Posts Tagged 'excellence'

Strain to Gain

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“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

The macho T-shirts could not be more incorrect.

What is intended as a powerful metaphor for working through obstacles has become a mantra inviting injury.

Pain is an indicator of danger — life threatening danger.

The truth is, the most effective tool for development is strain.

It is the adaptation to an uncomfortable stimulus which stretches us beyond current boundaries, not jumping to the next plateau before we are remotely prepared.

Pushing to the edge leaves us expanded, similar to the joint aches associated with a growth spurt.

In this manner, we move improve inch by inch instead of breaking in two.

Weakness leaves the body by degrees over time.

Strain tests and builds capacity. Pain exceeds it.

Fragile Focus

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“You’re going to screw up and make a mess.”

She was right.

I did.

My sister-in-law got in my head.

I had been alone for several days while she and my brother attended a funeral in our hometown, cooking and cleaning and caring for the the dogs without anyone to talk to.

Though I enjoy solitude, extended periods to myself invariably lead my mind to find entertainment in practicing random skills. This time, I settled on the chef’s trick of flipping eggs in the pan.

I’ve watched a lot of Food Network. How hard could it be?

I gave it a shot and got close.

I kept at it. By the sixth or seventh attempt, I could execute the basics with consistency. After that, it would be more remarkable if I failed than if I succeeded. Having added this little party favor to my cooking arsenal, I set about to show it off.

I called for attention.

I set up.

I heard those eight words.

I got nervous.

I flubbed the flip.

The meal ended up as delicious as it would have been, if a little less aesthetically pleasing.

I could only think of how easily I became rattled.

Why does new-found confidence disappear so suddenly?

How many of these little battles do we lose each day?

Our brains light up with a fresh idea and energy surges through us.

Enthusiasm bursts to the surface and we get excited to share our good news.

We tell someone and the reaction deflates us.

We hunch our shoulders in defeat and return where we came from.

We lose focus.

Here’s what happened in the kitchen: I heard her voice just as I readied my wrist for the flip and my concentration vanished. I became aware of the consistency of the egg. I noticed my grip on the pan seemed off.

Was the heat high enough?

Was it too early?

Was the right amount of oil in the pan?

I was thinking about everything but snapping my hand through the motion I knew worked and had performed several times without a hitch.

When adopting a new habit or changing a belief, the margin for error is slim.

Just as with long division and the crossover dribble, development is a conscious process at the start. Every step is measured and done and remeasured and redone until it becomes aut-o-mat-ic.

Such diligence is the difference between “good” and “great” and “exceptional” and “excellent.”

It’s time-consuming and rigorous, for sure, but worth the effort.

In the meantime, we must hold on for dear life to our fragile focus.

The Upside of Chaos

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
Friedrich Nietzche

The great ones always seem to have something more to prove.

If we tracked the career arcs of the most-admired athletes, entertainers and businessmen, we would often find them hunting for new ventures after high achievement in their chosen field or simply chasing down new dimensions to work they produced before.

The public sees the riches and fame and asks, “Why?”

Maybe they’re greedy.

Maybe it’s just ego.

Maybe it’s something different altogether.

When passion rules our lives — the kind tied to true purpose — there is an innate determination to keep going, like a surfer heading out again and again in the hopes of catching the perfect wave.

It’s not about the compensation.

It’s not even about the competition.

It’s about the connection.

To express our essence — whatever we are created to do — is to ride lightning.

The energy is necessary, because fulfilling our potential is a tiring endeavor.

It requires a single-minded doggedness and unfailing grit.

Those who push forward — who strain for the very edges of what’s possible — have a certain restlessness. Their minds are driven by the relentless pursuit of the horizon. When reaching a destination, they look around and say, “What’s next?” or “What could be done better?”

This “chaos,” as Nietzche calls it, is in actuality a quiet discontent with the idea of leaving something incomplete, of walking away before the tasks of this life are finished.

Seeking that kind of fulfillment naturally leads to upheaval and disarray.

Becoming engaged in the quest for the best of oneself demands inner turmoil.

We ask what’s possible.

We face what holds us back.

We change or rot.

We come to understand the underlying truth of what makes us legend:

No turbulence, no growth.

Unreality Check

Courtesy of

There are a few sentences I contend with immediately.

My brain is encoded to detect these phrases from across rooms. Like a sophisticated set of military instruments, my ears perk up and I instinctively tune in to the subsequent conversation.

“The University of Louisville is a fine institution.”

“Wearing brown and gray together is impossible.”

“I can tell he’s a __________ because he bought __________ and voted for ___________.”

“You have to be realistic.”

Though I refrain from running off at the mouth due to the conventions of polite conversation, I am completely unable to keep my mind from asking a simple question:


Those five words command people to stick with what they know. Look at what’s reachable and go for that.

