Excellence vs Success

A lifetime of experience has taught me that success is often out of our control. But excellence is always within our grasp.

This came home to me this week in Axios CEO Jim VandeHei’s piece about his son’s recruiting interview with Brad McCarty, the head coach of the men’s soccer team at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Brad’s record over 13 years is the the second-highest winning percentage in NCAA soccer: 266-19-18. VandeHei calls McCarty, “…one of the winningest and dogmatically philosophical coaches in soccer.”

Excellence may not win in the moment. It’s possible to do your best and fail. A patterned pursuit of excellence in whatever your craft almost always leads to long term achievement of your goals.

Here are Jim VandeHei’s key points on why chasing excellence is better than simply chasing success:

  • Excellence is healthier. Success can create perverse incentives. If being seen as a success is your motivator, you’re less likely to obsess about the small details of how and why. You’re also less likely to do the right things for the right reasons.
  • Excellence is more real. You could do a mediocre job and still find astonishing success. Maybe you lucked into an easy win or surfed a boom market. But when the luck runs dry or the market crashes, you are … still mediocre.
  • Excellence is achievable. We control whether we work and think a little smarter each day, and push ourselves a little harder. We can sharpen our craft, our character, our performance. Nothing is more satisfying than knowing you’re a little better today than yesterday. You make you your measurement — not someone else’s definition of success.
  • Excellence produces better results. Success is fleeting. Excellence lasts — and builds on its momentum. The more you push yourself to up your game, the better you get. The better you get, the more excellent you’ll want to be.

General George Patton famously reminds us, “All glory is fleeting.” A habit of excellence ultimately endures every storm and reveals true achievement in all it’s beauty and power.