What drives us to excel – to wake up wanting to get just a little better at our work, at our art, at the way we shape our daily as fluidly as an artist shaping clay?
Almost all of us want to get better at something, whether it is being a better business owner or painter, prototyper or parent. Inherent in this desire to improve ourselves is the drive to excel. Too often, we think excellence requires nothing more than nose to the grindstone, grueling work and we wind up missing the beautiful moments in front of us.
But what if this appreciation of beauty – this ability to pause and nurture our natural sense of wonder – were the key to excellence after all?
This question is the focus of season 3 of the Tracking Wonder Podcast, which premieres in just one week (Tuesday, October 15th)! For this season, I’ve interviewed a productivity specialist, two philosopher-entrepreneurs, the founder of an educational tech company, the CEO of a multi-media art production company, and a New York Times bestselling husband-wife team to consider how beauty, mastery, and surprise can shape our work and elevate our lives.
Join me to discover: The Beauty of an Excellent Life.
Beauty and Excellence
Pursuing a life of excellence has its own pace. And it’s not always speedy and hard.
Yet oddly enough it might be the capacity to pause and observe the way rain hits a metal roof or the way music mines the soul that could elevate your experience of excellence. It could be, in other words, your ability to appreciate beauty and beautiful moments that elevate you to be your best.
Why not consider that possibility?
Such appreciation is a face of wonder, an experience we grown-ups might regard as frivolous because we cannot see the ROI. Appreciation of beauty is actually a character strength essential to leading a life that ripples with impact.
In the psychology handbook Character Strengths and Virtues, the appreciation of beauty and excellence is a character strength defined as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds.” While this may seem an easy enough strength to cultivate, there are three factors at play that get in our way.
One is our age and acculturation. Our brain beyond ten years old develops in ways that allow us to perceive more complex emotions and self-consciousness. As we age and figure out “what it means” to be a grown-up, we assume more responsibilities for other people and assume more worries than wondrous moments. Where we once doodled, we now slog through databases. Where we once made time for make-believe, we now barely make time to breathe.
Two is our lens of our current times. Your lens on the world these days might be so dim that finding goodness might seem like a fool’s errand.
There is a third factor at play here. Some social critics argue that digitization has created a culture of mediocrity and cynicism. In a world awash with divisive issues, corporate scandals, and data breaches, healthy skepticism can easily become disillusionment which in turn leads to the erosion of social engagement. Wariness replaces wonder. But maybe there’s another side to this cyber coin. Maybe these bewildering times prompt in us a new kind of drive: one fueled not by competition, wealth, or status, but by qualities such as wonder, beauty, and compassion.
The Beauty of an Excellent Life
In the early 21st century we’re redefining what it means to pursue an excellent life. We are learning to transcend conventional ideals of success to create genuine meaning in our work and make time to savor the ordinary beauties of life and work. And in doing so, we’re coming to realize that our drive to excel can not only enrich our lives, but make our world a more beautiful place. In this context, wonder is the responsible emotional experience for grown-ups to learn to identify and cultivate.
When we experience it, wonder dissolves for a fleeting moment our biased ways of viewing reality, ourselves, our challenges, and one another so that we can meet the world with radical openness and inventiveness. It fuels our sense of purpose. It transcends the bounds of our individual worldviews to connect us to something higher in meaning or purpose than ourselves. That’s why it’s especially important for us adults to practice appreciating beauty and excellence: Because wonder is not kid’s stuff.
Wonder is radical grown-up stuff.
Are you ready for a crash course in how to open your wondrous mind in the pursuit of excellence?
Tune in on October 15th, and every Tuesday afterward until December 1st as we discuss how business artists and creatives overcame their greatest challenges, practiced radical openness to re-envision their work, and (re)designed their lives to excel in ways that bring delight and fulfillment.