“The Quest for Your Best: The Road Map to Excellence in Challenging Times.”
Excellence. Quality. Superiority. First rate. Exceptional. Organisations today are focused on being their “best” more than ever before. The best in customer service; the best in quality; the best in teamwork; the best in professional skills. Why?
During the past two decades, we’ve learned the price of short-range planning, the down sides of the quick buck and the dangers of deception. Fortunately, we’ve responded to the wake-up call by recognising the need for change and paying attention to what needs fixing – broken or not.
What does it mean to be “The Best?”
The best means to excel above all others. It means to be the most productive, the most effective and the most valuable to the greater good. Can you imagine an organisation with everyone working at his or her best? A force of people who excel above all others, who have the ability to produce what is of highest value to the most number of people? Can you imagine an entire nation of people working and being their best? An entire world?
Do you dare believe that you could be and have the best in life?
What would it take?
There is a road map that will take us there. If life is a journey, then we need a map with which to find our way. Some say there are many roads. It is one road we travel, in an infinite number of ways. Some people experience extraordinary journeys that provide all the riches life has to offer, while others are left wondering what they even are.
A journey, extraordinary or simple, becomes a quest when we specifically look for something, as in searching for the meaning of life, adventures, a sense of purpose, or something tangible, like new territories, or in the world of business – increased revenue. To “quest for your best” then, simply means going on a journey that allows you to seek excellence for the purpose of providing the greatest value to others. Our country was founded on a simple principle: that we all have a vested interest in helping others get what they want. The more we do this, the better our lives will be.
The journey we take on the road to excellence forms a cycle. Think of it as a round compass. We begin our journey from a place I call “Home,” at the northern point of our compass. Home is our comfort zone, a place of security. It provides a place of rest to recharge our batteries and soothe our weary bones. But Home is also a time for asking questions to assess our current situation. Who am I? What do I want? Where am I going? How can I create successful outcomes? These are just a few of the questions we might ask while in our comfort zone. Questions help to form a vision of what’s possible. The clearer our vision, the more likely we are to achieve that result. The more dissatisfied we become over our situation, the more likely we are to leave the comfort zone. In fact, people leave Home for one of two reasons: to gain something new or to recover something that’s been lost and we do it willingly or unwillingly.
If we decide to leave our comfort zone in search of a change for the better, we move clockwise along the rim of our compass to (East), the first stage of the journey called “Help.” We should never be alone at the beginning. Help comes in the form of training, role models, mentors, people of excellence, brochures and other tools. This is the critical stage that’s often overlooked or bypassed. The more help we gain, the more we will be prepared for the next critical stage of the journey.
Continuing clockwise along the road map to the south, we enter the darkest stage of the journey called the “Challenge.” This is the moment of truth – the ultimate test of our powers and skills. The tools, training, positive attitude and other reinforcements we’ve picked up in the Help stage will determine the outcome of our test.
Once we’ve confronted the challenge, we continue clockwise to the next stage (West), called the “Prize.” This is where we collect the rewards of our hard effort. If we make the sale, realise our vision, achieve our goal, we celebrate. If we don’t, we evaluate. We get feedback and find the learning experiences through the disappointment. There is always a gain if we look hard enough. Some of the best prizes in life are surprises – the ones you didn’t go looking for. Serendipity is the gift of finding valuable gifts – not sought for. You might have gone looking for one result but found one even more valuable.
Collecting the gains from our test feels great and it’s how we evolve to being our best. We cannot grow, learn or improve until we leave behind the old ways and test ourselves in the open. Once we’ve reached the Prize stage, however, it’s important not to linger too long. We must bring our prizes back to Home and share them with others. Everyone then benefits from the efforts of the seeker. You see, the more we give away to others, the more we get back in return. The circular map truly demonstrates the old adage: “What goes around comes around.” You will get everything you want, when you increase your contribution to others.
The road map we’ve followed becomes a compass when the ground becomes unstable. In these changing, uncertain times, the road may be more like a swamp. It is far more useful to be guided by a compass when the terrain is unstable. Road map or compass, the process takes us all to the places we seek – fulfilment, achievement, meaning and a sense of contribution to worthwhile causes.
The Quest for Your Best road map has evolved over the course of civilisation. Its origins are rooted in mythology, for the map traces the classic heroic journey. Heroes are the ones who elevate us all to a better life. They are the ones who bring out the best in themselves and others. They give us a model by which to measure our own lives. We don’t build monuments to worship the exceptional life. We build them to remind us of what is possible in our own. They inspire us to realise new heights in our development.
In my work in personal and professional skills’ development, I’ve discovered that the process of leaving, getting help, facing a challenge and reaping rewards, is the same process used in leadership development, problem solving, risk taking, change management, personal development, professional development, spiritual evolution, scientific methodology and the learning cycle. The language changes but the process remains the same. There is always a starting point and a time of assessment or vision. Then there is a need for gaining or giving knowledge, training, developing skills and creating an action plan. Then there’s the test of the plan and the skills. Finally, there’s a time to evaluate, get feedback and celebrate the outcomes of the journey. The process begins again when we return Home to our starting place. Home will be the same but the traveller will be different. S/he will be wiser and more evolved to their personal best. There will still be dishes to do, traffic to sit in, calls to make and papers to push but the person who follows the map will feel more joyful and fulfilled. TS Eliot once wrote, “We must not cease from exploration and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”
When we follow the map, we become the heroic extraordinary persons who excel and rise above the normal and average person. These are the people who are worthy of attention and respect. This is the person who faces a challenge, willingly or unwillingly, and s/he does it either to gain something new or recover something that’s been lost. This person draws from deep within his or her own natural resources in facing the challenge. Sometimes it comes at great personal sacrifice but the challenge is faced because society, our loved ones or our very life depends upon it. There are no winners or losers in this. Everyone benefits from the simple act of facing the challenge. This is the person who brings back or produces what is the greatest value to others.
The paradox of the journey - the biggest challenge - is not out there in the marketplace or the world at large, as we might think. The real journey we take is inside ourselves. The ultimate quest we take in life is the search for purpose, meaning and ourselves. When we have the courage to take risks by leaving what is known, getting help and facing a challenge, our biggest prize is not the sale, not the plaque and not the trip to Hawaii. The real prize is self-knowledge, wisdom, illumination, revelations, exhilaration, self-esteem, confidence and most of all – truth.
This whole being is about getting unstuck – never staying in any one stage too long and feeling at Home in all stages of the journey. The map provides grounding in that process. We always know where we are and what the next stage will be. The journey is about eliminating fear, setting us free and enjoying the riches of life through giving our best.
Everyday, we are invited to be our best. But sometimes we get tired, distracted, disillusioned and maybe even cynical but our best waits. When we follow the map, our Prize will be a connection to humanity that we never knew existed and it will elevate us so high that any previous version of ourselves will seem small. The simple fact is that everyday, each of us is given a chance to make a contribution and by waking up to that potential and acting on it, together we connect and elevate the world to the best it can be.
Lorna Riley, CSP, president of the American Training Association, is considered one of the elite sales and productivity speakers in the US. Lorna has earned the Certified Speaking Professional designation, an honoured classification held by less than 1% of professional speakers. She is author of four books, three audio albums and her PowerPak success philosophy is testimony to those who say she is the most inspiring, dynamic and bottom-line speaker they’ve heard. Visit her web site at http://www.lornariley.com