You might remember when you were a high school student (as I do) trying to work out a revision system that helped you to maximise your chances of academic success. I never had much luck. Teachers held up model students as examples of how ‘hard work’ paid off. Straight-A students it seemed were just the ones who did ‘the most’ work. And ‘most’, being infinite was a daunting place to start.
It’s taken me a good thirty years to realise that exceptional performance is not a result of expending the most effort—trying to reach the summit in a single, spectacular leap. The secret to being exceptional is in the small choices we make moment-to-moment. The student who organises his notes from the very first lecture of the first semester. The hotel receptionist who consciously makes every interaction meaningful. The athlete who pushes through the last three uncomfortable reps. The CEO who intentionally seeks out and acts on the wisdom of his team. The doctor who greets her patients warmly by shaking them by the hand. Ordinary people making small choices that incrementally make them exceptional.
Small, deliberate choices, made moment-to-moment, have a huge impact over time—not just on the work we do and the people we serve, but on our belief about what’s possible. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining about things outwith our control that we can’t change. If we want to be exceptional, we need to get into the habit of finding reasons why we must, instead of making excuses why we can’t.
Image by Louis Vest.