The Pursuit of Excellence

In a bobsled competition, the race often continues long after the winners have been declared and in some cases, the medals have been presented. Interestingly, despite this fact, I have never seen any of the remaining teams approach their runs with a nonchalant attitude. You can easily make the case that completing the race is a mere formality since the winners have already been declared. However, what I have observed instead are individuals pushing and racing with the ferocity and intensity of a team within striking distance of wining gold and setting a record. That, in my mind, is the essence of excellence and as George Will said, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.”

Growing up, I was taught that anything worth doing is worth doing well. I have always understood that to mean that anything we do must be done in a superior manner. In our society the word excellent is synonymous with superior performance. Over the years, experience has taught me that that is only part of the meaning. I believe it also means that we must give our absolute best effort every time. We have to be willing to push a little harder and to reach just a little beyond where we are right now. While the last team pushing off the top of the hill knows they don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell to win the race, they still put in a gigantic effort because they are striving to improve on their last performance and to create new personal bench marks. This is what peak performers do. This is the hallmark of excellence. Excellence does not happen by chance – neither is it a single event. It takes a total commitment and consistent effort to be the best we can be. Aristotle said it best when he declared, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” When we get in the habit of being excellent at what we do, we raise our own expectation level and are therefore able to reach beyond ourselves. In pursuing excellence we find ourselves on a continuous journey. Not pursuing perfection, but rather seeking constant improvement; learning and developing new skills and satisfying an innate desire deep down inside to explore our full potential. As John Gardener points out, “When we raise our sights, strive for excellence….we are enrolling in an ancient and meaningful cause – the age long struggle of humans to realize the best that is in them.” Someone who practices excellence is: FocusedThey are clear about their goals and work with a singleness of purpose to achieve them. Through effort and sweat equity they willing pay in advance the price exacted in order to receive the prize at the end. “Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning” states the early Greek Poet Hesiod. In short, there is no excellence without focused labor. MotivatedThey are motivated to achieve. They are motivated to be at their best, using all the unlimited, untapped resources they have on the inside to create something incredible with the limited resources they have on the outside. Their passion for their goals ensures that they shun mediocrity and thus perform in an excellent way. AmbitiousThey see themselves as individuals with the capacity to be really good at what they do and because they are so motivated they consistently go over and above what is required. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Like the last sledders racing off the top of the hill even after the medals have been awarded, I encourage you to practice excellence: Consistently strive to do your best no matter what.
Face new challenges head on.
Embrace any and all opportunities to learn and improve. Keep On Pushing! Copyright (C) 2006 Devon Harris


  • Devon Harris

    Devon Harris was a member of the Jamaican Bobsleigh team and competed in three Winter Olympics; he later joined the army and attended the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. Born on Christmas Day, 1964 and raised in a violent ghetto environment in Kingston, Jamaica, the greatest gift Devon Harris ever received was the belief that a positive attitude and a never say die philosophy would carry him farther than a sense of injustice and a heart filled with anger.A graduate of the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England, Devon received a Queen’s Commission in December 1985 and served in the officer corps of the Jamaica Defence Force until December 1992 when he retired as a Captain.At the heart of Devon’s message are the lessons he has learned of the power of persistence over all sorts of obstacles in order to live one's best life. His mission is to bring this message of how everyone can keep on pushing and working for their dreams every day of their professional as well as personal lives.Encouraged by his commanding officer, Devon tried out for and was selected to the first Jamaican bobsled team which competed in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada. Their exploits inspired the Disney blockbuster movie Cool Runnings. Devon also competed in and was captain of the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France and the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.The Keep On Pushing Foundation which he founded in 2006 aims to support and enhance the education of kids in disadvantaged communities around the globe by providing practical solutions to the challenges that are preventing them from getting educated.Through the Keep on Pushing Foundation, Devon also works with Right to Play as an athlete ambassador, supporting Right to Play’s efforts in using sports and play in refugee camps around the world to enhance child development and build community capacity.As an ex-serviceman, Devon understands the commitment, sense of duty and sacrifices made by those who volunteer to serve. As a private citizen he is cognizant of the fact that the freedoms he enjoys are paid for by the courage and sacrifice of these men and women. As a result he has also devoted time to visit the troops serving in the Persian Gulf.He is the author of the motivational children’s book, Yes, I Can! and the semi-auto-biographical motivational book Keep On Pushing: Hot Lesson From Cool Runnings.

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