“I shall be telling this with a sigh,
somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.”
~ Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
I don’t know precisely what “yellow wood” Frost was thinking of when he wrote that poem, but I know those roads. You probably do, too. One road leads to mediocrity and excuses. The other leads to mastery and excellence.
The Road to Mediocrity
They say that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I’ll let the theologians debate that one, but I know about the road to mediocrity. It’s paved with decision after decision to take the easy way.
That’s what we do unless we choose otherwise. We choose the easy way instead of the best way.
We spend all our money instead of investing some of it. It’s easier that way. We watch a few hours of television instead of reading something that makes us better. It’s easier that way. We declare a project “good enough” and head for bed instead of putting in an extra hour to make it excellent. It’s easier that way.
It won’t be easy forever. Many of the choices we make that make today easier make tomorrow harder. They just seem easier at the time.
The Road to Excellence
If you want to achieve excellence, or mastery, or greatness, you must choose the hard road. There are no alternatives and there are no shortcuts. The road to excellence is hard, but you wind up in a better place.
The Critical Choice
You can’t be excellent at everything. God didn’t make us that way. If you want to be excellent at something, you must concentrate on it. You must do the things that make you better and that means choosing not to do other things you may like. It’s a hard choice.
My friend and co-author Tom Hall built the excellence of his advertising agency on the question he asked every client. “What do you want to be known for?” When you know the answer to that question you can make choices about what to do and not do.
The way of excellence is the hard way. You don’t achieve it by putting in a little bit of half-hearted effort every now and then, when you feel like it. You achieve excellence by giving it all you have with all you were given.
On the road to excellence you’ll be uncomfortable a lot. That’s because the road to excellence is a road of learning, and learning pushes you outside your comfort zone. The road to excellence calls for you to do your best and then a little more.
The Really Hard Part
The really hard part isn’t just the work and the extra effort. The really hard part is doing those things that make you better day after day after week after month after year. It’s doing those things with unremitting diligence. It’s not just today. It’s every day. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you’d rather do something else.
“Pick your hard.” I love that line from a Weight Watcher’s speech. You can pick the hard work and dedication of striving for excellence and greatness. Or, you can pick the hard of living with mediocrity and regret. Choose your road.
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon