Two Secrets to Living a Life of Quality

Apr 15, 2019

“All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”—Baruch Spinoza

Quality over quantity.

A quality, handmade item takes time. Consider the work of a haute couture gown which can take as many as 800 hours to create. Or the choice to make homemade croissants. Arguably, it is significantly harder to make a haute couture gown than croissants, but precision and clarity of the task is imperative. Time must be set aside as well, requiring that other tasks and activities will be put on pause.

Excellence involves paying attention to the details, understanding why the details matter and practicing the craft as to improve our skill. Excellence also requires of our full attention and much of our time.

Therefore, if we were to spend the necessary dutiful hours to be excellent at everything in our lives . . . well, let’s just say it, excellence as we are defining it here, would take endless amounts of time, and so everything we involve ourselves in – the daily tasks – cooking, particular hobbies, etc. cannot all be done at the expert level. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you are defining excellence as doing the best of your ability with whatever energy you have on any given day, then yes, this is absolutely possible with everything that we do throughout our days. However, if excellence is a choice to improve in a particular craft, become an expert in a particular field, then it we need to learn the second secret to living a life of quality:

“One secret to achievement is choosing what to ignore.” —in review of Mason Curry’s new book Daily Rituals: Women at Work

Knowing what to ignore in our lives, what to let go of, in other words, is crucial as we seek the time to do well the tasks that we have placed high on our priority list. Knowing what is of top priority, while it may shift as we go along life’s journey, is a result of knowing ourselves.

Case in point, while you may enjoy yoga, let yourself off the hook when it comes to needing to be the yogi in your weekly class. Don’t beat yourself up if you cannot do that particular move or pose. Instead, simply enjoy the class for what it brings into your life, as you do your best each time you attend.

What we gain when we ignore activities, pursuits, goals, ways of life that are not on our priority list:

  • more time to dedicate to what we love, but also to just be
  • more energy to give when we do give to what we love and are dedicated to
  • liberation from having to “keep up” with others who may be doing what society nudges or pushes us to do
  • the sincere ability to applaud and support others as they pursue their own excellence
  • deeper satisfaction as we see the fruits of our full attention begin to pay off

What is important is knowing at what we want to be excellent. When we have clarity about what our fullest attention will be placed upon – maybe it is saving up for a grand goal of travel, home ownership or college; or raising your children; or maybe it is building a blossoming business; or maybe it is learning how to be fully human. While we certainly can do a handful of things with excellence, when we stop pressuring ourselves to be the best at everything, we give ourselves permission to enjoy the journey, take the foot off the gas, so that we have the necessary reserves when we do want to pursue excellence in a particular area.

It can be tempting in our world to be a Jack of all trades, and perhaps that is a skill someone wishes to master, but the ability to dive deeply into a particular skill, professional, passion, or pursue a particular goal until it is attained and while doing so let go of other pursuits, is an approach that will often render much appreciated results.

While being a well-rounded person is a very good idea, we can do that without being excellent at everything, and in so doing, become excellent in an area or field that allows us to shine so that that contentment can diffuse over every area of our lives and enable us to be more fully present, letting go of that critical voice that may hound us for not being “excellent” at everything. We need not be excellent at everything. In fact, so long as we can find ease in how we distribute our energy, that is excellence in its very own way that will be unique to you.

So take a moment to see where you can loosen the reins a bit and just enjoy and where you want to focus your energy so that the results you seek can materialize. Every arena of your life will flourish when you do.



10 thoughts on “Two Secrets to Living a Life of Quality

  1. I so agree with this, Shannon. I am curious as to your personal journey with balancing your many hats. Podcaster. Writer. Teacher. Outdoor enthusiast. A lover of travel. Is it quite easy for you to decide what to focus on and when? I appreciate your wisdom! Thank you!

    1. Margi, Thank you for your comment. I think you are seeing me navigating this currently by taking April off for the podcast as I focus on my students’ upcoming AP exams. The good part about understanding these two secrets is that the focus or letting go does not have to be permanent and forever as it depends on the task or goal. Ultimately is asks of us to be present in our lives and be aware of what we need as individuals and this will be unique to each of us.

    1. I so agree with the default “No.” I boldly said “No.” about 10 years ago, to a request made to me by an individual in an organziation I belonged to. My “No.” drew a look of dis-belief and shock. It has since become one of my favorite words. So liberating to free oneself from needless feelings and assumptions of obligation.

  2. What a pleasure to hear someone talk realistically and so wisely about how to manage our time and energy instead of pushing the “having it all” philosophy that is so popular. Women especially tend to think they have to do everything to perfection. Thank you for your thoughtful post, Shannon.

    1. Thank you for your comment Kate. It has been my experience that excellence is possible but only when we step away from all that others (society) wants or expects of us, and strive confidently in our own direction and in our own manner.

  3. I have really taken something from this post. Whilst working full time I’m currently undertaking a degree (near full time distance learning) as part of my professional development for a promotion. I’ve really struggled to allow myself to let go of the pursuit of perfection in other areas of my life (such as having the most clean tidy home at all times, regular gym etc) whilst also knowing it’s completely unrealistic to expect to work full time, study full time and maintain excellence elsewhere !
    Thank you for this post, Shannon. I am really going to focus my energy where needed for this final few months!

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