Living impeccably isn’t always obvious. Or easy. But when someone is doing it, we feel it. It doesn’t matter whether we fully understand what they do. It doesn’t even matter that we have a basis for comparison. We just know. It can be in sports. It can be in art. It can be in the way someone leads their life. We know it by how they hold themselves. By the confidence they exude. By the pride they take in their actions. And the generosity with which they share it.
Can you imagine being on a climbing team, 20,000 feet into the Himalayas, and not doing your best to set the next pitch? Can you imagine packing a parachute with anything less than absolute focus? Or approaching a class IV river rapids without every cell in your body coming alive with the challenge before you? You cannot. These circumstances command you to be excellent. I think this is why adventurers share such a bond with each other. Sure, their personalities may clash, but there is a deeper bond of respect that forms when you are pursuing something brutally difficult, when you are all pushed to the limits of your capacity. And hold each others’ lives in your hands.
Am I advocating that we all live, pushing the red line, 24/7? Of course not. Our bodies would never sustain it. But I am advocating a commitment to be excellent, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. Or to work tirelessly to change what we’re doing, until this is possible. Why? Because being less than excellent is a drain on our souls. It saps us. It steals our nourishment. We have bargained away our worth for pennies.
By contrast, we are nourished whenever we give our best. When we help someone. When we make a difference. When we meet the challenge before us, without complaint. Unconvinced? Think back over your life to your proudest moment. An achievement of some sort, a kindness rendered. You know it already. You felt tall. You felt strong. You needed nothing more in that moment. That’s the nourishment we’re talking about. It came from being excellent. It came from giving everything.
The excellence we’re talking about is not objective excellence. It is an inner excellence, born of giving your best. If you are giving your best, you fear no criticism. Does the Olympic gymnast scoff at the nine year old girl, who is just learning to pull her first handstand in the rings? Her body is wobbly, her form imperfect, she may never even compete professionally, but if that nine year old is committed? And determined? Giving 100%? No one can fail to see that. No one can withhold respect.
What no one respects is selfishness. And herein lies the two great poles of life. The great choice we face, in every moment. We can either be selfish, calibrating our every effort by its expected return to us. Or we can be self-less, giving freely, for the sheer joy of doing what we came here to do. Being excellent at something. Whatever that something is. We can be nourished by it, in ways more profound than we could ever know beforehand.