Excellence…

I belong to Toastmasters International (TMI). It’s a great organization. It’s one of the scariest places in the world, though. Getting up in front of people and spilling your guts out to them… hoping they might accept what you’ve got to say. It’s even worse when one gets into the speech contests. You have to put a speech together, practice it endlessly, and then get up in front of progressively larger crowds to pitch it to them. For two straight years, this is what I did. I wasn’t half bad at it, from what I heard (from others). I made it up to the district level competition two years running. This is just two steps away from the world championship of public speaking. Perhaps, one of these days, I’ll get back into the contests and shoot for the top level again, but for now, I wanted to post this speech I gave, concerning excellence.  I don’t know how it will translate into print, because I’m not pacing back and forth on a stage, doing my “work” with an oven, but I hope the essence of the speech comes through and makes a good impression.

The Bread of Life

Grief, doubt, sorrow, longing…

To be, or not to be —  that is the question
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep —
No more — and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–

Ladies and gentlemen, Hamlet’s question was, “Why not just die, rather than put up with everything life throws at us?”

His answer is found in one word: EXCELLENCE

It is excellence that will see us to these outrageous fortunes, whether they be for good or ill, as well as see us through the slings and arrows.

I have a description of excellence, the definition of which is: the act or state of excelling.

It’s a process

Excellence is not achievement, nor is it perfection

And it’s NOT some set of corporate rules, either, but rather it’s a personal way of being and it’s contingent upon each person to live up to the level of their ability

Now, this is very important to understand… So important… I brought my Toastmasters’ exclamation point… Excellence must be recognized and pursued, with the understanding that the full measure of it will never be achieved.

Ok Tim, so why are we chasing this thing if we’re never going to catch it?  Wait. Just wait ‘til the end. There’s gonna be a test. I guarantee it.

I also want to let you know that mediocre men will only do all that they can do, whilst men and women of excellence, they will transcend themselves and achieve things they never dreamed possible!

Ok Tim, how do we get there from here?

I have a recipe for excellence. It’s not “THE” recipe, but “A” recipe:

It’s one part wisdom, one part humility, one part patience.

When I was young, I began to read about men and women in WWII. About men and women of valor. Men and women of excellence. I said, “That’s the way to be… to be just like them!”

So, I set out on my own quest for excellence, and I am here to tell you that I…  failed disastrously!

I wanted wisdom, but wanted it “my way”. What I got was my ignorance handed back to me on a plate. I wanted humility, as well, but wanted that on my own terms. I got my ego handed back to me on a plate. I don’t even want to talk about patience, because I wanted it on my own terms, as well. What I got was my wife and I got all sorts of stuff handed back to me on a plate. She wasn’t the problem, though – I was. Because of that, things didn’t work out.

But, through the years, though, I began to see how my heroes’ developed their sense of excellence. They developed theirs in times of crises, whereas I tried manufacturing my own in times of plenty. And, like I said, I failed. But my failures did not stop me in my quest. I was reading Maimonides one time. He’s a Jewish philosopher and he said that, “Ease destroys bravery, whilst trouble and care for food create strength…”

And it hit me like a ton of bricks! I knew what was missing.  It was a catalyst. That catalyst is an oven.  That oven is called adversity. It’s hot. It’s uncomfortable. It’s where change takes place. That process of change is what we call “scorching.” It’s where our item’s color, flavor, and texture changes. Just like bread that is run through the heat of an oven, so it is with the man or woman of excellence who is tried in the heat of adversity. Change takes place. Hopefully change for the better, as it’s the wisdom, humility, and patience that allows one to stay in the heat of the kitchen.

We all have our ovens. We all have our ingredients. We put them in one side of the oven at the beginning and that life-long process of scorching begins. It goes on and on and on, until the very end. We get down to the very end and we begin to anticipate our final product.

What is it?

Here it is! It’s hot, and it’s so rich!

Again, what is it? It’s “worthiness.” It’s where love and belonging are found.

And I’m not talkin’ about your bleached brand of worthiness, NO!. I’m talking about the WHOLEHEARTED brand of worthiness,  where courage, compassion, connection, and vulnerability are found.

It is… THE BREAD OF LIFE!!

Can you smell it?! Can you see it?!

It’s all around, if we simply open our eyes to it.

I mentioned a test…  here it is!  It’s a two-parter. First question…

What’s in your wallet? What are your ingredients for excellence? Do you know?

Thoreau once wrote: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

That song is the song of excellence!

I don’t want you to get to the end of your life, just to have your life flash before your eyes, because it’s a total waste at that point. I want your life to flash before your eyes right here! Right now!

I want you to imagine your future self. You’re on your deathbed. You’re surrounded by loved ones. What do they see in you as you’re lying there? What do you see in their faces, reflected back to you? Your quest for excellence, at that point, has ended. There remains but one thing.

The second half of the test. Another question.

What did you find… along the way?

Excellence… that word that was the answer to Hamlet’s quandary.

It’s more than just a word, isn’t it?

It’s more than just “doing,” isn’t it?

Isn’t it a way of being?

This article originally appeared in my “Critical Thought For Your Life” blog, over on blogger.com. I have deleted that blog and re-posted this article here.
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