In defence of non-excellence

I read something, nearly every day, on the desirable quality of excellence. In whatever I do, I am told, I must strive to excel. I must hone my skills at that particular activity until I am excellent at it.

I want to present a heretical point of view. I don’t propound this point of view as applicable to everyone, or indeed, to anyone but myself. But it’s saved me a lot of tears, so sharing it.

I am interested in quite a lot of things, and have been lucky enough, in my life, to pursue many activities. Let me list them…academics, languages, music, art, writing, quizzing, theatre, photography, nature/wildlife, heritage and history, travel, getting groups of people together, teaching…and so the list goes.

Yes, indeed most of my interests are pursuits to which I’ve devoted a long time. I’ve tried to attain a reasonable proficiency in what I do.

But…I don’t feel the need to excel. And here’s why.

The margin between proficiency and excellence may often not be wide…but it can be very time-consuming indeed. And I have found that when I strive for excellence in one particular activity, I have to neglect several others.

So over the years, I’ve decided that I would rather have enough time to pursue these interests instead of setting some aside for excellence…in any case, I will not be able to achieve excellence in more than one or two fields.

Striving for excellence can also often be frustrating, with the sobering realization, after much time and effort has been spent, that my level is that of proficiency,and excellence will be beyond.

So..what is wrong in my being reasonably proficient at many activities, instead of always wanting to be the world’s best in anything? I will never, indeed, top the world in any field, because there are always going to be others who will be far better than I in that field.

More and more, as I age, I see the comfortable joy of being good at several things and enjoying doing all of them, rather than frustrate myself in trying to excel and still find that I am not much further up the ladder.

And I notice this in many people I see around me…that they are good, very good sometimes, in several things that they do…but they need not be earth-shakingly good at it!

I therefore adhere to my happy state of reasonable proficiency (and fairly high ignorance sometimes!) in my several interests, giving thanks for being able to enjoy all of them. Excellence in one field does not give me as much happiness as being good in several.

What are your thoughts on this?

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