I’m stepping up my game and this is how I’m doing it
In 1996 I started primary school at a school that was a few minute walk away from home. I was six years old and that year I completed Grade R, Grade 1 and Grade 2. Yes, I went through all of those grades in that same year. I just kept getting moved from one class to the next. Of course I knew why I kept getting moved up a grade. I was too smart for all of those grades. Every time they moved me up to the next grade, the teacher of that class would observe and assess that I should, in fact, move on to the next grade. I was a super star. And so I went through my primary school career being the smartest pupil in all my classes.
Well. That was until I moved on to a Model C school in the late 90s. To be honest, I don’t even know why I was considered genius in my township primary school because I didn’t try at all. I just knew the stuff. However, I really battled with the transition into my new school, mainly because I struggled with speaking English. (It’s crazy that I feel as though I’ve come full circle with this)
And so after leaving the primary school in my hood, I never knew excellence again. I just floated into this abyss of getting by. And I pretty much carried this air of floating by into high school and well into university and post-grad studies. I have not been someone who has pursued excellence in her endeavours.
And that is why it has been so amazing to me how after starting my journey of self-love and basically embracing a life surrendered to purpose and what I believe my contribution is, I have suddenly begun to explore how far I can stretch myself. It’s as though now that I think better and higher of myself, I want the things that I do to reflect the way I feel about myself. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because I’ve had to be open to having my shortcomings exposed. It’s crazy how you can know that you’re not doing or giving the best of yourself at something, but still feel gutted when that is exposed. For instance, it’s been revealed to me, in sometimes embarrassing and humiliating ways (I feel), that I don’t pay attention to detail. After it came up over and over again I finally had to let go of feeling defensive about it, allow myself to feel the discomfort of having it being pointed out and then be open to receiving the lesson. Paying attention to detail is a game-changer and it really does set you up for excellent results.
Excellence is defined as “a talent or quality which is unusually good and surpasses ordinary standards” or “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good”. The only other time I can recall experiencing this intense frustration with not just wanting to do well, but excellently, was in my third year of studies in university. I remember that that was the year I began to take my studies seriously, I was repeating a lot of modules from my second year and that kind of failure was scary. Because I was so focused and diligent that year, I couldn’t understand why my grades weren’t excellent. One day I decided I would approach one of my lecturers who was a professor of African literature for help. It was unbelievably frustrating how my essays would be graded with Bs and the occasional A when I thought I should’ve been bagging As. I couldn’t understand what I needed to do to take it to the next level and so I went to ask this professor and he was gracious enough to have me sit next to him while he went through his published work with me, reading excerpts out loud to me, explaining his rationale, and what fashioning an argument in a linear structure looked like. Honestly, I got it. But I didn’t get how I could then be an excellent student as a result of applying those techniques.
When I was in Grade 10 in high school, while we were learning about the French Revolution in History class, we had to write an essay on Napoleon. While my history teacher handed back my essay to me she said, “Vuyo, you can’t rely on your natural talent forever.” I have never forgotten those words even though I haven’t always understood what she meant. In my mind, of course you should rely on your natural talent. But this is what was happening to me in university when I was baffled with why, despite my work being good, it wasn’t of excellent standard. It has taken a very long time to figure out that there is so much more that fills the gap between your natural talent and excellence. In university I relied on what was in me to produce the work. However, it takes a consistent work ethic, almost obsessively going the extra mile, and so much more (that I’ll touch on briefly).
Before I continue on with what I’m about to propose, I’d like to first qualify what I mean by excellence in this context. There’s a writer who says that “excellence is measured according to your capability, not beyond it”. And so in this context excellence has nothing to do with over-achievement, perfectionism, and being hard on yourself for external approval. It’s about when you earnestly begin to recognise that there is so much more that you are capable of producing, creating or innovating, but because of (possibly) a mindset, an environment or habits picked up along the way, you realise that you haven’t begun to explore the depth and girth of your abilities. So really, my idea of the pursuit of excellence comes from when you get to a stage in your journey when your own ignorance of how great you are starts frustrating you. You were okay with it before, in fact, you found ways to reward and pat yourself on the back for it, but now you’re plagued by this repetitive thought that you can do more.
