Some cultures might attribute excellence to a few brilliant, hard-working, exceptional cases.
Other cultures, such as the one in which I grew up, value modesty and urge people to try to be “average”.
Excellence, however, is for all of us. Excellence is about getting the most out of our talents. Excellence is about trying to make a little dent in the world, so that when we move on, we will have left behind a better place for those who follow.
You might think that striving for excellence means perfectionism. Perfectionism is the opposite of excellence. While perfectionism is about spending 95% of your time on the final 5% improvement in a project, excellence is all about identifying how you can reach 80% of your outcome in 20% of your time.
Perfectionism is about shielding yourself for the fear of failure, it is about uncertainty and doubt. Excellence is about knowing yourself and your strengths, taking pride in yourself and showing your talents in broad daylight to make this world a better place.
Achieving excellence is a project that takes effort in many different aspects of life. Here is a list of 50 ways to leverage your brilliance:
1. Have a mission
Have you ever deeply thought of what you really want to do in life? Not your profession or hobby, but on a deeper level: which impact do you want to have on the world? How do you want to be remembered? Identify your mission.
2. Identify your values
List your five most important values, and live accordingly. When you can align yourself with what matters most to your heart, you are empowered to make the right choices.
3. Open your heart
When you meet people, assume they mean no harm to you, and open your heart to their lives and stories. Try to switch from suspicion and fear, to a life in which you expect only the best in yourself and others. Beautiful connections can only develop when you open your heart.
4. Truly listen
True listening requires an open heart and an open mind. Stay away from giving advice, feedback or comments, but simply open up to another person and learn from their emotions, reactions and stories. You will get to know people and their desires and needs.
5. Learn something new every day
Enroll in online courses outside of your field of expertise, listen to podcasts, read non-fiction books and watch informative videos online. If you want to grow, try to pick up something new every single day.
6. Study your emotions
Become aware of your reactions and your emotions in different situations, and keep a log of your observations. Observe your thoughts and feelings in an unbiased way to learn more about yourself.
7. Release your emotions
Learn how you can release negative emotions instead of oppressing them. Try out different strategies: writing, dancing, drawing, meeting friends... Avoid getting stuck in a spiral of negativity.
8. Ask yourself every day: Did I give the very best of myself to the world?
When you brush your teeth at night, look at yourself in the mirror, and ask: “Did I give the very best of myself today to myself, my loved ones, every person I met and the world?” Reflect on this question for a few minutes every day.
9. Identify your daily needs
Do you know what you need to do every day to stay motivated and keep working towards your higher goals? If you have identified these needs, make them your priority. I'm sure that watching TV or browsing the internet are not on your list.
Meditation is the single most important tool for self-development. There are different schools and types of meditation, so instead of giving up and thinking you can't do it, identify which type of meditation is most suitable for you.
11. Give without expectations
Share your knowledge and expertise freely with others. Teach. Give love and kindness unconditionally to your loved ones. While we usually see giving as a way to getting something, it is incredibly satisfying to let go of this expectation.
12. Practice gratitude
Notice the small, beautiful moments during the day, and log these in a gratitude journal. If someone or something makes you happy, show your gratitude. This practice will help you to grow a positive mindset.
13. Keep a success journal
Log the five successes, big or small, you have experienced in a day that contribute to your goals. You will foster a positive mindset, but also build a daily moment to reflect on your goals.
14. Take on a difficult task
Push yourself out of your comfort zone and take on a task that is actually too hard. It might take a little longer, but take the opportunity to dive into the books and learn something outside of your field of expertise.
15. Develop new skills
Whether you learn coding in a new language, or making timber furniture, always make sure you have a side project going on in which you learn a new skill. Fill your life's toolbox with skills that your learn to master.
16. Become a writer
If excellence is your goal, you need to make sure you can share your talents and mission with the world. Communication is the necessary means to carry your message. Practice writing at all levels: write reports at work, blog, write non-fiction essays and try poetry. Study how the visual display of information can support your writing.
17. Become a public speaker
Another pillar of communication is speaking. Push yourself to speak on stage and to give presentations at work. Give speeches at family reunions. Bring a sketch or monologue at a friend's wedding. If all these ideas intimidate you, join a Toastmasters group.
18. Give a TED talk
Get involved with a local TEDx event, and see if ultimately you can share your idea worth spreading on stage. Preparing for a TED talk is very different from giving a (technical) presentation, but it's a very rewarding process.
19. Explore your limiting beliefs
What is holding you back to pursue your dreams? Identify these limiting beliefs, and burst the bubble. Don't think you can't blog because you're not a native English speaker. Don't think you can go on stage because you're shy. Prepare your mind for greatness.
20. Learn to go into sponge-mode
When you are listening to great thinkers, imagine that you are like a sponge: ready to soak up all ideas that come your way. Go into your sponge-mode at conferences, meetings and when you meet experts in your field.
21. Volunteer for a cause
Once you have identified your values, reinforce one by volunteering for a cause that truly touches your heart. You will pick up new skills and meet like-minded people as you volunteer.
22. Take your hobbies to the next level
Become excellent at your hobbies as well. If you like playing music, then your next level would be performing on stage, starting a YouTube channel or composing your own songs. If you like dancing, your next level would be to join a dance team or to compete in championships.
23. Exercise every day
You can't achieve excellence if you neglect your body. While you might not find the time to spend hours on end at the gym every day, you should try to infuse exercise into your lifestyle. For example: you can bike to work, do a yoga routine from YouTube at night or go for a walk during your lunch-break.
