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Lately I’ve been thinking about excellence. Here’s a question – in any given field, what’s the difference between someone who’s an expert and someone who’s excellent?

There’s an amusing section in Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Work Week” about becoming an expert called “The Expert Builder: How to Become a Top Expert in Four Weeks”.  In business, there’s a difference between being perceived as an expert and actually being one. The former is what sells. For instance, you can know more than anyone in the country about medicine, but if you don’t have that MD behind your name, you’re not taken very seriously. That “MD” is what he calls a “credibility indicator,” and it’s possible to rapidly build a whole lot of credibility indicators. In the book, Ferriss profiles a friend of his who was featured as a ‘top relationship expert’ in Glamour and other national media by following these simple steps:

1.     Join two or three related trade organizations with official sounding names.
2.     Read the three top-selling books on your “expert” topic.
3.     Give one free one-to-three-hour seminar at the closet well-known university.
4.     Offer to write articles for trade magazines.

In other words, all the word “expert” means nowadays is that you know more than most folks (e.g. you’ve read three books on the topic). So almost anybody, with a small investment of time, energy and a bit of self-promotion, can become an expert. But what about true excellence?

Here’s Webster’s definition: “the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority.”  So what does excellence look like in real life? In football, it looks like Tom Brady. In tennis, it’s Rafael Nadal. Mother Theresa was excellent. So was Steve Jobs. I know excellent mothers, carpenters, auto-mechanics, pastors, and adjusters. Experts are a dime-a-dozen. Excellence is rare, beautiful, and inspiring. But more than anything, it belongs to those willing to pay the price. I know many, many good adjusters but only a few excellent adjusters. These few are in high demand because they bring such great value to those they work for and with. They’ve paid the price, they’ve put in the effort and energy, and they care.

Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in 1910 that included this quote:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.

On the outside, my arena looks a lot like normal family life; dishes, home-schooling, paying bills, budgeting with my wife, working claims, trips to Home Depot, etc. But there’s more than meets the eye. It’s risky to even write this because I so frequently fall so short, but I choose to strive for excellence in “being Adam.” I hope that before I die, I’ll have become the man I was created to be so I can give my very best to myself, my family, my friends and the world. I want excellence.

What does life in the arena look like for you?

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