The Price of Excellence

Recently the last of US combat troops left Iraq and crossed into Kuwait marking a significant milestone in a long hard fought war. Regardless, of your view on the war, the support for our troops justifiably crosses political spectrums and is a unifying force for most Americans. I believe much of that appreciation stems from the willingness of our men and women in uniform to make sacrifices that most of us would not consider, but that we know are required for all of us to live prosperous and free lives. However, regardless of the level of our appreciation, we tend to underestimate the lessons we can learn from our military.

PBS has a compelling documentary, simply titled “The Marines” that sheds light on the nature of what motivates these men and women and what they are willing to go through to achieve their goals. Early on, it becomes clear that many of the Marines are primarily motivated by two things. First, is they feel called upon to protect the country and second they want to become part of an elite group. As they arrive at Parris Island they sacrifice their individualism and put themselves through physical, mental, and emotional turmoil to transform themselves into Marines. It is that focused determination that I have found so inspiring and that also holds important lessons to achieving excellence that we can all benefit from regardless of our roles.

Envision your Goal: What do you want to be known for? Where do you want to excel? Clearly understanding what we want to become is the first step in defining what path to take, and it empowers the will to make the sacrifices to get there.

Embrace Obstacles: Are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary to excel? When we have a clear end in mind, obstacles are no longer barriers; they are simply tolls that we must pay in order to reach our goals. Obstacles provide the opportunity for us to become more competitive, while at the same time reserving success for those with the dedication to rise above them.

Continually Improve: Excellence today is average tomorrow. These days it’s not enough just to overcome obstacles, we must take what we learn from these experiences and apply those lessons creatively to increase competitiveness. Applied wisdom is an important differentiator, and one that cannot be replicated by the competition.

Persevere: As long as we have the right goals and approach, perseverance is oftentimes the difference between success and failure.

There are many things we face in today’s economy that we cannot influence. However, we can control our outlook and understand that in many ways adversity enables excellence by forcing us to demand more from ourselves and those we work with. The price of excellence has always demanded sacrifice; the question is how high a price are we willing to pay?