Personal Excellence In The Face Of Negativity

by PJ McClure on May 9, 2013

Are you ready to fly?Excellence can be obtained if you:

…care more than others think is wise;

…risk more than others think is safe;

…dream more than others think is practical;

…expect more than others think is possible.”


 “Wow Christine! It looks like you’ve got everything mapped out to get your new business rocking.”

“Yeah,” she said slowly, “but I’m not sure I can pull the trigger to go for it.”

“Why not?” I asked, “It looks as close to a sure thing as I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about whether or not I can do it. I’m very confident I can get the job done and have a lot of success.”

“What’s stopping you then,” I asked. “You’ve got a great opportunity to make something big happen. You could easily give your family everything we’ve talked about… what’s holding you back?”

“It’s just that I can already hear everyone from my mom to the ‘soccer moms’ criticizing and gossiping about me and ‘my business.’ I just don’t want to deal with it.”

Playing small for fear of the opinions of others is older than the written word and as common as the cold. I’ve often wondered what causes us to care so much about unfounded opinions of others that we sacrifice our capabilities. How is it that we willingly choose mediocrity over the potential grumblings of lesser minds?

I’ve found numerous reasons in my own life and the lives of many others. The most common have their roots in avoiding perceived pain.

“I know that others will bad-mouth me if I become the best.”

“Those closest to me will resent me if I break free from our normal patterns and move beyond them.”

“If I do my best, people will expect that level of performance from me going forward.”

“What if people think I’ve done something underhanded to be successful?”

The variations abound but the underlying theme is the same. We want to avoid the sharp pain of criticism so instead, we accept the dull disease of mediocrity.

Why is that such a big deal? Isn’t it okay, even socially acceptable to play small and not make anyone else look bad? Haven’t we been told to “not show off or “draw attention to ourselves?” Besides, it’s much easier to stay in the middle of the pack and know that we could do better than it is to give it our all and risk failure or ridicule.

In my soul, I know that every time I chose safety over possibility, I lost. With every choice we make to keep our heads down instead of stepping up and becoming examples of excellence, our opportunity for meaning and impact is tarnished and lessened. The world is cheated and dimmed because our light isn’t seen.

Should we heed wise counsel? Absolutely. But that isn’t the same as using someone’s opinion or jealousy as an excuse to lay low.

If you were guaranteed praise for your effort, what would you do?

If you knew the world would sing your praises for playing full out, would you risk more?

Flip the Coin

The other side of the coin is just as important to the liberation of excellence. Our willingness to be the nay-sayer.

What is it that brings such garbage out of us? Why on earth would we sabotage the efforts of others when they are pushing the edge of their potential? Could the answer to those questions be as close as the mirror?

If you find yourself wanting to tear another down or discredit their accomplishments, take a look at yourself. I never find a situation where greatness attacks greatness. When people of little relevance bad-mouth those sincerely working toward the front of the pack, the attacks are always a reflection of something going on in the attacker.

Resentment is the most common reflection. “I know in my heart that I’m not living up to what I’m capable, so I’ll tear down those that are. This way I’ll look better, even if it is only by comparison.”

Human nature takes us toward what is easiest and poses the least resistance. From the middle of the pack it seems like standing still and keeping others down is easier. When you’re in mediocrity up to your nose, the idea of pushing others up looks like a lot of work. The voice in your ear says, “It’s too hard to be great. You don’t really have it in you anyway. Those in the front must have cheated or hurt people to get where they are.”

It’s a lie.

When you take the time to shift your attention away from the voice in your ear to the voice in your heart, you hear the truth. “I made you with greatness. You are far stronger than anything you will ever face. Stop worrying about the front of the pack and focus on the edge of possibility. That’s what you were designed for!”

Who will you listen to? Which voice will you honor?

Turn your energy toward being your best and away from attacks, regardless of how subtle. Heed good advice, but ignore the haters. The reward of your best life is waiting.

Be your best.



Joseann June 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I am not sure if I agree on this 100%(naysayer?). If you want to be at the front of a pack, of course you get challenged to proove that you can do it, that your will is strong etc. In nature those leading the pack have to be the fittest, smartest etc., otherwise everybody else is at risk, or not? I actually think that negativity is a sign that there are issues you need to work on, if you listen closely, there normally is truth in what people say, they just don’t have a better way how to transport the message. And in general I think that this whole way of thinking of “greatness in people and having to be excellent” creates a lot of stress on people, builds hierarchy and an idea of people being mediocre or not and that is to some extent not very nice. Which is why adversity starts to come up. It is not about being greater than others, it is about doing what we like to do and doing it well. I would suggest to look at the motives for “wanting to excel” in something when negativity comes up and focus on staying humble.