So this is what I’m doing so I can produce excellence in my life, be proud of myself and fall deeper and deeper in love with myself:
- Simplify the vision so that the overall goal feels attainable
I have this big vision that I uncovered when I began thinking about my purpose in life and so it’s bigger than anything that I would’ve picked out for myself. Because it’s so big, it often intimidates me, I start to feel inadequate and ill-equipped for it and then I start to entertain and pursue options that don’t feel so scary and grand. And then I don’t get anything done.
But now I want to get out of this unproductive pattern so I came up with a way that allowed me to break the vision up into sections. Each section has its own plan of action and actionable goals. Actionable goals are activities that I do every day that contribute towards the bigger goal. No one will ever understand how much weight was lifted off me once I was able to do this.
- Discipline and consistent effort
This is probably the hardest area for me, but when I look closely at my history with school and work, this area has been the missing link. Discipline is the vehicle that’s going to take you to the next level; from occasionally achieving As to consistently achieving As. There’s no way around it and it drives me to tears of frustration when I’m in bed and trying to find loopholes in my plans so I can continue to stay in bed.
Mel Robbins in her viral Ted Talk, “How to stop screwing yourself over”, speaks about the idea of parenting ourselves in order to accomplish our dreams. It sounds harsh when she says, “no one is coming to save you”. So get up and get the work that needs to be done, done. Consistently.
I also recently learnt of the term “Compound Effect”. I’ll write about it in a different post, but it has given me the fuel and encouragement that I needed, and a sense of comfort that comes from knowing that every bit of consistent effort amounts to something tangible and rewarding one day. So your effort is not in vain, no matter how much you feel as though you’ve been giving so much of yourself toward something that isn’t yielding results.
- It has to be something you love
This one seems obvious and minuscule. But for real, you have to love what you do because for a long time the only reward is going to be just the fact that you get to do what you love. It’s taken me years to get to this point, but figuring out what I love in the way that I have has changed everything for me. It’s the reason why I won’t give up, it’s the reason why I’m productive in a way that I’ve never been before.
Bonus point: Find value and feel honoured to do what you do. I’ve spent so much time wishing I had studied something more lucrative, or chosen an industry that guaranteed higher chances of financial success. Undermining what you do is a waste of time and it also carries so much mental velocity. You’ll find yourself not working at all because you’ve convinced yourself that your work is unusable. I find that the more honoured I feel that I have work to do and something to contribute to the world, the more confident I feel to propel myself forward.
- Embrace the fact that even though you love it, it won’t always be fun to do
I’m actually a fine one to speak on this one. But this is a real struggle for me. So I run this blog, right. And I love it with everything in me. I love how I came up with it. I love writing for it. I can’t let go of it even when I want to. I love my blog. But I don’t like being on social media. Social media is my biggest challenge as a blogger, especially because blogging has changed dramatically from what it was when I started my first blog in 2010/11. Back then you started a blog because you were fascinated by the idea of having editorial control and freedom to write in ways that disrupted the journalistic or academic framework that felt restrictive. Now being a blogger is synonymous with “influencing”, marketing, being a personality, heavily curated and brand-conscious work.
I was sharing with my friend Babalwa how this social media thing was really getting to me and my feelings of despondency toward the blog. She gave me perspective that has bought me time (lol). She said that I needed to look at it in terms of work. You love and are passionate about your work, but that you won’t enjoy everything about your work. She gave me an example of her cake baking business. She loves to bake, enjoys the creative process and how satisfied she feels when a client is happy, but she hates cleaning up afterward. Cleaning up is a big chunk of the process and she has to do it even though she hates it. So her advice is that I need to look at social media in that same way – I don’t enjoy it, but it’s part of the job.
- Push yourself to be the best
I’ve learnt that striving to be the best is a potent way of bringing out the best of what you can do. It’s not about competing at all. It’s just a really strong and momentous push that brings out your A-game every time. And the more you exercise that, the better and badder you get at it. Trust me on this.
All the best, my friends. Please let me know if you can relate to this post.
Let’s all be great, man!