The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

From the Head of Senior School


One of the attributes we promote at Scotch College is excellence through personal achievements. I have also heard this described as personal excellence. How is this different to the definition of excellence or the word excel?

The definition of excel is to surpass others or to be superior in some respect or area; do extremely well. The definition of excellence is the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority.

In these definitions the word excellence is used in comparison with others. This means that my excellence is somehow also determined by how others perform. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness when 'if my peers are better than me, I am worthless' type thoughts arise. Personal excellence is another kind of definition of excellence, which does not depend on comparison with others for its definition. Personal excellence is producing your best in any given situation, within or without a conducive environment to do so; strive to be better than last time, every time.

This definition of excellence only compares you with yourself and, hence, is in your control. Given this definition, people who believe in personal excellence always compete against themselves and their own most recent performance. When they believe they have given their best, they are happy and satisfied and see no reason to give up even when their best has not been good enough to achieve the desired results. Such people always strive to be better next time. Emphasis is not on intelligence or talent, rather it is on the work ethic and effort applied to reach the result. It is something quantifiable.

How do we achieve this excellence? Here are a couple of relevant quotes:

"If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude." - Colin Powell

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit" - Aristotle

Excellence is not about knowing what is excellent, it is about pursuing personal excellence all the time, in every little thing we do. I have previously mentioned the concept of the aggregation of marginal gains, where the evolution of effective habits and the development of a work ethic where more can be achieved. Excellence is a habit and unfortunately mediocrity is one too.

So how does one achieve personal excellence? Here are some thoughts * -

  1. Believe in yourself - If you want to achieve big goals, you have to first believe that you are capable of doing so. Persistence and resilience are two terms which come to mind. Experiencing success on the back of hard work is something that helps develop the self-belief to persevere.One of my favourite stories is Sylvester Stallone's real-life rags to riches story. Before he was propelled to stardom with the Rocky series, he was living out what others would deem as a 'paltry' existence as a wannabe actor. Because of his birth complication where he was born with a side of his face paralysed and slurred speech, he was rejected by countless casting agents in his quest for his dreams. At some point, he became poor as a pauper and even his wife left him. But he never gave up. He firmly believed that he would be able to make it as an actor - not just an actor, but a movie star. And he finally did - today, he is an internationally acclaimed movie star, film director, producer and screenwriter. This would never have happened if he gave up his self-belief.
  2. Keep building your skills - The path to excellence is a continual one, evolution not revolution, and requires constant upgrading and skills development. It is said that it takes someone 10,000 hours of practice to reach the top in his/her discipline. Have you invested your 10,000 hours to develop your skills? If you haven't, when can you start investing the time? No matter how much time and effort we have already spent in developing ourselves, there will always be opportunity to improve and be better.
  3. Get out of your comfort zone - When you are out of your comfort zone, you are already growing. Comfort zones are called comfort zones because this is where you feel safe and comfortable. When you stay in an area of comfort, you subject yourself to things you have become accustomed to - which leads to little or no growth. On the other hand, if you move beyond that area of comfort, even by a little bit, you start facing things which you were not exposed to before. This new context and new stimuli triggers a reprocessing process in your mind as you adapt to handle the new situation. This means growth.
  4. Be around the best - I like the quote, "You are the average of the five people you are around" by Jim Rohn, motivational speaker and self-help guru. Who you are with has a role in affecting who you become. If you hang around people who are committed to excellence and set themselves up to achieve nothing but the best, you are going to emerge a different person compared to if you hang around people who are jaded and are constantly lamenting about life. Increase your contact with the people who support you and, above all, take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
  5. Set huge goals - Emphasis on the word huge. Not the normal, standard goals which you know you will definitely be achieving with a certain amount of work and effort; the humongous goals which make you feel somewhat nervous and uncomfortable about whether it is possible to even attain them. These are the goals which will really make you stretch yourself and then feel rewarded with an incredible sense of satisfaction when you do achieve them. Be focused on the amount of growth you make rather than attaching yourself simply to the outcome. Your level of personal excellence is measured against your growth, your improvement, not somebody else's and remember we are all here at Scotch College to assist you achieve your own personal excellence.


Mr Dean Shadgett
Head of Senior School