Of the three Air Force core values, "Excellence in All We Do" has always resonated with me. Even as a Reservist, excellence is the foundation for the other personal values I aspire to, as well as the goals I set and the activities I undertake, not just work. On or off the job, in our out of uniform, excellence should always be a priority if it's truly a core value.
So on my tenth Veterans Day, here's how I've come to think about the pursuit of excellence during my ten years of military service.
When I first started, excellence came easy to me because I was already good at everything the Air Force threw at me during basic training. So as naturally as I adapted to and adopted this core value, I never really stopped to think about what it meant. I just assumed it meant getting 100% on the basic training academic or physical fitness tests. I accomplished that, so check the box right? Weren't the nice awards I earned simply a mark of my inherent excellence? Not quite, but that's what the fixed mindset would say.
A Google search defines excellence as: "The quality of being outstanding or extremely good."
Before reading Carol Dueck's Mindset, I thought that definition about summed it up. But I see two problems with that definition that stem from the fixed mixed mindset. First, being good is often a fixed quality in our minds associated with tasks we are naturally inclined to perform well. A growth mindset would define excellence not as being, but as striving. Not as a quality, but as a pursuit.
The second problem I see is that being outstanding implies a comparison to the peers from whom you stand out. In basic training, I stood out so I had the core value of excellence. But in technical training tasks no longer came easy to me (I'm not naturally gifted with a potentiometer). Since I was no longer outstanding or even good at the assigned tasks, I started to wonder if excellence was still at my core.
The answer to these two problems is a growth mindset. A growth mindset is focused on personal achievement and incremental improvements on your own performance. In this light, we can strive for excellence even in things we are not "good" at.
This principle is fundamental in careers today, especially in high tech industries. We often find ourselves having to perform different types of tasks at a high level, even with little or no prior training.
So when faced with something outside your natural skill set on the job, try not to allow self doubt to derail your effort. Instead, take a growth mindset, learn what you need to execute the task and get the job done to the best of your ability.
Your Best Foot Forward
A decade after basic training, I finally have a definition of the Air Force core value of Excellence in All We Do that works for me.
Excellence is not perfection. It's not simply getting 100% and an achievement award because I am naturally talented in certain areas. It's the challenge to make incremental improvements in all areas of life, career being one. This applies to my service in the Air Force Reserve and my civilian career as a consultant.
So, while I'm not longer marching in uniform full time, I'm eager to put my best foot forward as I get to the office on Monday, totally committed to pursuing excellence. And you should be too.