Challenge Ourselves for the Sake of Challenging Ourselves

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 16, Issue No. 10a
February 1, 2018

By Dan Coughlin


What is the point of challenging ourselves to be better than we are right now?

We’ve worked our whole lives to be as good as we are today. What’s the benefit of pushing ourselves to be better than we are today?


Over the past 20 years 95% of my work has been with people who work in for-profit organizations. 5% of my work, and usually this is done on a pro bono basis, has been done for not-for-profit organizations. And then every once in a great while something totally different comes my way.

On January 18, 2018 I was invited by Coach Ben Rosario to do my full-day seminar on “Achieving Individual and Team Excellence” for his team, HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite. His team consists of ten professional long-distance runners who work full-time at training for 5K, 10K, and marathon races. The ultimate goal is to prepare for the 2020 Olympic Trials to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics.

On the day of the seminar the group had a “light” workout before the seminar started. The main part of the workout included 3 one-mile reps and 3 800-meter reps at a fast pace. All told they ran 10 miles on the day. In 20 years of doing seminars for organizations I’ve never had a group who went for a 10-mile run before sitting down for a full-day seminar with me.

As we went through the many different exercises on reflecting, writing, and discussing the various aspects of individual and team excellence, certain patterns began to emerge. I realized that these professional runners were not driven by money or fame. They shared the common cause of pushing themselves individually and collectively just to see what they could achieve. They personified the idea of working for excellence.

I define excellence as doing the best you can at whatever you do while simultaneously learning how to do it better the next time. Excellence is not a moment in time. It’s an on-going process.

As they worked for excellence each day in their training they continually expanded their understanding of themselves and what they were capable of achieving. They challenged themselves for the sake of challenging themselves in order to see what they could achieve in the future.

Along the way they have become representatives of excellence. And that is why they are great representatives of the HOKA ONE ONE running shoe brand.

What if each of us took that idea and applied it in our work? What if we challenged ourselves to be better than we are today in order to represent the concept of excellence? Wouldn’t we then be stronger brand representatives for our organization and our work teams and our families? Wouldn’t our capacity to perform at a higher level be greater in the future? Wouldn’t we enrich our sense of self-esteem and personal dignity? Isn’t this what makes work worth doing beyond just receiving a paycheck?

Leonardo da Vinci

As I was flying to and from Flagstaff, Arizona to speak to the HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite team, I was reading the book, Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson.

Da Vinci was obsessed with learning. He wrote in his private journals all that he was learning about painting, military weapons, engineering, brains, hearts, spinal cords, mirrors, birds, flight, hydraulics, and on and on. Every day was about excellence. He wanted to know more, and he wanted to learn how to be better at learning more. At first he did it all through experiments. Then he added reading to learn what others knew. Then he combined the theories of other people with observation and more experiments. And all throughout his more than 50 years of actively studying and learning and expanding his knowledge he kept pushing himself to learn and to understand more.


It was excellence that was driving him. He wasn’t focused on turning his learnings into major commercial success. He was driven to learn. He accepted commissions for his paintings to pay his bills, but his primary driver was excellence in learning.

Recently one of his paintings sold for over $450 Million. I can’t even wrap my mind around that, except to think that the customer wanted to somehow buy the concept of excellence. It doesn’t work that way. If we want excellence in our lives, we have to be the one doing the best we can while simultaneously learning how to be better the next time.

Leonardo da Vinci was not wealthy financially, but if you consider excellence to be a part of a person’s treasure, then he was extraordinarily wealthy when he died.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady has been remarkably wealthy and incredibly well-known for many years. He does not need fame or fortune any more. He has them. But here he is at 40 years old pushing himself to succeed in a brutally violent sport.

Why? Why? Why?

It is the daily challenge of excellence that underlies his amazing performances.

Why should we challenge ourselves to be better than we are right now? Why shouldn’t we allow ourselves to just coast along? Why can’t we just be satisfied with where we are right now? We’ve all achieved a certain level of success in our lives. Why not just kick back and relax and stop reaching for excellence on a daily basis?

Walt Whitman wrote, “That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

The powerful play goes on, and we all have an opportunity to contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Status quo or excellence.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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