You'll hear it again and again through these interviews with masters—a kind of relentlessness, fierceness, intensity. They don't cut corners; they don't slack off. They perform at the highest possible level, and when the task at hand is over, they're eager to do it again—but better. This approach elicits beautiful work from them and beautiful possibilities for each of us. Welcome to the Master Class on excellence—an invitation to bring your best.
The way you step up your game is not to worry about the other guy in any situation, because you can't control the other guy. You only have control over yourself.
Looking over your shoulder can take momentum away from you. How many hours do you spend worrying about what others are thinking or doing? What would happen if you kept that time and energy for yourself?
When you do well, when you do your best, people notice.
Oprah learned at an early age that doing her best, wherever she was, put her at the next level. Whether in school, in your community or at home, where have your efforts to do your personal best been recognized?
Try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity.
Excellence isn't achieved overnight. Like strengthening a muscle, or learning a new skill, it requires consistently putting practice into action until it becomes a part of you. How do you practice bringing your best to everyday situations?
Excellence is being able to perform at a higher level for a long period of time.
What you put out in the world, you get back.
What Jay-Z believes about karma can give you a handle for improving your life: Change what you put in, and you'll change what you get out. Is there an area in your life where you can do things differently to improve your results?
Excellence is not about the huge career jump or starting the big business tomorrow. It's about three questions: What are my genuine interests? What are my skill sets? What are the opportunities that I face right now? When it comes to being excellent, what we need to look for is the intersection of these three things. It's there that we need to pounce to reach our full potential.
The difference between good and excellence is consistently incorporating feedback. And people will not give it to you unless you squeeze it out of them.
I've met people who love music—their genuine interest—but they couldn't carry a tune for the life of them. Their passion for music brought them in touch with many musicians (their opportunity), and since their skill set was in operations, they found jobs as band managers and tour operators. They became excellent because they took a candid appraisal of their answers to those questions.
The other thing I've noticed about people who have achieved a measure of excellence is that they have a tendency toward action. If you want to open up a cupcake store, for example, do you really need to wait two years to find the perfect location, raise the money for the rent and refine your recipes? Or, can you start baking tomorrow and start selling to your friends? If you want to write a book, yes, you could outline it forever. Or you could write a quick blog post about the content and put it out there. You'll get feedback immediately on whether it's a viable idea or not.
That's important, because the difference between good and excellence is consistently incorporating feedback. If you have some success, you might think you've reached the limits of your potential, when, in fact, your job at that point is to solicit the opinions that people aren't giving you. If your desire is to make an impact in the world and to do something to the best of your abilities, you need that information. And people will not give it to you unless you squeeze it out of them.
The other mistake many of us make is to move on too quickly when we fail. Our tendency is to immediately try again. If your idea didn't work, you need to sit with this failure a moment. You need to ask your spouse, your partner, your friends, "What are the three things that I could have done differently?" It's painful—who wants to bask in their failure?—but that's how you increase your likelihood for excellence.
When your goal is to consistently improve your work, you need to be long-term greedy, not short-term greedy. What I mean is, if you have a new opportunity, ask yourself, "Am I working for people who are going to teach me? Am I getting closer to what I want to do in the future?" Look beyond the on-paper things, like, "Is the salary and benefits better at A or B?" That's the short-term-greedy approach. The long-term-greedy strategy is to evaluate the education you will get, the opportunities you're going to be exposed to.
I've come across people who were given a chance to make a lot of money, but the job wasn't something they loved. And you know what happened? They took it. They became a middle manager. They never really did what mattered most to them. And they never became excellent. —As told to Oprah.com's Jancee Dunn
It's limiting to think that excellence is correlated to how great our ideas are at first. Great ideas evolve over time. Discussing your ideas with lots of people, while uncomfortable, is a key way to harness feedback. What are you working on that could be tweaked to be improved?