Olympic medalists - Rio 2016
Olympic Medalists, 200m freestyle, Rio 2016 (Chad le Clos of South Africa (L), Olympic champion Yang Sun of China, and Conor Dwyer of USA

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

No, Princess Bride fans, the word is not “inconceivable.”  The word I’m talking about is excellence. In our hyper-competitive society, most people would think it means winning. And oh, don’t we all like winning? But think about the Olympic medal ceremonies. There are three medals given out: gold, silver, and bronze. Each person gets to stand on the podium and receive their medal. The gold medal winner gets the most attention but all three gave it their all, so all are recognized and applauded.

To strive for excellence is to give a full effort in pursuit of a goal To do the best that you can with what you have been given, whether it be brains, brawn, or opportunity. You may not always “win” but you can be proud of the effort you made. You don’t have to compare yourself to others. Your only competition is with yourself—seeking to keep growing.

Different people learn, grow, and achieve at different rates and in different circumstances. Take two students: one tries her best but only gets C’s. Another takes it easy, doesn’t try too hard, and yet gets B’s. Who did excellent work? The end result is not the final judge on character.

Excellence is one of the four core values of Toastmasters: Respect, Integrity, Service, and Excellence (RISE). While we do have contests, the real emphasis is to steadily improve our speaking and leadership skills. Everyone has their first time speaking in public and everyone has a different learning curve. But we all strive to do our best. That is what excellence means.

Photo by Leonard Zhukovsky