About a month ago or so, I was part of a group that presented a class discussion on excellence. It really opened my eyes, not just to my own views on excellence, but to the variety of differing opinions on excellence that students in the class possessed.

We were teaching the class for almost 2 hours, and I think we had a decent lesson plan. I’m no teacher of course, so I could be entirely wrong on that. We began class by having all the students write down one word that they felt described some aspect of excellence and then stick it on the wall. We then selected some of these notes and had the class discuss why this could be a part of excellence. Answers ranged from persistence to passion and success.

For me personally, I think excellence differs from person to person. There is no real concrete definition. Even if a person has a ton of flaws, I will still see them as excellent if they are aware and trying to be proactive with what they have. It was really interesting to see that a lot of the class defined excellence by a level of success or monetary gain. While I agree that this can be part of an individual’s excellence, I don’t think it’s a good definition.

By defining excellence by monetary gain and success (in a financial sense), this completely alienates the single mother who is working multiple jobs to raise her children and just getting by. It ignores the budding scientist who spends his or her entire life trying to perfect their theory or invention, but never fully gets there. By that definition of success, Vincent Van Gogh did not show excellence in his life.

The class continued by talking about how failure isn’t the end. We watched a video of JK Rowling where she stated that “rock bottom became the foundation with which [she] rebuilt her life”

This quote really represents a big chunk of what I deem a good measure of success: learning from your mistakes and constantly striving to better yourself. I don’t feel that excellence is ever fully achieved. It’s a lifelong process. The moment you become complacent, thinking that you are excellent, you are no longer showing excellence. It cannot be defined by financial success or power because most people don’t achieve that. Some people who have achieved that are not good models for excellence.

Despite the gains we made in discussion throughout the class, most of the students still made the automatic assumption that success = excellence. I can’t blame them for that. You can’t erase an entire lifetime’s worth of association in a span of 2 hours. Nonetheless, I think it was a good experience for most of the people involved, even if it was only for a short period.


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