Letting go of Excellence and finding Compassionate Excellence

It’s been awhile and there have been lots of changes I’ve been meaning to write an update but that takes awhile so I’d thought I’d simply post a recent article I posted on LinkedIn. Otherwise it could be another few months before I get round to writing something new.

Compassionate Excellence: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good with compassion for self and others.

When I was a young and ambitious twenty-something I was all about excellence at work. It was naturally me. I wanted to be the best at everything. In fact this was a habit from school. I was a bright kid. I did well academically, I had good friends who challenged me to excel. 

This trend went from school to university. I always strived to do my best and in the world of work I sought out high performance cultures in investment banking, finance and consultancy like many of my contemporaries.

This lead me to write the Energy Equation. As I delved more into energy and performance over the past few years I realised I had a problem with the word excellence. Especially how it comes across in corporate speak.

It’s not that I can’t do excellence but it no longer means what it once meant. It now represents false motivation for workaholics. Excellence now reeks of competition, hard work and the constant pressure to stay at the top.

Excellence produces great material rewards but it has major downsides

  • It is exhausting: I had to be excellent at all times of the working day. Excellence didn’t consider the natural ebbs and flow of energy in the body and if it did then you had to hack the body in order to maximize your performance.
  • Excellence looked like pretending to be upbeat even when you were exhausted
  • Excellence meant not enjoying downtime: I found it hard to relax at the weekend, I needed to be doing something. I felt I had to be productive all the time. Rest needed to be earned and I was not deserving of rest unless I had produced something of excellence to make it worthy. My time had to be used effectively
  • Excellence wasn’t much fun: There was little time for celebration or acknowledge of accomplishments. When excellence is the standard then why celebrate what is to be expected.

This intensified when I set out in my own business as I took my corporate model of working with me, which doesn’t work as well as an entrepreneur. I whipped myself into trying to be effective all of the time. When the ideas were flowing that was great but when I ran out of creative energy and felt blocked I would castigate myself for not performing at an outstanding level.

This isn’t unique to me. In my observation of coaching high performing executives and entrepreneurs many people feel the same. In conversation they would share with me the guilt they feel when trying to relax on the weekend.

So in the past year I decided to try something different. I rebelled I, tried the other way I decided not to pursue excellence. I threw away trying to do my best all the time and made it ok to do nothing. I had a great summer off. I did a lot of reading. I binge watched tv. I dabbled in some creative work creating new material and actively slowed myself down.   I forced myself to go slow.

But in forcing myself to go slow I realised I went overboard. This wasn’t as fulfilling as I expected. There was underneath it all a drive to step into my true potential.  Sitting down watching TV just didn’t cut it for me. There was something in my spirit that called for something greater. When I listened to what I really wanted, it was to be outstanding but this time for myself. Not excellence in the eyes of others but excellence that is a self-expression of the human spirit. 

I realised then that there was a component missing in the strive for excellence and that was Compassion.

Bringing compassion into the mix changed the game. With compassion I gave up being hard on myself and life became more fun. Pursuing excellence became a joy as it was an innate part of my growth rather than an external measure of success. Intrinsic excellence vs External drivers.

With this new compassion I could bring this to people I worked with and to my leadership and in bringing this compassion I am seeing clients, friends and colleagues start to shift too.

Definition: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.

Compassionate Excellence: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good with compassion for self and others.

If you’d like help stepping into compassionate excellence get in touch share your thoughts.

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