'I didn’t realise it then, but those plates of fruit had hidden lessons' Image Credit: Shuttestock

My Dad could cut fruit beautifully, perfectly and without wasting any of the fleshy bits, he could carve out a watermelon, peel and slice an orange within seconds, or go from a prickly pineapple to inviting slices — and present it on a plate so elegantly you’d be tempted to eat it all up even if you’d just had dinner.

And he did this with a smile on his face, humming a tune, turning the fruit and the knife in his hands rather like an expert magician and impressing us with his dexterity, and knowing he was doing it ‘just right’. That, my friends, was when I began learning about excellence, but I just didn’t know it yet.

So what exactly is excellence? Excellence is when we give things their due, when we pursue something like it should be pursued; mindfully, joyfully and earnestly. The exact opposite of excellence is mediocrity — mediocrity is when you shuffle through life being strictly ordinary and you couldn’t care less.

Excellence is when you don’t settle, when you do something — anything — with a desire to make it count. One might think excellence is achieved only if the end product is beautiful. I think differently.

Excellence is achieved when our thoughts and intentions are pure, when we do things for the right reasons, and we do them because we really care. The pursuit of excellence is usually born out of commitment to a higher purpose or a bigger goal and every step taken on that journey keeping the ‘eyes on the prize’ is in fact, excellence. It’s setting your own world alight, it’s knowing what you want, why you want it and it is taking meaningful, devoted steps towards it.

More by the writer

We typically associate excellence with some people — have you noticed? People who are generally good at something will most likely be good at everything they do, and people who are sloppy will most likely be careless or sloppy at all tasks.

I’m not saying that excellence is simply an attention to detail, or a pursuit of perfection, in fact it is far greater. Excellence is an attitude of resilience, of grit, of staying focused, of believing in your goals, in yourself and then daring to be seen because you gave it your best.

This is an attitude or a trait I desperately want to acquire — I want to be someone who’s relationships — every single one of them — is cultivated with care, respect, a fulfilling of duty, sincerity, selflessness, unconditional love and therefore, excellence.

I want to be someone who leaves that kind of an impact on the world, someone who lives this life making every second on the earth count. I want to have excellence in the way I use my time, in the way I parent or have conversations, in the way I do everyday tasks because I deserve nothing but excellence from me.

Here’s another thought. Excellence is failure. Yes, you read that right. Excellence is not necessarily beautiful and perfect like my Dad’s plate of fruit, and especially not in the beginning. Those that get to excellence are those who face failure chin up, with a tear and a smile that says: “I’m good enough. I CAN try one more time.”

Excellence is not the destination

Sometimes, it’s the process that becomes even more delightful than the outcome. Excellence is not the destination, it is the journey — and because the journey is so meaningful the end invariably becomes wonderful. It is the journey undertaken with a clear vision, with a heart that is filled with sincerity.

The pursuit of excellence can be draining, and there will invariably be days when we mess up and are tied into mediocrity and it seems like there’s no way to get out of the rut we’re stuck in.

On those days, it is essential to remember that you can still have thoughts and aspirations that are great, and these will then translate into an excellent reality. Some days, that first step, that painful phone call, or that realisation which you’ve been running from could be excellence.

I didn’t realise it then, but those plates of fruit had hidden lessons. While I did learn to cut fruit and present it nicely too — I only wish I can internalise the bigger and more important lesson of excellence in every aspect of my life.

— Mehmudah Rehman is a Dubai-based freelance writer