Reality is stark and unfriendly.

Focusing on the perils of day-to-day life strips us of the imagination necessary to go beyond it — absent the slim hope of lottery victory.

What’s real to us is often far beneath what’s possible.

The capacity to think beyond what we can see and comprehend is the greatest of humanity’s gifts.

It defines us.

It moves us.

Advancement in any arena is the direct result of gazing towards the horizon and setting out to discover what lies beyond it.

History is the compilation of stories about those who believed this simple truth:

We can only be extraordinary if we are first unrealistic.

Brew Grit


Times get tough.

Daunting challenges bring forth the essence of our character.

Impossible odds force us to ask ourselves very serious questions about our beliefs, habits and commitment.

One could argue these situations arise to test our will, to answer a simple question:

Can we keep our eyes on the prize?

The expression of deep truth requires focus, tenacity and determination. The pursuit is long and arduous, each phase of the journey is replete with obstacles. Effort and energy must be expended in preparation, let alone in overcoming the roadblocks themselves.

The ability to persevere is, at times, all we taste of victory.

Demonstrating persistence and drive — if only to ourselves — prepares us for the slings and arrows we’ll face upon reaching our destination. We must fight tooth and nail to the end, it is the only way we can be sure to value what we have gained. It’s fair to say that, without a struggle, we could hardly be trusted with such a responsibility.

To have what we desire, we have to battle through.

Sometimes it demands quiet resolve.

Other occasions beg for seething discontent.

Either way, we can give up or brew grit.


The Monk’s Prayer


“Joy cometh in the morning.”

Life Savings


When is the proverbial “rainy day?”

The idea of putting something aside for the future is woven into the fabric of financial wisdom passed down from generation to generation. It has been — and will be — repeated by older mouths to rolling eyes over and over again. Youthful exuberance always knows best.

How often do we postpone big dreams until tomorrow?

Yesterday, I met the woman at the helm of Ravenswood Ranch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing children from various backgrounds to the skills and techniques involved in owning horses — everything from basic animal care to Olympic-style equestrian riding. We talked for a few minutes about her mission and the shift she made from corporate loss prevention specialist to operating a working hacienda in urban East Palo Alto, Calfornia.

As our conversation wound down, the underlying message became clear:

Do what’s important before it’s too late.

We often think of passion projects as the stuff of people far more determined or less occupied. Our culture — for all the value it places on endeavor — is inclined to believe the few who leave the “security” of a “normal job” behind have some profound characteristic everyone else lacks.

They don’t.

Deep desire has simply found a channel to the outside world. Like west Texas oil men, those individuals have drilled through their psychological crust to pump their souls up to the surface.

What really matters takes precedent.

The truth becomes evident.

If we’re too careful, we die without ever having grasped overwhelming joy.

We have wasted our life savings.


Do We Have To or Get To?

The Focus Soliloquy

One Thing’s Wrong

Structural Failure




Failure has many components.

There’s misguided assumptions, shaky confidence and spotty motivation. Sometimes we fall into poor environments or questionable industries.

If we can identify what leads us to falling short, we can avoid making the same mistakes again.

My life is marked by three primary situations which have made the good I might do vanish into thin air:

1. Inflexible thinking
Everybody finds inspiration in the tales of perseverance. The American legend swoons over hard-driving entrepreneurs bucking the system and doing exactly as they please to create a fortune. The rags-to-riches story is marked by instances of bravery in spite of everything pointing in the opposite direction.

What I didn’t understand is the story is less about banging my head against a wall until it breaks through than it is about adaptability. I was inflexible in my methods, my actions and my mindset— and I’ve repeated the same result over and over again.

Being open to other possibilities is the first big step towards new results.

2. Living reactive
Emergencies happen. Always. It is impossible to move through life without being caught off guard from time to time. When shifting unexpectedly, I’ve tended to spend more time playing catch up than grabbing the bull by the horns. My inability to quickly recover into a forward-thinking mentality cost me precious time sunk in doubt and self-pity.

The ability to go with the flow is very, very important. Spiraling out of control is far too easy.

3. Weak commitment
This is the hardest answer. I have to ask a tough question of the person who lies to me most–the one in the mirror. Honestly assessing whether I took the steps needed to make the desired result occur is incredibly difficult. It requires stark honesty. Plus, I have to brace myself for the possibility I don’t like the person answering the questions very much.

Getting to that point, though, opens the door to big changes and better outcomes.

Failure is only a problem if it’s the end of the story.

It can be fatal, if allowed.

If embraced as a learning opportunity, much can be taken into the next experience.

With the right attitude, it can be the foundation for a masterpiece.



The Failure Soliloquy

3 Reasons for a Short Run

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