Traits of a Warrior: Excellence
What it Takes
In order to be that person that everyone can rely on to get things done, we must be pretty capable in whatever area of life we seek to excel at. Thus, today's attribute is Excellence.
What is excellence? The way I define it, it means being capable of performing a particular task or office to an extreme degree of proficiency, and doing so with passion and commitment. It involves the willingness and the ability to invest yourself completely in whatever you are doing. It means that when you take on a particular task in your area of expertise, you are virtually guaranteed to succeed. We don't do this for ourselves. We expect excellence of ourselves so that we can be of the greatest service to others or to our chosen cause.
The whole point of being the Warrior in life is so that you can take on the biggest challenges. They don't send average marines on the toughest missions, they send the SEALS, because those are the cream of the crop, the most excellent at what they do. They do not fail in their missions (theoretically). The defenders of our ideals must be equally capable. If your cause is saving the rainforest, you must be especially adept at the skills necessary for that mission. Unless you are content with occasional success and only moderate progress, you must master your chosen field. Otherwise, you are no more than an advocate, rather than a defender.
Intent vs. Action
One problem idealists run into a lot of the time is a disconnect between their passion and their skills. They have all the passion in the world for what they want to accomplish, to the point of obsession, but they lack the skills to carry out their goals or to stand up for their ideals. When I talk about excellence here, I am talking about performance, not intention. Ultimately, we cannot judge the success or reliability of any actor simply by their intentions. We have to look at the way they perform in the real world. That is what separates the great men and women of history from the rest of us; they are remembered not because they dreamed big, but because they carried out those dreams.
This comes up a lot of the time in love, actually. People are full of affection for their partner, but lack the emotional and relational skills to sustain their relationship over time or distance. Nor do they accept the idea that they should cultivate these skills, believing that their love is enough and furthermore, to develop the skills necessary will 'jinx' the relationship. That is like saying learning self-defense will lead you into more dangerous situations. If anything, it should help you avoid getting into bad situations in the first place. Excellence in relationships means knowing how to communicate, knowing how to read emotions, knowing how to manage your own emotions. If you want to stand for the ideals of true love (a worthy cause as any for a Warrior to fight for) then it is worth your trouble to know how love really works.
How much Excellence is Enough?
The problem with excellence in one field is that it often requires excellence, or at least great proficiency, in a number of other fields. Being a great chef requires not only good taste, but also the ability to know other peoples' tastes, the ability to select good ingredients, the ability to work with your staff, the ability to create, a fair degree of organization, stress-management, etc. The list goes on. The truth is, achieving excellence in any on area of life is a process because as you become proficient at one thing, you will find that you must start learning skills in another area. An Olympic athlete cannot simply be content with a great training regimen. She must also understand and implement a finely-tuned diet, and master the art of self-motivation.
My own journey started with martial arts. In order to be a great martial artist, I realized that I needed to develop an extreme degree of comprehensive fitness. In order to do that, I had to develop a strong nutritional philosophy. And in all cases, I could not be content to simply follow someone else's instructions. True excellence adapts to the minute details of the current situation (always present), and so must be custom-tailored to the situation. Not to say I've achieved excellence; it is a process anyway.
The Lure of Mediocrity
Warriors are not mediocre. One of my favorite lines from The Way of the Peaceful Warrior was when Socrates told Dan something along the lines of, "You were great among the mediocre, but nothing among the great. Now we're going to make you great among the great." This was after Dan had already proved himself as a top-tier gymnast. It is very easy to let society's acceptance of the moderately good distract you from what is actually excellence. I can do maybe 15 pullups in a row. To most people, that is pretty amazing, but to those who do pullups, like rock climbers or gymnasts, it's not even a workout. Granted, their lifestyle requires that they do a lot of pullups, but I am training to be able to do some of the things they do. Excellence is defined not by what society or your close friends think. It is determined by the requirements of your environment.
Our society tells us it is okay to be mediocre. In fact, it is desirable. It costs too much time, energy, sleep, money to be anything more than mediocre. Well, that is the point. Society likes the mediocre because it is safe, it poses no threat. The mediocre will never change the world. The mediocre will never alter the status quo, and society loves the status quo. And when you start to get ahead, society will pat you on the back and congratulate you, then tell you you've done enough. Only you know when you've done enough, and that is when you have the skills, the determination, the experience, necessary to carry out your mission. You can have mediocre dreams, but why dream for something that you will achieve anyway? Strive for excellence, and then you will have something to give you purpose, something to fight for. It can be something small, like baking the perfect cake, or something huge, like ending world hunger. And it doesn't matter if you fail. History is full of warriors who failed in their mission. They did the beset they could possibly have done (there is no room for cheating this one, you really must do your best: your best preparation, your best mindset, your best performance). They were the best for the job, but the job proved too great for them anyway. Sometimes that means your death, sometime you have a second chance. You give it your all, you expect nothing less than excellence from yourself. That is the way of the Warrior.