In the world of entrepreneurship and startups, which I inhabit and have some claim to, we say that you can’t succeed in your startup until you make a significant personal commitment. Most successful entrepreneurs deliberately had no Plan B (second option if the first didn’t work) because of two core beliefs: Their unshakable belief that they would succeed and their belief that a second option blunts the edge. It takes the edge off desperation, off hunger; and that is detrimental to the result. So they remain hungry, remain desperate and they succeed where everybody else thought they would fail. They use other’s derision and naysaying to spur them on to do even more and they prove their detractors wrong.
Excellence in measured in many ways, one of the most important of which is your confidence and ability to stay on your chosen path. You will find when you do that, that other people will often be scared of your high ideals and goals. To remain on the path and not be discouraged by their lack of confidence is a measure of excellence. I have always measured the strength of my goals from the number of people who they scare the daylights out of. Currently the same is true for my dream of the SBA – it scares the daylights out of a lot of people. To me, it means that I am on the right path. You see, the only path that doesn’t scare sheep is the path to the pen. I personally have never had a liking to being penned. Especially since every pen has two doors. One towards the pasture and the other towards the abattoir.
Danger is both exciting as well as mostly imaginary. But when we embark on lofty goals which are rooted in integrity, truthfulness and the desire to do something worthwhile, the world – what we know of it as well as what is unseen – conspires to make us succeed. Angels walk with you though you can’t see them. Doors open for you where you would not have imagined. People come out of the woodwork to help you not because you asked them to – you didn’t even know that they were there – but because they were sent. The resources that you need to accomplish your goal will flow in your direction. Very simple principle of physics – water flows down a slope, not up it. So when you are climbing a hill and rain falls, water will flow in your direction. If you are running away and going downhill, water will flow away from you. Your position on the hill doesn’t matter (no matter how far from the peak you are). It is your direction which makes a world of difference and quite simply spells the difference between reaching the peak or not. Many people believe that they can climb a mountain walking backwards. I personally don’t know of anyone who managed to do that. If you want to succeed, you have to face your fears and stare into their eyes until they look away. Not turn your back on them. Especially because what is behind your back becomes even more scary. I was never very good at walking backwards myself.
That is not to say that one must ignore honest feedback or not check one’s assumptions against emerging data and change them if necessary. That too is a measure of excellence in itself but the final goal must not be watered down and diluted because of fear. One is to change the approach because someone has a better way. That is good to do provided that other way stands the test of rigorous proof-of-concept. The other is to give up the goal itself because you became afraid. That is to betray yourself.
I want to share with you some of my quotes on excellence. All these and more are part of four books, two of which have been published and two more are in the pipeline. Please reflect on these thoughts and see where you and your goals fit in.
- Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We define ourselves and the world accepts that and treats us accordingly.
- Only those excel who revel in the effort. For whom the journey is the destination. Excitement is only in the chase. It ends with the catch.
- If you think success is difficult, try failure. Mediocrity ensures that your failure becomes permanent. That drug is called compromise.
- Why are there more mediocre people than those who achieve excellence? But who do you want to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model?
- Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight but accepts cancer cells until they kill it.
Remember that we all start in the same place – as idealists. But then we allow others (at least most of us do) to dictate what we will do, how we will live, what goals are ‘realistic’, what goals are ‘worth it’ and so on. So the leaping flame of idealism that was in our heart takes a beating and gradually gets reduced and dampened. When you are idealistic people will initially oppose you and push back and try to discourage you, not because they don’t like what you are planning to do but because in your eyes they see what they were themselves like one day; until they allowed the rest of the crowd to dampen their idealism. But remember also that the spark of idealism lives as long as we are alive. You can dampen it but you can’t kill it.
So when they meet you, their spark starts to get some energy and that scares them. Their initial reaction is to try to put it back in its ‘place’ and dampen it once again because that will justify what they did to themselves all their lives. But if you refuse to internalize their fears and are true to your ideals, you will see that their own sparks will start to grow and will once again become the leaping flames that dispel the fears of darkness and light up the world in ways that neither they nor you thought possible.
The key is to remain true to your ideals no matter what the world tells you. That, to me, is a measure of excellence. That is why I am a shameless idealist and I hope I remain that to the end of my days. For what is a life worth if one is to live it like a sheep?
I want to end with a short reminder to myself and you about the importance of commitment to excellence and the danger of slipping into mediocrity. The world is witness that people who never lowered the bar of excellence in the name of expediency, diplomacy or any of the myriad reasons we seem to find today are people who even their enemies look up to as role models.
- Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable.
- Failure is not the opposite of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Mediocrity is painless failure. It’s fatal.
At the end of my days, I would rather be remembered as a man who died trying to achieve excellence than someone who accepted mediocrity.