In school, I found it very easy to achieve excellence. The letter most commonly found on my report cards was A, and it was all thanks to my paying attention, working hard, and studying. And I was proud of that.

But the real world is nothing like school.

I’m not making this a rant about school not being a sufficient preparation for the workplace, though this does have to do with excellence at work. You see, I am always writing something or working on some side project, and I get very excited about doing those things. But I have a difficult time feeling satisfied with that work. I find it extremely difficult to be excellent at that work.

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
Pat Riley

Erin and Ian Philpot at Magic KingdomBefore I go any further, let me bring up my most recent vacation to Walt Disney World. (Instagram picture of my wife and I in front of the Magic Kingdom on the right.) About a month before we left on vacation, I read an article by Jeff Kober titled “What Time Does the 3:00 Parade Start?” and it floored me. I knew a lot of work went into making every detail at the park perfect for the guests’ experiences, but I was surprised and impressed to read about all that went into what I thought was a simple parade.

When I was at Disney World, I tried to notice the little details—the electrical equipment that looked like part of the foliage in Animal Kingdom, the small piece on the back of the arm rests that would shoot out water in some attractions, and the hundreds of “cast members” (aka Disney employees) who had small jobs like holding a door open or creating a physical barrier so people would know what side of the path to walk on. The more I noticed them, the more I realized how not having those little pieces would have affected my experience.

Then I turned that thought onto myself.

At my work, I have a good sized set of skills, but I am usually only given very specific tasks on a team project. That small arc of tasks are mine to make excellent. So with great effort I will make sure that all of the colors I use are the same as a logo, that the font sizes are just right, that the content spacing is just right, that the images are the right size with the right amount of padding so they don’t look crowded, and so on. The tasks I’m given may have only been for five hours worth of work, but it will take me ten to fifteen hours to make sure that it’s excellent. And I am deeply thankful that I work at a job that values excellence and, therefore, allows me the time to achieve it.

But then I started look at other projects in my life—some of which I controlled and some of which others controlled. Did the person in charge value excellence? Did they allow for the time to achieve excellence?

We need to internalize this idea of excellence. Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent.
Barack Obama

For the projects I was in charge of, I could easily say that the person in charge valued excellence. Whether I allowed time to achieve that excellence varied by project, and sadly, for some of them, I can say that I didn’t have the time to spare for it. So I’m going to have to do some reprioritization in my life as far as those projects are concerned. The ones that don’t have time for excellence will have to wait their turn, because, as I’m realizing, excellence takes time.

For the projects where someone else is in charge, I have to take them case by case. Some like excellence but don’t value it. Some value it, but they don’t allow time for it. I will need to run an evaluation on them, ask my wife and close friends for advice around those situations, and make the best decisions I can about them.

The more I think about it, the more I am about to recognize able excellence and the importance of pursuing and achieving it. This I believe—that any job that does not value excellence and does not make time for excellence will only be mediocre at best, and, out of respect for myself and my work, I will not settle for anything less than excellent.