Choosing between Excellence & Success

“Strive for Excellence, Success shall, inevitably, follow” so speaks the protagonist. His ways surprise (often alienate) his peers, while he keeps reinforcing his own belief through his actions. In his world where success (in any form or manner) transcends all the wise words of the past, it is indeed a pleasure to watch the protagonist revive the forgotten adages in modern times.

So how does one differentiate (or at least attempt to discern) between the two? While success today (& indeed since the times of our forefathers) has always been associated with more money or power, the value of excellence has, sadly, deteriorated with time. Success has metamorphosed from a self-fulfilling prophecy of the past to a widely accepted dream of modern society, often vindicated by the successful (& just as forgettable) leaders themselves. Often, one is conditioned to “succeed” in life; & any other thought is considered no less than sacrilege. But what becomes of such men? How do they fare in life? Would they be men of honor? Or simply some sanctimonious windbags clad hypocritically in armani-esque business suits who can only spout leadership & visionary rhetoric while amassing uncountable (& sometimes unaccountable) riches. While such men invariably do achieve “success” but, in reality, they are enslaved by their own obsession of it.

Too often the quest for success has less to do with principle than with opportunism. One such quest of success in the modern world can be found deeply embedded (& artistically disguised) in the business landscape. Characterized by the over-arching (almost sacred) mantra of performance driven success, countless men are toiling away day & night to meet their objectives. To wait for pay-day more anxiously than a 1st time father outside the maternity room. Such men are like hawks, always looking for that better salary, not necessarily worried about the work. They have already made a compromise. Of course, they would argue that position (or power of influence) is equally important in the job. But fundamentally, the goal is the same. Seldom does one realize that in his zeal to achieve his aspirations (mostly materialistic), the path he chooses invariably sends him on a wild goose chase behind money. Excellence, thus, only becomes a mute spectator on the company’s vision plaque.

But excellence, on the other hand, implies an implicit acceptance of certain higher objectives; that job objectives can be opposed, but not one’s own vision of the future. Problem is, of course, that often it is the former that defines the boundary between the two. The seeds of change needed to instil an unwavering & invigorating passion for excellence. It must come through close association with people who have chosen the path less travelled; quite opposite to the self-aggrandizing successful. While success cannot be undermined as an inextricable aspiration; its means to achieve can surely be.

Emphasis on excellence in the area sought should precede any sense of opportunism. Only then, can one truly achieve the pinnacle of success without ever bothering about it. Patience would determine the resolve one has to pursue excellence. Even the great Mahatma Gandhi had to wait decades before he could fulfil his dream of independent India. Ditto for Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in jail. One shudders to think how the world would have been today, had these men succumbed to the grandeur of success.

Drawing upon the business landscape again, how does one truly (& consciously) resolve towards adherence to the pursuit of excellence? And is it really worth the effort? With the fruits of labor long replaced by the seeds of greed; excellence has only become the occasional visitor to the rants of senior leadership, seldom making any meaningful impact. So is excellence achieved through corporate directive alone? And would that really be, in any form, as pure as the thought itself? Surely, excellence in any task is an individual’s prerogative. But more importantly, it is his self-realization of the vision of his own future that will act as the guiding light in his work efforts. Friction between his own vision & corporate expectations would undoubtedly exist, but not in perpetuity. Ultimately, his work would bear upon the world & shall be revered in the same vein as the great (& true) leaders of the past. But only if he chooses to.

Like I said, the problem is choice. I have made mine. Your turn.

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5 responses to “Choosing between Excellence & Success

  1. Who is the protagonist here though ? 🙂
    More importantly, I would like to defend the people who are NOT focussed on excellence in their current sphere of activity. In their hearts they know that they are not successful too… atleast not yet.

    Maybe there are some drifters who are yet to discover that which they truly love and are passionate about.

    In the long run, those who are successful are almost always or in atleast a previous avatar were excellent at what they did. In the short run, even Lehman Brothers were extremely excellent at what they did. Markets are sometimes highly inefficient. You should take your chances and be opportunistic too. And if you are good at what you do, you will keep getting better.

    My two cents… probably on a tangent and possibly way off what you want to say 🙂

    • @ Dhiren – The protagonist i am referring to is Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots.
      Well, for starters, my post inherently excludes those who choose neither. Such people are hopelessly inert & have no sense of direction (nor do they want to have 1). & with regards to the drifters, I agree that different people realize at different times what their true passions are. But my post reflects upon those who already have realized it & then made the choice. Striking examples are most of the senior executives in corporates who start off from college with certain passions & land up as extremely political a@#holes who only think of increasing their own net worth.
      As for Lehman brothers, I want you to re-think what choice they made. I dont think u fully understood the difference between Excellence & success as I have illustrated in my post. Lehman’s “excellence” was to make money. & probably thats what spelled their doom. But thats besides the point here. Not everything in life is (or should be) market driven. I am all for opportunism, but not for just making a quick buck.

      As always, your 2 cents are worth much more to me than face value. Thanks mate. 🙂

  2. For me, excellence is based on an ideal I define for myself. One thing, even like Ghandi or Mandela, they did strive for excellence because they defined it in their way. Therefore, taking so long to achieve does not make it less excellent. Yes, in a society’s accepted way of success is to strive for this virtual “higher grounds in quick time” that others impose on you which in turns on serves their goals of success. And another one of is society’s definition is “less time taken to succeed is proportional to the level of excellence”. In my opinion when one achieves a similar goal quicker than the other, does not make him better.

    Striving for excellence should be self defined and once done and accepted, success will surely follow. The only extra ingredient is patience.

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