Sitting at my daughters’ swimming lessons, watching them and reminiscing with my mum about the days when I was a competitive swimmer, we reflected on how only one of the pack from that era had made it all the way to the Olympic Games, an aspiration I had held at the time.
As I thought back I realised for the first time that competing never really inspired me, instead the phrase ‘in pursuit of excellence’ came to mind. My mind jumped to a highly acclaimed Tom Peters book I had half-read many years ago, In Search of Excellence, which I remember being a rather dry business book. However, the phrase itself elicited that familiar tinge of inspiration that meant my fingers wanted to explore the thought more at the keyboard.
It was with surprise I realised that competing, never mind winning, wasn’t of interest to me. I was brought up to win, and I did pretty well at most things. My thoughts then jumped to Richard Bach’s book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I recently read the updated version of.
Jonathan Seagull was obsessed with one thing his whole life, improving his flight. Yes, I thought, pursing excellence sits at the heart of our existence. If we come with intentions and a desire then it’s in the pursuit of becoming excellent at those we find our greatest pleasure.
As I was googling, trying to recall Tom Peter’s name, I discovered there’s another book written by Terry Orlick which is named by the phrase that had first come to mind – In Pursuit of Excellence. I had a quick peruse and smiled as I read words like “focus’ and “connecting in the moment”, because that is really what life is all about.
Casting my mind back to those early years swimming up and down a pool, the details about the medals and accolades aren’t what I remember. Instead it is those moments, alone with myself in the water, taking a next breath, lungs burning, adrenaline flowing, focused on being better, doing better, that stay with me.
There was nothing more satisfying than beating my own personal best time in any particular event, and there was nothing more disheartening than not coming near to my best times for months and months, years even in some cases, despite the endless hours of practice.
As I’ve moved through life I’ve propped my ladder up against more than several walls, in hindsight all the while searching for the thing I really wanted to pursue. With swimming, like all the other things that came afterwards, I got good, viewed by many as top of my field, competitive, successful. All the while there was restlessness within.
Unlike Jonathan Seagull I hadn’t really figured out what I was born to pursue, and yet the whole time I was in fact pursuing it. In each journal entry, each letter I wrote in my younger years, my quest for figuring out this game called life was evident. But really, to have said philosophy was my ‘thing’ wouldn’t have felt right either, in the modern day that is an intellectual pursuit, rather than one of the heart.
I have always felt that I wasn’t going to find the answers I was seeking in a book somewhere, though occasionally that happens, something resonates and lights the fire for another question. Instead I have found that the answers are already all around and – at the same time - within us, revealed when we are asking the right questions. Answers come as little droplets here or there, and become interwoven periodically resulting in wonderful ‘ah ha’ moments.
What I have also found is that traditional constructs don’t work for me – not in business, health, education nor relationships. There are no neat boxes for me to fit within; instead I am carving out my own little hollow. I’ve stopped looking to the world to be different; instead, I just do what works for me.
I have learned that the pursuit for excellence is an inner one. Each day I resolve to try again, to be aligned with that part of me that knows its worth, knows its value, knows nothing but love and eternal joy. Each day I spend just a small, deliberate amount of time, feeling into that part of me. And each day that helps give me a perspective broader than the one that I used to default to.
The old default perspective I had was one taught by the world, taught to fear consequences and risks as created by the people and society around me as I grew. I’ve learned to look at all our ‘norms’ through fresh lenses and cast them aside if they don’t resonate with that inner part of me that wants to pursue a different type of excellence.
No longer do I want to be excellent at fulfilling others requests, desires and expectations. Old resentments, even fresh pangs of pain, all dissipate when we are in tune with the essence of who we are and why we are here. The ego let’s go of this idea of comparing yourself with others. Instead each piece is seen as part of a whole, a much bigger picture than the one we are taught to look at.
There’s a beauty to everything around us when we look through those lenses. I now love my life. In some ways it looks traditional, a mum bringing up her two kids while the man goes ‘out’ to work. Yet if you look deeper, here I am, pursuing my raison d’être, living life on my terms, and loving all it has to reveal.
To pursue excellence in your life, focus on those things that come naturally to you, that you couldn’t imagine not doing, and do more of them. Whatever you feel called to pursue, make sure you can do it with vigor and passion, be excellent, for that is the hallmarks of the highest intentions you have for yourself.
Knowing I’ve helped in some way through my writing means a lot - I’d love for you to like, comment on, or share these thoughts with others, or contact me directly at email@example.com, I’m always happy to help if I can. To be the first to receive these posts, you can also subscribe to my newsletter and, as a special thank you, you will receive the link to my video 3 Steps to Becoming You.
By signing up you will only receive emails from shonakeachie.com and you can unsubscribe at any time. This is a two-step process, you will have to verify your subscription by clicking the link in the email you should receive after clicking this 'Subscribe' button. If you do not receive the email please check your Junk mail, thank you.
Please note if you are using the Google Chrome browser and want to subscribe to the RSS Feed you will first need to get an RSS plugin from the Chrome Store.