Attaining excellence

As an undergraduate, one of the professors for which I TAed said, “Your potential is your greatest burden.” Dr. Keniston is a bit of an eccentric and I was not real certain of what he meant. I shrugged it off as a little crazy talk. As the years pass, I become more and more aware of what he saw in me then. He saw excellence waiting to be unleashed.


Chambliss (1989) defines excellence as the “consistent superiority of performance.” I am the youngest of five children – and the only girl. I believe each of us can be described as talented, natural athletes. While my brothers were actively involved in sports – some becoming star athletes, I had little interest. BUT, I was often approached by coaches after hearing about my gym class performances (they hounded me to do shot put!). For us, a few exposures to a sport and we were a bit like seasoned pros. Talent? It likely has more to do with physical and muscular body structure. Does talent explain why my first attempt at a shot put had me out-throwing the conference’s high school champion during gym class? And each attempt thereafter? Neither did my excellence have anything to do with the amount of time I spent practicing nor money spent. The more I think about it, the more I think that we use the word talent loosely and synonymously, for example to describe natural ability. Excellence is built.


I bore easily. I need to be challenged – physically and intellectually. Excellence can be mundane in a few of ways and even requires it.

  1. Excellence necessitates discipline and consistency of practice (Chambliss, 1989). For example, I excelled in bowling and was praised for my consistency and ability. I remember practicing, throw after throw and becoming bored by the mundanity. I remember thinking at times, this is too easy.
  2. It requires social rewards and motivation. Day-to-day motivation is critical along with long-term goals. For me with bowling, although I excelled, I moved on and lost interest and enjoyment and I have not bowled for nearly 7 years. There was no reward valuable enough – winning again wasn’t enough!
  3. Mundanity is critical for the psychological challenge (Chambliss, 1989). Chambliss (1989) stated that winners do not choke. In bowling, I was the anchor and known to perform consistently, even under pressure. My habits and routine that I had developed over the years helped me maintain that consistency. It was mundane to me – no thought required, no anxiety, just go do what I had always done.

The burden of EXCELLENCE

Excellence is not invigorating, energizing, nor exciting. Excellence requires work! Dedication. Determination. Discipline. Sweat. Grit. Heart. We often perceive professional athletes as being spoiled with loads of money – did they not work for what they earn? It is rare for an individual to be successful as a professional on natural ability alone. Excellence is not an innate characteristic – it is developed and honed over time.

Excellent attainment is influenced by both social and psychological factors. For example, there can be significant social pressure to improve and perform as an athlete (Chambliss, 1989). This often leads to an athlete being told that if he/she works harder he/she will perform better. Conversely, a subpar athlete may be told that they will never be good enough – all motivation and drive may then be lost. Who knows if that athlete may have been excellent given different social circumstances! Fortunately, social rewards and motivation are not the only factors influencing attainment of excellence. Psychological factors include motivation, discipline, focus, confidence, and many others.

The bottomline Excellence

In what areas of life do you desire EXCELLENCE – Faith, professional achievement, home identity, academia?

Do you pursue excellence?

Do you practice discipline and focus?

Do you bare confidence?

If not, what can you do TODAY to change that?

We are each capable of excellence. Go out and BE EXCELLENT!


Chambliss, D. F. (1989). The mundanity of excellence: An ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers. Sociological Theory, 7, 70–86.


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