If these ideas get your motor running, chances are you’re familiar with the pursuit of excellence.
The pursuit is a challenging one. Excellence asks that you sacrifice–by waking up earlier, studying longer, and training harder. It asks that you plumb the depths of your soul to battle your most vicious demons. And it asks you to hold yourself to a higher moral code than those around you, even when it may cost your life.
But the reward is nothing less than becoming your best self.
To the ancient Greeks, there was no higher aim. They called this special type of excellence areté. The concept is beautifully captured in one of my favourite novels, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“The hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté.”
Areté is seen in men and women of great accomplishment, like Aristotle and Leonardo Da Vinci. But you don’t need to be a Renaissance Man to know areté.
“A man can do all things if he will.”
– Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)
All you need is to cultivate a sense of duty. Not to others, but to yourself. You must believe with burning passion in the value of excellence and work relentlessly to become the man or woman you know you can be.
Maybe. That’s a choice we’re all free to make for ourselves. But in the pursuit of excellence you will find much greater rewards, like happiness, fulfillment, and peace.
And there is something greater than personal fulfillment at stake. The world suffers from an excellence deficit. Greed and incompetence has led the global economy into turmoil. Ignorance and fear still divide our human family. Building a better society requires that a critical mass of men and women decide to become their best selves. It’s worth fighting for.
“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
– Robert Persig
The altruistic argument will not appeal to everyone, and that’s ok. We’re all walking various paths at times in our lives, and no matter where they lead, we learn something valuable along the way. If you are ready, please join me; the world needs you.
But no matter where you are don’t forget to enjoy this beautiful life however you can.