Exactly! Isn’t it sufficient to get a well earning job and “settle down” in life? Is it necessary for us to keep focusing on excellence? Earning money which in turn seems to enable one to own or do what his/her heart wants seems to be the best motivation to do anything in life. Most of the times our effort to excel in some field seems to be limited to earning money or fame. Swami Chinmayananda wonders, “Strange! Wealth estranges us all. It is all very strange, the money psychology! When you have not got any, you will pant to get some! When you get some, you grow jealous of others who have more, and feel conceited among those who have less!” Is it possible to look at life as a means to continuously excel? Is there more to striving for excellence than material rewards?
What is excellence all about? Aristotle describes it as, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” If excellence becomes a habit then where is the question of toiling and stress? One simply does it every day and every moment.
In fact many philosophers warn not focusing on excellence could cause unhappiness in life. Natasha Vanderlinden, an American Philosopher, has said, “Doing what is expected is boring. Go beyond mediocre and aim toward excellence!” Bertrand Russel puts the converse of it, “Anything you are good at contributes to happiness”. What a beautiful and simple message! Thus for leading a life that is full of content and happiness it is necessary to focus on what one is good at and keep becoming better and better at it. Let the mind not dwell on the rest!
Where are the opportunities to excel? Don’t many people wait for the right time and place to come together to put their interest and then strive to excel. While waiting they seem to spend time in a grudging manner doing those immediate things that seem to have been thrust upon them. It is as if they ended up on a railway platform waiting for the train that seems to have been delayed and spending the present time in frustration or in anticipation with the conviction that the present situation is quite dismal and has no opportunities for them to enjoy in whatever form. Remember enjoyment comes only when we are involved with something we are good at. In real life, for majority of the people, the train might never come and one would have spent the life in vain waiting for the opportunity to show their excellence and altogether missed some golden opportunities in their immediate situation.
Is it appropriate to while away the present moments of life and wait for special occasions to show our ability to excel? Sankaracharya in Vivekachudamani says that, “Achievement of the goal depends primarily on a fit seeker. Things like locality and time are merely secondary in this matter”. The surroundings, time and place really don’t matter for someone whose mind is fixed on excelling. Bhagavadgita says that such a mind works like an arrow. On the contrary many people seem to get stuck at the point of what to select to excel. Much of the time seems to be spent in trying to select the right goal to achieve or the right field to develop skills and excel.
Life indeed does provide innumerable opportunities to put our talent to work that gives us immense satisfaction and happiness. Doesn’t our job and the place we work at provide the best opportunity for us to excel? Don’t we get additional opportunities outside job to excel?
Is there is a recipe to discover opportunities? Such a recipe seems to be a simple one. Focus on what we are good at and take pleasure in what we do since Aristotle says, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Napolean Hill, one of the early authors of America who wrote on “Personal-Success” says, “You can start right where you stand and apply the habit of going the extra mile by rendering more service and better service than you are now being paid for.” Bhagavadgita says, the person focused on accomplishment enjoys and remains content with all opportunities that come to him on their own.
How does one measure excellence? It will be a big mistake and a source of eternal sorrow if one looks for external recognitions and yardsticks to measure his/her level of excellence. According to Steve Young, an American footballer, “The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” Bhagavadgita says an achiever would be “Atmaneva Atmana tushtah” meaning being satisfied by his own Self in his own Self.
Where does this continual effort on excellence finally lead to? Mary Ann Evans, an English writer, whose pen name was George Eliot, says, “Excellence encourages one about life generally; it shows the spiritual wealth of the world.” According to Gita spending effort to excel in any field would be taking us closer to God; anything in this world containing the attributes of Power, Victory or Progress is a particle of God’s splendor. Thus focusing our mental and physical energies to reach higher and higher levels of excellence not only comes with material rewards, it helps us to be content and happy at every moment of life and eventually takes us to God!