and speak during your day. You are the only one in control. Yet so often we give away our power, our personal responsibility to personal excellence, by outer circumstances and other people’s words. We may even give in to our own inner state of mind, the way our bodies feel (which may be uncomfortable for numbers of reasons.)
So personal excellence requires some tools for the sake of clarity and practice. You can decide to be personally excellent all you like, but if you have no framework or tools to deal not just with what the world offers you, but with your own inner state, you can’t truly hope to be all that effective.
This is why people turn to philosophy, religion, a spiritual path like Buddhism, or self-help books by accomplished self-help teachers (like Tony Robbins or Carol Dweck). The point here is that none of us ever learns how to effectively be great at anything without turning to people and or ideas (lifestyles even) that support and have a framework off which you can use tools to actually become personally excellent. It takes a great deal of effort at first, and then like using muscles, it becomes easier to sustain, and then push it even further.
What does all this personal excellence actually end up doing?
At least for the interim your personal excellence becomes an inspiration for those in your community, your workplace, and has an enormous (if at first subtle) impact on the world at large. These will all be positive gains to the world. Because we are social creatures everyone likes to talk about something that inspired them. People also like to talk about things that made them upset, turned them off, or made them feel unhappy. And because this is such a prevalent and pervasive issue already, with bad news the norm on television and social media, you might consider it your duty to aspire to personal excellence to begin to turn the tide.