I love excellence. I chase it. But there’s nothing special about me. I’m not particularly strong in mind or body. What I find difficult, that I do. My difficult and your difficult may be worlds apart. No matter. Increments. That’s how I chase excellence.
Eric Liddell is one of my heroes (Chariots of Fire), and I bet you’ll be wrong about why. Liddell is best known for his portrayal in a bad movie with a good music score and his Olympic win. But there’s so much more to him.
First of all, Eric Liddell lived in a different age. To understand him, you must understand this. Sundays were recognized by most of the western world as God’s day. Stores were closed. All of them. People didn’t plow or mow or bring their accounts current. They either went to church or they slept off their hangovers. Liddell was the church-going sort. His Olympic event, the 100 Meter, was scheduled for a Sunday. Rather than act counter to his conscience as dictated by his faith, Liddell chose not to run. As I’m sure you can imagine, this ticked off much of Scotland. God wants you to bring glory to Scotland, Liddell. Run the race, man.
Liddell would not be swayed. Even for the Olympics, he would not run on a Sunday.
If the story ended there, there would be no movie. Liddell saw that the 400 Meter race wasn’t scheduled for Sunday, so he entered that one instead. There’s a reason the Olympics only happen every four years- to train to insane perfection for an event. You don’t just swap events like you’re switching out ties.
Unless you’re Eric Liddell.
He won Olympic gold in a race for which he didn’t train. He could have run the 100 on Sunday. Certainly the odds were in his favor, but God had something better in mind for Eric Liddell. Liddell had to push back against the forces exerted against him: gravity, wind, Scotland, an unbelieving world that thought he was ridiculous. He pushed back and won his integrity and a victory. Had he lost the 400 Meter, he’d still have won his integrity. Eric Liddell is my hero before he won the 400 Meter. His excellence was complete before the gun ever went off.
The common denominator I’ve seen in the pursuit of excellence is a constant push back. Besides the inherent difficulty of doing a thing well, are the ever present admonishments by well-meaning folks who don’t want you to burn out. My daughter had to fight for the opportunity to take 18 college credits one summer. An ugly fight. I had to fight to graduate high school at 16 years old- two summers in a row- before they’d acquiesce. In both cases the problem wasn’t lack of capacity; I suspect our alien motivation was somehow an affront.
Ok, I’ll just say it: Excellence can be offensive. Eric Liddell’s brand of it certainly was. And in my own little way, I offend people all over the place. Always pushing for the age exception. Always asking for more resources, more coaching, more opportunity. If your excellence offends, it may be you need to take a nice pill, or it may be you’re on the right track.
E is for EXCELLENCE.