PJ McClure June 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Hi Joesann,
Never fear, there’s no requirement to agree. In reading you comment, I wonder if we aren’t talking about totally separate issues.

The post wasn’t about being at the front of the pack, but about being the best you are capable of in the face of unfounded adversity. We agree that perceived negativity is often a call for improvement or a warning of something amiss and I’ve written about that more than once.

As for ‘greatness in people and having to be excellent’ creating stress…we part ways here. Greatness in people does not build hierarchy or create enmity. It’s in there, whether anyone likes it or not. As for excellence, no one in forced to be excellent…it’s a choice just like mediocrity. It isn’t about comparison to anyone else, pecking order, or hurting someone’s feelings. It’s about taking what you have and making the most of it. Otherwise, what’s the point? I completely agree that our motives for ‘wanting to excel’ must be examined, but laying low and playing small under the guise of humility isn’t living. True humility comes from spending ourselves in a sincere, worthy effort and realizing that there is always more ahead. That no one has it all figured out.

Personal excellence vs. personal mediocrity is not determined by a person’s position compared to anyone other than their own potential. I’ve met personally excellent high school janitors and severely mediocre CEO’s. I’ve been at the top of my own game financially and lived squarely in mediocrity at the same time. I didn’t rise out of it and begin to pursue my own potential because someone was nice to me. I did it because they challenged me with what I wasn’t doing with the gifts inside me. At that point, I had a choice… strive for personal (not comparative) excellence or stay mediocre. I pray that I’m never comfortable with personal mediocrity again.

Angela Brooks June 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm

It is amazing how many people speak negative words into others lives. Those are the very words that people cling too and hear over and over in their head. Even thought powerful positive words are also said the negatives seems to be louder in our heads than the good. Speak life over people or do not speak.

Keith Lapp June 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm

It is as with the alcoholics in the bar criticizing the one that is drying out or the person that gets a promotion at work. The people that we have always been around want us to “stay home with them” and not go our own way even if they really say that they want us to have a better life than them. I guess they mean it but can’t really get their head around the whole idea so criticize instead.

Roberta Budvietas, June 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Great story and so fitting with my recent blogs. We teach children many things but we never teach them this. We tell people to follow their dreams and then criticize the dreamers. Managers are told to avoid gut reactions but every time I have, I have rued the situation.
You say listen to your heart. Right On. Thanks

Bob June 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

Thanks for a great article! At a critical point in my life and business, this is a message I needed to be reminded of; grasp my God created potential and leave the nay-sayers behind… it’s sad that so often family and friends are a big part of what’s holding you back…

PJ McClure June 21, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Hi Bob,
You’re right that it is sad when family and friends are a large part of the “nay” group. What’s great about it though, we can be their beacon of hope and release. When they see us actually breaking free and living a new, bigger life… we give them permission to do the same. Love them, but you don’t have to listen to them. :0)

Peggy June 21, 2011 at 9:04 am

Great article PJ!

A great reminder to keep pushing when it seems that there is negativity at every turn. Also a great reminder to do some self reflection when you feel compelled to criticize others.

Jay Fox-Davies June 21, 2011 at 5:37 am

Your comments are so true.

I’m over 60 years old and finally, after years of having to do what was necessary for family, I’m finally doing what I want ie becoming an artist. Although I’m fortunate that most of my friends and all of my family have been supportive, I still hear a few voices saying “What does she want to do that at her time of life? I wouldn’t.”
I don’t believe in’ time of life’. I would say do what you can do, while you can do it. True friends will back you and the others aren’t true friends, and so don’t really matter. Don’t live down to anyone’s expectations. When you’re successful, they’ll quickly change their tune. (I’ve just been accepted on to a Masters in Fine Art program at Oxford Brookes University, skipping out the BA Hons. Applying was a giant step of hope for me.) Now I’ve also recently been asked by a major political figure to paint their portrait. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought this possible. Believe and do. Don’t fear rejection – it means that you have tried – and next time the answer may be “Yes”. Carpe diem and live until you die!

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