If by chance you are a sports fan, this past weekend was filled with athletes striving for true excellence.

For soccer fans, the Portugal 1-0 victory over France in the Euro final was a big deal. I didn’t get the chance to see it, but I have read that an unexpected hero emerged.

Saturday morning Nancy, along with her parents took Claudia, our 9 year old neighbor for her last day of the July golf camp. There were 7 kids in her group and many parents tagging along as they played 17 and 18 at the golf course from closer in tees.

I know each of the kids was nervous. For them having 12-15 people watching them was like being on television and being watched around the world. Our 9 year old pal was a champ. She hit her drives well, her 8 iron like she had been playing for years and chipped and putted well.

During the camp, we missed Serena win the Wimbledon Singles Championship. When we got home, Nancy had to go run an errand and Claudia and I spent the afternoon watching Serena and Venus win the Doubles Championship.

At 2:00 we started watching the USGA US Open Golf Tournament third round. Anna Nordqvist, Claudia’s favorite golfer, was back in the pack so she did not get much TV time. (I suspect that Claudia will forever keep the golf ball Anna gave her and the backpack with Anna’s autograph.)

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Lydia Ko surged into the lead and the TV announcers commented how she just has fun on the course. Sure enough good shot, bad shot, Lydia Ko had a big wide grin on her face.

Later that day I found this Lydia Ko quote:

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What a great attitude. She needed it because on Sunday she did not fare so well. Read: Steward: Lydia Ko takes collapse well. I urge you to read the article to get an insight into what kind of person, the 19 year old is. I found this:

Then again, the way Ko handled things in the wake of her failure was nothing short of amazing and admirable…She’s a great player, but her constitution is right in line with her considerable golf ability. It was on display all week at CordeValle.

On Sunday, after church and brunch with our daughter, Claudia came over to watch the final round of the US Open. That day Anna Nordqvist was on fire and played lights out. Claudia was cheering and turning cart wheels as Anna made up a 6 stroke deficit to tie with Brittany Lang, another favorite of ours, for the lead after 72 holes.

That started a three hole play-off. If you watched or saw the stories on the news, you know that on the second hole Anna accidentally touched the sand with her 5 iron and was given a 2 stroke penalty.

It was a little unfair the way she and Brittany found out about it. Anna was told after her third shot on 18 and Brittaney before her third shot. So, Brittany won the title.

Anna, with great class talked about the penalty afterwords.

When I got up on Monday, I found a link to this Inc article on Twitter: It Takes to Become Truly World Class in Your Field.

You should read the entire article. I found these two distinctions helpful.

First, it takes a commitment to the extraordinary, to go beyond the commonplace, which is so often lackluster and devoid of inspiration.

Second, it takes the realization that a commitment to the extraordinary is a personal commitment.

Based on this weekend, especially the US Open Golf Tournament, I would add this third point.

To become truly excellent, you must learn how to handle disappointments and defeat. No matter what your field, you can’t win them all.

And I think I might add a fourth.

True excellence means also becoming a role model for the next generation.

If you have read my blog posts over the years, you know that several people have greatly influenced my life by the way they lived theirs. I have written about my dad, Coach John Wooden and Coach Vince Lombardi. All three of them helped me see the importance of never being content and always striving to learn and become the best lawyer I was capable of becoming.

In 2013, I wrote: Who Has Had the Greatest Influence on Your Life? If you have a couple of minutes go back and read that one again.

A few years ago, I watched the HBO documentary about Vince Lombardi. I urge you to take the 90 minutes and watch it.  As you will see when you watch it, Coach Lombardi inspired and influenced his players. He loved them and they loved him. Near the end of the documentary, the announcer says Vince Lombardi inspired many who never played for him. I was one of those many who he inspired.

You can watch a short preview here:

In the documentary, quarterback Bart Starr remembers Lombardi telling the team shortly after he became head coach:

Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.

Starr said after he heard that he about jumped out of his seat. He was ready to go out and chase perfection.

One of the important words in the quote is “relentlessly.” My hope for you in 2015 is that you will “relentlessly” chase perfection. Your joy will come from the pursuit and the feeling you are catching excellence in your career and life.

 

 

Recently I received an email from a firm that was proudly announcing the lawyers who had been promoted to equity partner. I had coached all but one of those lawyers.

When I coached those lawyers, I was struck by four things.

  1. They are passionate about their work and clients.
  2. They are very competitive, but they are also very collaborative and want to be a part of a firm team.
  3. They are open to new ideas and willing to try them.
  4. They are very focused on excellence in their work and service to clients.

So, in many ways this blog post on excellence is written for that group of lawyers I coached. I want to make sure they know that becoming an equity partner in their firm is an awesome achievement, but it is only a step in their pursuit of excellence.

Some time ago, I wrote about Vince Lombardi’s suggestion to pursue perfection because in the process you will likely achieve excellence. That quote and my time with the new coaching group reminded me of a point Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) made in his book Leading with the Heart  This morning I took the book off my bookshelf looking for the quote:

My hunger is not for success, it is for excellence. Because when you attain excellence, success follows.

You might be wondering what the difference is. To me success is comparing how I am doing with how others are doing. Excellence, on the other hand, is comparing how I am doing with my potential. It is funny how great coaches think alike. When he passed away, I wrote a series of blogs about John Wooden. He said:

Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

It is interesting that three of the greatest coaches in history essentially said the same thing. It is  also interesting how well their players, and how well the really outstanding lawyers I get to coach respond to becoming the best they can be.

Are you doing your very best to become the best lawyer you are capable of becoming? Or, are you comparing yourself to others?

P.S. For additional reading I think you will find: 10 Mistakes That Make You Unable To Reach Life Goals helpful.

A young lawyer recently shared this thought with me:

Most young lawyers are still fairly apathetic and are comfortable to just get by or let others “feed” them. The lawyers who are more aggressive and want to step up and be leaders tend to be fairly egotistical types who “already know it all” and aren’t very receptive to coaching.

Do either of these descriptions fit you? Do you believe most young lawyers are either “fairly apathetic,” or “already know it all?”
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Lawyers who never reach their potential fit into those categories. I have met, worked with and even coached many who are either too content, or have stopped learning. Think of any endeavor, those who excel are never content and always believe that, while they may know a lot, there is a lot more to be learned.

To those lawyers who think they know it all, I am reminded of this Will Rogers quote:

I was not a child prodigy, because a child prodigy is a child who knows as much when it is a child as it does when it grows up.