If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less than excellent work.
No one is more critical of my work than I am.
In a career that has thus far delivered tens of thousands of outcomes, I am only truly pleased with a very tiny selection. And even then, I find faults with all of them.
In my hunt for aphorisms, I came across… “The seeds of discontent that every artist feels at the completion of a work, become the germination of the next one.”
This helped me to understand what I was going through. Was there ever satisfaction possible? In writing my film about da Vinci, I encountered his words at the end of his life… “Did anything I did even matter?” At first, that statement from the maestro floored me. If he could get to the end of his life feeling like it was all just OK and not amazing, then how does anyone ever get there?
I read bios of entrepreneurs, geniuses, filmmakers and they all share the same angst.
Somewhere in all of that self deprecation from those whom I admire so much, it became clear…. You never get THERE. “There” does not exist. It does not matter how impressive one’s efforts might appear to others, to the one producing it, it is still just another step on the path.
I found both comfort and disappointment in that realization. Comfort because my own feelings of adequacy were normal and disappointment because there would never be a day where I might sit back and fully savor the fruits of the labors of love to which I have applied myself.
So to the point of this aphorism… you will never arrive at excellence. It does not exist. And it never will. Others may perceive your excellence and that is a good thing, but in your own mind, you are still just on a path of growth, to the very end. Da Vinci did not stop painting after the Mona Lisa. In fact, he did not ever turn it over to the patron who paid him for it, claiming that there were still things he wanted to finish. He said, “A work of art is never completed, just abandoned.” He died without ever finishing the Mona Lisa. And to others, it is the most famous painting in the world.
The best conclusion then, is the one that Thomas Watson proposed, which is to go straight to excellence every day. Do your very best work, every day. Never settle for less. Give it everything you have. All the time.
And if you ascribe to this life philosophy, the honest truth is…. you will never reach excellence.
For you have been there all the time.