24. Grow your strengths
If you haven't identified your strengths yet, take an (online) assessment to gain these insights. Then, list ideas on how you can cherish and deepen these strengths while doing what you love.
25. Learn to press the pause button
Another powerful skill to learn, is to be fully aware of the signals your body and mind are giving you. If you've been pushing it too far, then it's important you listen to yourself and press the pause button. Give yourself a break to refuel.
26. Leave your black holes
Identify your black holes: those activities or people in which you spend time without feeling inspired. Typical black holes are unsatisfying friendships, TV and social media websites.
27. Surround yourself with passionate people
Build a network of passionate, positive people, and frequently spend time with them. Finding people that are striving for excellence like you, might be a challenge. But enroll in activities and connect to people. Discuss your passions and values with them, and if you feel a response, deepen that friendship.
28. Build a Personal Learning Network
Both online and in your field of expertise, you should connect to the experts in your field as well as the new-and-upcoming talents. Learn from the masters and share your experiences with your fellow apprentices.
29. Sort out your finances
Get rid of debt. A house is probably the only thing worth a loan; all the rest you should not get on credit. Take the leap from “having” to “being”: don't let your (lack of) possessions determine who you are.
30. Forgive yourself for your past mistakes
For all your past failures and mistakes, forgive yourself and all others involved. If necessary, write about it. Write why you are still upset about it. Then, list the lessons you've learned and see the positive outcome.
31. Roll up your sleeves for the tedious jobs that move you forward
Show others that you are the go-getter. If the going gets though, show your stamina. You shouldn't let others treat you as a doormat and always fix the dirty jobs, but identify the hard, deep work that you need to do to move your projects forward.
32. Shift your location during the day
Even if you are trapped in your cubicle during office hours, try to break out for lunch. Avoid centering your life around your home and your office, but try to shift your location a few times during the day. Fresh places bring fresh ideas.
33. Eat wholesome food
Your engine needs high quality fuel. Don't put anything into your mouth your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Read the labels of products, don't eat out too often. Be kind to your body and don't throw too much sugar and fat into it.
34. Pour your heart and mind into your activities
When you are working on your goals, or on activities aligned with your mission and values, throw all of yourself to it. Your love for that task will not go unnoticed.
35. Share your enthusiasm
Write about your dreams and hopes, talk about them and show others how much you care. Your enthusiasm will make you shine, and will bring you connection and possibilities.
36. Foster your creativity
Creative thinking is one of the most important skills to learn. Teach yourself how to think out of the box. Make mindmaps, lists and always look for the road less traveled. Ask critical questions whenever you can.
37. Study works of art
Go to a museum to see works of art, and read the comments of experts. How are the emotions and details explained? Which symbols are used? Learn to interpret art, and voice your feelings and opinions.
38. Use your dreams
You spend a third of your time sleeping, and about a quarter of that time dreaming. Your dreams are the key to your subconscious. Teach yourself to remember your dreams, document and analyze them to understand what is at the back of your mind.
39. Channel your superhero
When you need to break out of your comfort zone, and you are scared, imagine that you are your own superhero or idol. Ask yourself: “What would Lady Gaga/Superman/President Obama do in this situation?” Then, take a deep breath, visualize your hero, and do the necessary action.
40. Ask for advice
Don't assume you know everything before you even get started. Ask for advice and feedback whenever possible, take notes, and learn from these comments.
41. Read biographies of leaders
For more inspiration, read the biographies of the leaders you admire. You will learn about the hardships and failures they faced, and how their resilience brought them great success in the end.
42. Bring people together
Connect people from your network of whom you think they should meet eachother. Organize inspiring events, such as discussion tables during lunch, an art club or a series of lectures, and bring people together.
43. Plan your weekends
Your weekends are a sacred time. Know beforehand what you will be doing, and avoid the trap of staying in bed too long, then hanging on the internet and then doing chores. Make sure you have plenty of time for inspiring and interesting activities.
44. Get enough sleep
If you want to be able to think clearly during the day, you need to get your sleep at night. If you find it hard, then put an alarm at night to signal your bed-time.
45. Analyze your productivity
Use tools and apps to analyze your output and how you spend your time. With these results, you can optimize your productivity.
46. Have a mentor
Find a senior expert in your field, and build a trusting connection with him/her. Frequently meet your mentor, and openly discuss your fears and plans. If you are afraid of sharing your struggles, then start by interviewing your mentor about his/her path to success.
47. Speak up
Open your mouth at meetings, parties and social gatherings. Step out of the shadow of your own limiting beliefs, let go of the fear of judgment, and speak your mind. If people don't like your ideas, that does not mean you have failed; it simply means you did not connect to the right crowd.
48. Fail with a smile
Don't beat yourself up over failures, but smile and make some notes about what you learned. Most of the times we can see that failures are even a bit funny if we learn to take a step aside.
49. Keep a life guide
Name it as you wish: a life guide, a life handbook, a mission book – but make sure you have one. Use a notebook or a set of spreadsheets to collect your mission, values, goals, vision boards, inspiring quotes and bucket list at one place and access this document daily.
50. Don't react, but breathe and think
Stop living your life by reacting to situations. Take matters into your own hands, and identify what really is worth a reaction, and what you can simply let go of.
Being average might feel comfortable, but you have more possibilities within your reach. Once you learn to foster your talents, and leverage others along the way, you will be that person in your community and workplace who inspires other to dare to embrace life.
Your talents and your strengths, and, ultimately, yourself are your greatest assets.
Are you ready to invest in yourself and work towards excellence?