Tag Archives: excellence

Getting out of the box

For a long time I’ve had the terrible habit of putting myself, and others, into boxes.  Not physical boxes, but mental boxes, boxes that carry labels.  Oh I’m just a techie.  Or, he’s just a teller at the checkout counter.  Perhaps you have done the same at some point or another in life and can relate.  Recently I became acutely aware of this rather disappointing habit.

What happens when we put ourselves, or others, into boxes?  I have come to understand that by labelling, by putting into boxes, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to get to know and understand each person, including ourselves, as individuals.  Each of us has hopes and dreams.  I believe we all have hidden and uncovered talents.  I believe that labelling ourselves, and others, puts us at a distinct disadvantage in our interpersonal relationships.  It doesn’t matter if we are applying this to the relationship we have with ourselves, or the casual encounter we have with the person at the checkout counter.

We can take this one step further.  Have you ever had somebody introduce themselves using this as the opening part of their introduction:  “I’m just a…..”  Now how’s that for a label?  “I’m just a….” do we even hear what comes next or do we subconsciously place that person into the insignificant or unimportant box?  Can we honestly say that we take the rest of the conversation with that person seriously, or do they remain in our mental box?

Perhaps it’s time we start dismantling the boxes, removing the labels along with their negative connotations, and get to know each other as people, as individuals, and see the incredible wealth of talent in each other.  We all bring something unique to the table.  I firmly believe that the only way to do this is by removing our own labels first.  To label is to hold onto pre-conceived ideas.

I recently victimised myself and sabotaged my own performance by placing myself in a box and assuming a label – I am a technical support engineer.  I fix technical issues, that’s what I do.  The challenge facing me was a training workshop for sales people.  I wore my label and lived in my box, subconsciously telling myself that I would not pass the final grading let alone excel at it.  I wore my label so stubbornly that other delegates put me into the same box with the same label.   To my surprise I got more than just a passing grade.  It surprised the course facilitators too as I had let them subconsciously accept the box I’d placed myself so firmly in.  What if I had kept a more open mind going into the workshop?  What if I had more readily embraced the opportunity to learn and grow in uncharted territory?  Instead I trapped myself and hampered my own growth.  All my own doing.

So this brings me full-circle in this article.  I start with myself.  I need to consciously step outside of any box I may want place myself in.  I need to break down those mental labels I apply to myself.  If I don’t do this I will forever hold myself back and hamper my own growth.  If I don’t stop labelling myself how can I expect others to stop?

Getting out of the box

Yours in lifelong learning,


Chasing Perfection

Following on from my earlier blog post “So where’s the other 10%” I continue the narrative.  A great number of years passed between having been asked “So where’s the other 10%” and finally considering and embracing the concept of excellence instead.

After been asked “So where’s the other 10%” as a teenager I turned that question into an internal script telling myself that my best wasn’t good enough until it was 100%.  Overnight I went from a “just enough” person to one who has spent nearly a lifetime chasing their tail as they sought perfection in all that they did.  On many occasions I achieved perfect scores on my IT certification exams.  This would not satisfy my craving for perfection.  I would argue with myself the exam was too easy, that it didn’t test my ability or knowledge.  I would neglect the fact that many of these exams had a high first-time failure rate.  My internal dialogue driving me to seek perfection just would not be satisfied, no matter how hard I worked or what I accomplished.

So what was it exactly that I was chasing so hard?  That was the burning question I was challenged to answer in the first half of this year (2016).  I had to do a great deal of soul-searching to gain an understanding of my negative internal script that I had rehearsed and repeated for most of my adult life.  “So where’s the other 10%?”  I came to realise I had obtained that last 10%.  That last 10% does not mean I had achieved a perfect score.  Nor does it mean that 100% scores are the only ones that count.  It means that I have realised my potential and will continue to do so as I learn and grow.  Functioning in this imperfect world at one’s full potential is a minute-by-minute challenge.  Some days we will do better than others.  But we need to be cognisant of what our potential is in that moment, in that situation.  For me it comes down to excellence.  Again I raise the topic of excellence – see my previous blog post here.

My constant pursuit of perfection has, over time, been replaced with my pursuit of excellence.  My negative internal script has been rewritten and replaced with a far more positive one.  I now pursue being the best that I can possibly be in the moment, in each situation, doing whatever it is I am doing.  Do I always get it right?  Well no, how could I possibly get everything right.  But it’s not about getting it right every time.  It’s not about getting 100%.  It’s about approaching everything in life with excellence in mind. It’s about respecting myself in all things.

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit – Aristotle

Yours in lifelong learning,


So where’s the other ten percent?

One evening, in what seems a lifetime ago, I proudly presented my grade for my latest Geography exam to my parents.  I was feeling very proud and smug having obtained a grade of 90%.  Expecting heaps of praise and congratulations I was exceptionally taken aback when I was asked: “So where’s the other 10%?”  I was dazed and confused.  I had not received the response I was anticipating.  Being a young and ill-quipped teenager I had not seen this coming.  I was floored and did not know how to respond.  I couldn’t, at that point in my naivety, grasp where this question originated from.

I have pondered on this moment for many years as it had a significant impact on my young life and how I perceived success and accomplishment.  So where was the other 10%?  In my immaturity the internal dialog I created was one in which I told myself that my best was not good enough until it’s a 100%.  How accurate or healthy is this internal dialog?  Was this the true message that was being conveyed to me through the question asked?

Many years later I came to understand the message that was being conveyed to me.  My parents knew me, and knew me very well.  They understood what I was truly capable of.  They had great, but yet realistic, expectations for me to realise and rise up to achieve my full potential.  So had I obtained a grade that was fully within my reach?  The short answer is no.  I personally had not yet even begun to think of, or ponder on what potential I have.  Had I really applied myself diligently to my studies in preparation for that exam?  Again, the short answer is no.  In hindsight I realise that my approach to life as a teenager was one of “just enough”.  I would do just enough to complete my tasks, hand in my homework and projects, just enough to pass my exams.  I was satisfied with the mere completion of the task at hand and had never considered excellence in my execution thereof.

So why excellence?  Let me start by saying that excellence is not to be confused with perfection.  Striving for excellence in all that we do is showing ourselves respect.  When we approach or do anything half-hearted we are disrespecting ourselves.  We are telling ourselves that we are not worthy of respect.  We may not even be consciously aware of this internal message we are giving ourselves.  Excellence does not mean being better than the person next to us.  To me it means being the best that I can possibly be.  Strive to respect yourself in all that you do.  Without self-respect how can we expect anyone else to show us respect?

Every single thing that we undertake in life is a work of art, a self-portrait if you like.  Ensure that you autograph your work with excellence.

Yours in lifelong learning,