I could simply post one of his quotes (he has several very good ones) and end there. But everyone knows I’m not a man of few words. Here is the quote:
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
I can only wonder what our society would be like if everyone took on this attitude. There are times and instances where I have taken on this attitude. When I used to sing. When I write. But, for the most part, somewhere above “good enough” and “great” is where I’d like to believe my work falls. Somewhere around “above average” is where my running and cycling fall. Somewhere between “awesome” and “cruise control” is where my parenting falls. And my contribution to this world falls somewhere between “giver” and “taker.”
If you know me, you may agree or disagree with some of these descriptions. My staff and colleagues see me in an entirely different way than my actual friends. My kids see me differently. But, I know where I measure. I know what really matters. And, admittedly, I am not a yardstick of quality in all the areas I believe I should be.
And what’s funny is that, as I sat down to write this,
I was going to focus on how I want my kids to take the example and words of Steve Jobs, and also Randy Pausch, to strive for excellence so that they can be successful in their careers. Because that’s the biggest thing that matters to me on a day-in and day-out basis. But as I write, I know that what my kids do for a living is not the be-all and end-all.
I have friends who put their kids’ religious faith at the top of the heap. Some who put achievement in sports, music, fine arts, etc. at the top. Some put being the queen of the social hill (I like to call them OC Housewives in training). And many of us put some combination of all of these on our lists.
But things like egocentricity or laziness or life distractions seem to derail many of us. And if you read Jobs’ quote above, it’s easy to see that perhaps true excellence is simply not expected. Or, we preach about excellence, but permit less-than-excellent performance because, well, that’s life. My kids know that I expect straight A’s in school. But then they also know I’ve given them a cushion so that they don’t get corporal punishment for falling short. Is it my fault that they don’t get straight A’s? Maybe. But I do preach about doing their best. The funny thing is that when I am told, “I did my best” on a test, I can ask two questions to confirm that their best was not always what they gave.
Anyway, I spent dinner discussing with my son what it means to be a “yardstick of excellence.” How you do things well for the sake of doing them well. While Steve Jobs’ quote seems to suggest you should be something that everyone else compares them to, I won’t go that far because it hints of narcissism. But I do think that the second part of the quote rings true. In our society, mediocrity seems to be the measuring stick. Most people actually don’t like environments where excellence is required. Why? Because it increases anxiety… and none of us likes to feel anxious. We just like to feel comfortable. And so the message has turned into a softer one. A friend even posted about how our children seem to get an award for showing up to school these days so that everyone can feel special. I think everyone can feel special. But I think they need to earn it.
So take a few minutes to reflect on where you may not be pursuing excellence. Where you may have allowed complacency to set in. And then decide if it matters enough to you to change your habits. I’ve started with the t.v. because it is an opiate for the masses. It kills my creativity. It kills my productivity. It keeps me awake later than I need to be. And as I reflect on the amount of time I wasted on re-runs, I swore my kids would not have the same regret. Do I want them to be the next Steve Jobs? No. But I do want them to succeed at their goals.