The Importance of Being Excellent

Chapter 5, or “Self-Discipline & Personal Excellence” was a longer chapter that was a roller coaster of both propaganda and insight. Five Chapters into No Excuses, I feel as though I’m taking quite a bit from this book, that I didn’t think I would originally. Namely, I’ve accepted my understanding of the fact that I have to stop hiding, or trying to hide, from my reality. I need to own me, my goals, my faults, and strive to rise above them. In essence, striving for “personal excellence” means just shooting for the absolute top of your field, according to Brian Tracy. While I don’t disagree with that entirely, I’m not sure that shooting for the top is appropriate in every line of work — or that true success results in someone being at the top. All the same, I read the chapter like a willing participant.

It is very clear that this book, and specifically this chapter, is geared toward an audience that is mostly salespeople. Simple formulas, anecdotes, rephrased numbers, and catchphrases like “Be the Best”, “Commit to Success”, “Income as the Highest Goal” all ring familiar as a former salesman turned creative. I’ve read a lot of sales “hype” books — ones that are meant to inspire a sales team to hit the next quota objective. I’ve had sales leaders spout statistics out to me that without critical thinking make achieving the absolute pinnacle of “top salesman-hood” is only a few extra dials, or a few longer hours. Many sales organizations are designed to collect workers, grind them to a pulp and replace them when the pulp no longer renders any juice.

The reason why the 80/20 rule of sales — wherein 20% of the salespeople earn 80% of the income— is because the remaining 80% of salespeople are there just to figure shit out. Hard work can’t replace interest and motivation. That all said, this chapter labeled the key to finding personal excellence as essentially following best sales practices. Nonetheless, taking out the sales-y crap, I found some valuable lessons.

One idea I get behind 100% is continuing education. Brian Tracy calls on all of us to continuously invest, literally and figuratively, back into ourselves so that we stay ahead of the curve. He’s right, talent isn’t enough; and in a 21st Century information economy, you must stay ahead of the curve. I’ve taken to learn basic coding just so that I can be more valuable in a marketing role because knowing how to write witty one-liners and how to design pretty ads doesn’t cut it like it did in the 1960s. He argues that we should invest at least 3% of our income back into educating ourselves in our chosen field, so that we can become a master in it. I agree with that, but also argue that you should learn to learn, to expand your holistic understanding of the world at large, not just your given craft. I’ve been able to incorporate my world geography knowledge into real world situations, and not just in quizzing people on the capital of Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou, in case you were wondering). I do agree with Tracy, that continually educating yourself becomes habit, and thus part of who you are at your core — forever a student of life!

It’s said in this chapter that if we devote just two hours of continuing education each day, then we’ll “reach the top 20%” (more on that in a sec). Brian asks and answers his own questions in the middle of this chapter much like any good self-help book author/seminar host: how do I fit self-education into my busy life? Astutely, he breaks down the week into hour-long increments and shows us exactly where we can shove those extra two hours:

24 hours per day x 7 days per week = 168 hours per week
168 hours per week — (40 hours of work + 56 hours for sleep) = 72 hours
72 hours — 3 hours per day getting ready for and driving to/from work = 51 hours of FREE TIME
51 hours — 2 hours per day “studying” = 37 hours left to play, yay!

There’s not much I can poke holes into this, except I’ve definitely had commute times that lasted over the 3 hour mark round trip, and I’m notorious for poor time management as it comes to my daily routine before work, but I’m told that time management is a section of this book later. Past that everything seems pretty legit to me. I like that he factored in 8 hours each night for sleep, which shows that he’s a guy that believes in working hard and not just “sleeping when you’re dead”. Just because you want to work hard doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health because of it. At the end of the week, you’re left with a little more than 5 hours each day to do the things you like. (I’d personally like to know where those five leftover hours go, because I always seem to misplace mine).

Where Brian loses me is in the “Road to the Top 20%” idea he writes about. Again, this is predominantly geared toward salespeople, as it argues that the 80/20 rule is real and industry-diverse, but I’m not going to argue that validity. What struck me was something Brian writes as it relates to wealth overall:

“The most interesting discovery in income inequality is that most millionaires, multimillionaires, and billionaires in America are first generation. They started with little or nothing and earned all their money by themselves in one lifetime.

