Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Trevor E. S. Smith | In search of excellence. Why?

Published:Sunday | February 16, 2020 | 12:06 AMTrevor Smith - Guest Columnist

From the earliest years, parents hope that their children will excel in some way.

This hope is manifested as a quest for excellence. The pressure for individuals to excel is reinforced by teachers, coaches, employers, certifying authorities, and bodies who make awards in recognition of excellence.


While most of us have bought into the quest for excellence, there is an increasingly strong undercurrent of resistance. This article is designed to assist you or someone in your circle of influence who might be struggling with the need to excel.

Here are some philosophies linked to the de facto resistance to the call to excel, even when it is not actually expressed:

1. Being able to excel at anything requires an extraordinary level of commitment that eats into my ability to live a fully balanced life. While others toil upwards in the night, I would rather be deepening my relationships and getting in some networking.

2. This preoccupation with excellence is, for many, an exercise in futility. There is a reason why there is the concept of ‘average’. With the best will in the world, the majority will be – average. I know my limitations. I will settle for average and retain my peace of mind.

3. I am a realist. Students with this mindset eagerly seek to learn what is the pass mark. How many tutors are blessed with students that want to know how to get an A? Blessed is the athlete whose focus is on the national record and not just on the qualifying standards for some regional games.

4. It does not really matter. Nobody cares, and if they care, I don’t see how it makes a difference to the vast numbers who operate at the mediocre level or even lower. Why should I jump through hoops when it does not matter?


I am sharing this as a result of the prodding of a highly respected medical practitioner who also lectures to medical students.

She bemoans the lack of inquisitiveness on the part of all but a few students.

Are you comfortable to have a doctor with just a passing grade make life-and-death decisions about you?

This, then, is one reason why we should work to be the very best we can be: It is our responsibility.

We are not islands unto ourselves. Our decisions have implications for others.

Think also about how we got to where we are. No matter how much we have scraped on our own, it is likely that we got some support.

We owe it to those supporters to be the very best we can be.


The arguments in support of mediocrity are really cop-outs.

Some of it relates to protecting fragile egos. If we tell ourselves that we are not striving for excellence, we can avoid being disappointed if we actually don’t excel.

That is a defeatist attitude. Going into any activity with a handy excuse for failure or mediocre performance is likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Any reason for opting out of the quest for excellence might be linked to laziness or low motivation.


1. Excel for YOU

Do something well and celebrate that fact. Enjoy the satisfaction of excelling in your eyes. You don’t need to seek external validation.

Immerse yourself in that feeling of success. Bottle it and take it into the next task, and then the next.

As you move forward, see how you can improve on your last performance. On reflection, was there something that you could have done differently?

If you are honest with yourself, did you give it your best shot? Did you get distracted or discouraged?

How can you avoid those distractions?

How can you overcome feelings of discouragement?

2. Seek assistance

Sports stars have coaches and a support team.

It is difficult to sustain excellence independently. Seek the support that will help you to be the best that you can be.

Withholding effort comes easily to those who have no clarity of purpose. They lack the internal motivation to set goals and work to achieve them.

Such individuals need external motivation and, more frequently, constant monitoring and structure.

3. Define excellence for you

This is a two-sided coin.

You can excel even though you are not a world-beater. You might have constraints that limit what you can achieve.

Avoid giving up in frustration because you can’t attain the heights achieved by others.

The other side of the coin is to ensure that you don’t wrap yourself in a cocoon and believe that you are excelling when you have the capacity to achieve so much more.

History is replete with cases of people who achieved things they never even dreamed that they could do.

Give it your best shot with a committed, believing support group!

Trevor E. S. Smith with the Success with People Academy. We guide the development of high-performance teams. We are interpersonal relations, group dynamics and performance-enhancement specialists. We provide learning and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. We offer behavioural assessments from Extended DISC, values assessments on the FinxS platform and e-competency frameworks and e-onboarding solutions in our SPIKE technology platform. Email: