Arriving at Excellence
When my husband and I started our business 28 years ago, neither one of us knew much about entrepreneurship.
My husband doesn’t like to talk on the phone, interview job applicants, or close deals. He’s best at design and production work. On the other hand, give me a mechanical task and you’ll find me holding a white flag of surrender before I even start.
It didn’t take long to reveal that his 10 fingers and my mouth were the keys to our business succeeding. Instead of me learning production tasks and him speaking to customers, we divided up responsibility based on our individual strengths.
Let me compare that strategy to sports. If you’re a triathlete and a weak swimmer but a strong runner, are you better off spending time improving your swim or running even faster? I say hit the track.
If your kid is brilliant in math but foreign language is a struggle, should schools allow him to take additional math courses or require him to complete 2 years of Spanish? I say bring on the calculus!
I believe the key to excellence is focusing on what we’re good at.
Excellence is mastery. Mastery requires tremendous repetition.
We have God given strengths and those that develop because we gravitate to what we enjoy.
Progress creates happiness. Achievement comes from making progress. When we enjoy something and we’re good at it, we want to do it more. Maybe we have a natural instinct toward excellence. So why not go with the flow?
We are all good at something. The key is finding what that is.
I think this “balance” mentality starts in our schools. We are lead to believe that to maximize our potential, we must be “well-rounded”. But do we really? Is that the best use of our time?
We need basics. Elementary school should teach children how to read, write and do basic math. Knowledge of world geography, major historical events, and computer technology are necessities in today’s world. Expose children to a variety of experiences but then watch carefully.
Likes and dislikes and natural talents can be seen early on. What if we really paid attention?
What if we funneled kids into classrooms based on how they learn and what they learn? What if placement was based on a child’s competency rather than his age?
Could we turn “attention deficit hyper activity” into “attentive efficient passionate pursuit?” Why do we penalize disinterest by labeling it a behavioral problem?
Focusing on our strengths does not mean abandoning our weaknesses.
You have to do what is necessary for your strengths to shine. Even if you’re a math wiz, you still need to know how to read and write if you are to maximize your gift in the world. But do you really need to know how to analyze poetry? Do you really need to know the details of the Boston Tea Party?
If you have a mean forehand on the tennis court but your backhand stinks, you have to improve your weakness in order to stay in the game to take advantage of your strength.
It’s a matter of emphasis and necessity.
So much of what we learn in school is useless.
The greatest teachers all have one thing in common. They get kids excited about learning. Now combine that enthusiasm of learning with the strengths and desires of individual children. What if we fueled their passions rather than made them wait until college and beyond? Wouldn’t that be a quicker way to mastery?
Our school district has a magnificent program called CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) that is doing just that. Honing in on the interests and strengths of children and supporting real life experiences. It’s stimulating, challenging, and most importantly, integrated into real life.
Kids learn what is needed to accomplish tasks. If they don’t do it right, it doesn’t work. So they figure out why and fix it. Isn’t that what is necessary in life?
When you’re engaged in learning that excites you, peripheral learning takes place naturally.
When you attach educational concepts to real applications, learning explodes. A child who likes architecture can learn all sorts of math and geometry while designing his own building. A student interested in fashion merchandising may find she’s excellent in math when she’s figuring out how to make money selling her clothing line. Whereas she was struggling in algebra and labeled herself a failure in math.
A budding engineer learns quickly there’s more to engineering than design. There’s funding, patents, suppliers, and teamwork involved in getting a project off the ground. So he or she learns concepts in accounting, law, supply chain management, and interpersonal relations.
The sooner you start engagement, the longer you have to hone in on your real gifts.
Some people will need more time for discovery of their strengths than others. I see no downside in starting the process as early as possible. More time to experiment and find your true path.
Peter Drucker of The Harvard Business Review said it best,
“It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
Let’s be confused at the age of 14 instead of 45. Creating ourselves instead of trying to find ourselves.
Turning the mid-life crisis into mid-life fulfillment.
Amen to that.