Lines of excellence

In a press conference just weeks before his death, President Kennedy was asked by a reporter if he liked his job. Kennedy’s response:

“Well, I find the work rewarding. Whether I am going to stay and what my intentions are and all the rest, it seems to me it is still a good many, many months away. But as far as the job of President goes, it is rewarding. And I have given before to this group the definition of happiness of the Greeks, and I will define it again: it is full use of your powers along lines of excellence. I find, therefore, the Presidency provides some happiness.”

The “full use of your powers along lines of excellence”.

Powers?

I’m late to the Marvel Cinematic Universe party, and the last few films have had me wondering who many of the superheroes are and what exactly are their powers.

Well, what exactly are your powers? I’m not completely sure what mine are.

Whatever they are, I know I’m not putting them to their “full use”.

Passive mode prevails over active mode way too often and the easy distractions of this age make it even harder to muster the will, to fully tap into my powers.

The looming regret just around the corner will be that of unfulfilled potential and unlived life. Powers wasted, left dormant and unsummoned.

Snap out of it, this half-slumber that most of us are muddling through. Fully use your gifts. Make them true gifts that offer value beyond yourself.

And be awesome in the process. Aim for excellence. Be discontent with just good enough.

Full use of your powers along lines of excellence.

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

The Journey is the Thing

“Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.” Tal Ben-Shahar in Happier

It’s about pointing yourself in a direction and toward an end that matters to you, and then fully inhabiting the journey toward that end. But it’s this moment, this step in the journey that is the true destination.

President Kennedy, in one of his final press conferences, responded to a question about how he was liking being President with a reference to the ancient Greek definition of happiness as “the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

That resonates. Tapping the limits of your potential and employing the full use of your powers in the quest toward some noble destination. An excellent journey.

Hard work, hardly working

“What you choose to work on, and who you choose to work with, are far more important than how hard you work.” –Naval Ravikant

Hard work overrated?

Yes, especially if the “what” and “who” are undervalued.

Hard work and efficiency are actually detrimental if you’re heading in the wrong direction with the wrong people.

Get the who, what, and why right and the work won’t seem hard at all.

(By the way, Ravikant is a great Twitter follow—@naval.)

Kurosawa on peaking at 80

I make a point in a talk I do for student groups that there’s no hurry to make your mark or to “hit it big”.

There seems to be more pressure than ever for young people to not only have their career figured out right out of college, but to be rich and famous by the time they’re, say, 30. Crazy.

I challenge these 20-year-olds to instead aim to be awesome by the time they’re 60.

This advice goes over with a resounding thud every time I share it. But I’m convinced that you will make better decisions and actually grow and improve faster by choosing the long game instead of trying to conquer the world in your youth.

Even DaVinci’s first great success, The Last Supper, didn’t come till he was almost 50 years old.

Recently I saw this letter from a then 77-year-old Akira Kurosawa, the great Japanese filmmaker, wishing a happy 70th birthday to fellow filmmaker Ingmar Bergman:

Remarkable. At 77, he was expecting his best work was still ahead of him.

You don’t have to have it figured out. You won’t ever. Do your best where you are. Be excellent in just the next five minutes. Don’t force it or rush past this moment or compare yourself to some arbitrary or pointless standard set by others.

The arc of your life, should you be fortunate to have it counted in many decades, could bend gently and satisfyingly towards a kind of excellence you can’t even imagine from your current vantage point.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” –Henry David Thoreau

A calling

My wife has a knack for making things beautiful and making beautiful things. It’s her gift and a noble calling. Even her handwriting is artful. You should see the cakes she decorates. She cares about the small details and delights in delighting others.

I love that about her. Making things beautiful is her calling. It’s not her job. She’s not a professional artist, though her artistry infuses all she does.

We all need a calling, whether it aligns with a career or not. A gift to give, a contribution to make. What will be your life?

Making excellence a habit

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives —choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” –Aristotle

Plan to be excellent. Winging it only takes you so far.

Craft routines and habits that obligate you to take action regularly on your plan.

Determine what’s most important, then be determined in consistently making that your priority.

Be awesome on purpose.