Excellence in Action
—Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own, U2
Consider the summer blockbusters at the movie theater or Nike’s latest add campaign during the Summer Olympics. The movies we watch, and sometimes, even the shoes we buy, reveal this appetite for greatness. At times, we vicariously live through others who do what we wish for ourselves: superheroes fighting villains, sports champions, ordinary people overcoming impossible circumstances, and others achieving glory in extraordinary moments of greatness.
We are drawn to greatness because the desire for greatness is within us! The pursuit of excellence is as natural a human desire as love and hope and a desire for peace.
Our human nature is manifest in both our desire for a greater goodness in the world as well as the capacity to possess that goodness within ourselves—in our relationships, our work, our communities, and our own personal satisfaction in being alive.
Our greatness is not meant to be merely potential greatness, like the notched arrow in the potential energy found in the archer’s arm and the bent limbs of the bow when the string is drawn tight. Our greatness is meant to be released into motion, like the arrow that is released from the bow and swiftly, efficiently, travels toward its target with power, becoming kinetic energy that makes an impact and serves its purpose.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he argued that the end purpose to life, what every human truly desires, is to pursue excellence or greatness that leads to happiness and joy. In fact, Aristotle went further than saying humans simply desire this greatness, they are naturally inclined to hope for it, dream of it, and ultimately pursue it. Humans can’t do otherwise.
So then, why doesn’t everyone achieve greatness or happiness? In fact, the sad reality is that many people become disillusioned about their own greatness. They suffer set backs and failures, develop insecurities, and believe in assumptions that constrain them from excelling. They stop learning when the learning becomes difficult. This happens in people’s personal and professional lives and it’s a human tragedy, because they’ve lost their voice—their sense of purpose.
Others pursue something they think will bring them happiness, without the intimacy and moral compass that excellence requires. They pursue money or status, and use relationships or projects to elevate their own needs above the needs of others. They lose a sense of self-reliance and self-worth, ignoring the desire that beckons them to be great. They forfeit their own personal greatness and become dependent on others to create greatness for them.
In one case, people give up. In the other, they pursue the wrong things. In both, they fail to achieve excellence.
In order for greatness to be actualized, it must be released in individuals and organizations for a greater good. We are meant to train, be disciplined, gain more knowledge, and learn new skills in order to use our greatness in the most excellent way possible, given the reach of our experiences and opportunities—excellence in action!
The capacity for greatness needs to be acted on if that potential is to be realized and success attained at work or in your personal life. The mergence of personal and communal greatness is created through action—the art of intentionally developing and exercising the greatness within.
Greatness is not found in a cool new product, it’s found in the process of creating a product or process or relationship that will make people’s lives better—lead them to a greater happiness—allow them to hear that opera inside of them again.
Excellence in action begins with releasing potential greatness into a targeted and focused purpose that serves and helps others become great with you. Train in certain behaviors until you build them into habits. Learn new skills until you master them. Mature through periods of disillusionment and doubt until you actually see your greatness come out moment by moment, project by project, relationship by relationship.