A formula for excellence

Want to be excellent? I’m not saying I’m some kind of paragon of excellence, but every once in a while, I do get ahold of it. And I’ve noticed there’s a pattern that must be met before excellence can happen.

The formula is so simple, it’s become a cliché.

Actually, I’m going to share 3 clichés. BUT! They are firmly backed with facts that come out of experience.

Cliché 1: Love what you’re doing. Even if you don’t love your day job, you already feel this way about something. What do you talk about until people get irritated with you? What do you help them with even when they don’t want your help? That’s exactly the kind of craziness that Steve Jobs calls “passion”, that carries you through moments when “a sane person would quit, wouldn’t they?”

2 years ago, I thought that if I only applied myself, I could be a top-tier marketer. I’d run my own business and be outrageously successful. Only I knew I was doomed, because I just didn’t care that much about marketing.

If you don’t have “fire in the belly”, stop reading and try to think of a way to get on a track at least toward your passion, because no amount of applying yourself is going to cover the ground you lose doing stuff you don’t care about.

Cliché 2: Do it over and over again. This is not easy even with passion, and it’s quite impossible if you haven’t got it. Whether it’s building web applications or making sales calls, just by doing something a lot, you’ll become comfortable with something most people are a bit intimidated by. Soon, you’ll be astonished to realize you’ve become knowledgeable and skilled at it.

Much more importantly, doing something again and again increases the chances for happy accidents, coincidences, and relationships that propel you even deeper into your passion. This is crucial. Much of your success will look and feel like luck, but it will actually be the result of the work it takes to place yourself in favorable situations.

If your mind, heart, and hands are engaged in your passion, these happy coincidences will happen in that realm. If not, they’re liable to still happen, but you have no control over their direction. And that, tragically, is how people get into middle management.

Cliché 3: Do it better each time, even if only by a tiny bit. When hiring programmers, you have to discover if they have 5 years of experience, or whether they experienced the same year 5 times. It’s really tempting, once you become a “resident expert”, to keep tilling that same spot that you know best. But that’s not what you came here to do, is it?

Surround yourself with people who are more skilled than you. Take on challenges that you’re not 100% sure you’re up to. Get yourself in a little too deep. While it might be unwise to run headlong into something you have absolutely no experience in, even that is preferable to waking up and realizing that your fire’s gone out because you kept following Cliché 2 without moving into Cliché 3.

Bonus cliché: Take some responsibility. Even if you don’t feel 100% in control of your situation, you can still take a sliver of responsibility. Look for something, somewhere, that you care enough about to nurture and truly take responsibility for.

Sure, you might fail at whatever end goal you have in mind now, but you won’t fail at becoming excellent.