I’m sorry, but what the actual fuck?! For a middle-aged, white male working in Canada and the United States, you can make remarks like that and it sounds pretty accurate. Income mobility in the mid-twentieth century, which was pioneered in the 1890s through the 1920s by men of slightly more than average means on the backs of men of way less than average means, allowed the current rich to get where they are. However, income mobility is stabilizing into a not-so-mobile state because the now super rich are trying to close the door for future “come from nowhere” billionaires. Why share? So, no Brian, you can’t tell people that the path to personal excellence is flanked by striving to be the top earner, and false logic that “since old white men did it before” your nondescript, racially diverse readers can do it, too. Hard stop.

He does encourage people to follow the best in their industry, which I again mostly agree with. Observe what they do, acknowledge where you can adapt their skills to your own, but please don’t try to be them! You’ll end up looking like you’re trying to drink their blood and wear their skin as you try to harness their earning chi! I say, make your own path, and follow good examples. The question I asked myself as it relates to this entire saga of the top 20% was: Do I even want to be in the top 20%? The short answer is, I don’t know. The “top 20%” of writers, depending on which statistics you use, are either life-long achievers, educators, or super rich people with ghostwriters and manufactured memoirs. I’m not sure that’s a community I necessarily want to be a part of, but I’d like to be personally excellent.

Ultimately, wonky numbers don’t impress me. Saying that something has increased by 1100% does not give me stars in my eyes — just say it increased by a multiplier of 11. What does one half of one percent of increased productivity look like? And how will 26% increased productivity per year get me to ten times as much income in ten years? (This is an argument that usually dazzles salespeople because the numbers are correct, the anecdotes “proving them” aren’t so much. I’m sorry but Bob and his millions don’t sway me). Show me some real world applications! Well, Brian doesn’t disappoint, in spite of Bob:

The Seven Steps to The Top (again lucky seven, also you can totally apply this to steps to do anything more positively in your life) are one of the easy, broken down formulas that helped make this chapter really seem to be about achieving excellence for me.

  1. Arise Two Hours Before Your First Appointment — good advice for everyone and all things in life. (Execution thereof needs its own friggin list though).
  2. Rewrite Your Goals Everyday — makes sense, commit to your goal or your “Major Definite Purpose” (hollaback Chapter 4!), and keep reminding yourself about it!
  3. Plan Every Day in Advance — preach!
  4. Concentrate Single-Mindedly on One Thing — this, along with follow-through is the greatest challenge to me right now. (I’m writing this close to 10:00 pm because I chose today to be the day I roast an entire chicken and make an accompanying feast).
  5. Self-Educate, Often
  6. Ask Yourself Two Questions After Every Interaction: What did I do right? What could I have done differently? — So true, so good, solid advice.
  7. Treat Every Person Like The Million-Dollar Client — this forms the basis for my entire sense of morality and relationship-building, which is a maxim I learned first from Bob Burg in The Go-Giver, which is a book any adult doing anything in life with other adults should read!

My takeaway from “Self-Discipline & Personal Excellence” was that I definitely learned some things. Most importantly, I learned that what I learned in sales isn’t my albatross; meaning, the career that I’ve developed in sales and real estate isn’t something that I’m “leaving behind” as I try to reposition myself. My goal right now is to stick with writing and pivot my career entirely. Doing that means taking what I need with me and leaving the rest behind. Personal excellence needs to be personal and what I’m taking from this book are the common sense skills I’ve been able to dance around learning are what I need to stay focused on and acquire.

Rather than leave you with all of the post-chapter questions spelled out, and my work with them, I’ll leave you with the best piece of advice Brian Tracy gave in this chapter, and I shall call it a night:

Commit yourself today to lifelong learning, and never let a day go by without getting better in some area.

I picked up Brian Tracy’s No Excuses, and have decided to learn something about self-discipline. This page is going to keep me honest (mostly) as I tackle this book over the next 21 days! This is Day 5 of 21.