“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.