Pursuit of Excellence

Many of us wonder what is this pursuit of excellence and how does one really go about achieving excellence? Many times we know we are doing our best and that does not seem enough. It creates confusion about our ability to excel especially when others seem to be doing much better than us.

Key thing to remember about excellence is that it has nothing to do with others. It’s about oneself. It’s about going inside ourselves and asking us if we are content with what we have done or doing. If we are content, then that is the end of excellence. If there is some discontent then there is room to excel. Excellence is not an end point. It is a journey. I don’t remember who it is (Picasso or Michelangelo) – When the great artist was asked by royal dignitary about which was his best piece of art, the artist is reported to have thought for a while and then responded very humbly – “It is yet to come” .

When Rabindranath Tagore was about to die, a friend came to see him just two days before his death. He said, “Yours has been a very successful life. There is nothing to worry about or to regret now.” They had been friends since their childhood and now both of them were old. He said, “You can die peacefully. I did not attain anything in this life, I have wasted it, and so I will not die peacefully. You have sung so many songs!”

The old friend said, “You were given the Nobel Prize; honors have been showered on you, you can die peacefully. Of course I will die without peace, but you can thank God while saying good-bye to the world.”

Rabindranath listened to what his friend was saying. Then he said, “Well, I have not been able to sing the song which I wanted to sing, it is still within me like a seed. These six thousand songs are the unsuccessful efforts to sing that one song. Many times I have tried to sing that one song which is in me like a seed, but I have failed every time. You may have liked those songs, but they are the stories of my failure. My song has not been sung yet. I have not sung it yet, and God has come to take me away. I was just tuning my instruments; with great difficulty I was able to tune my sitar…All people thought I was singing. No, I was tuning my instruments. Now I have become mature enough, the instruments are ready, my spirit is ready, now the moment of singing has come, but now it is time to go. …………..”

One might argue why talk about Tagore, Picasso, Sachin Tendulkar, Roger Federer. They are all extra ordinary people. Those examples don’t apply to us because we are all ordinary people. It’s not true. Seed of the extra-ordinary is in the ordinary. All legends were born just like you and me. But they cultivated the discipline of probing their discontent and worked on it regularly, constantly. Then eventually became a legend one day. People often make the mistake of imitating a legend or an expert. It does not work. But following the process they took to become a legend can hopefully get us there. As Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”.

Spend some time daily going inside yourself. Begin by poking at the discontent. Dig deeper. Listen to the song inside. Work towards tuning it. Discontent with yourself should not make you unhappy. It should lead you to the path of excellence.

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