Why is that some people, despite the disadvantages of circumstance, lack of resources or monumental obstacles, manage to consistently thrive and excel? They make habit, throughout their lives, of turning adversity into opportunity. They reinvent themselves over and over in ways that seem to defy conventional wisdom. Meanwhile others, despite having the advantages of birth, wealth, talent or circumstance, manage to reach an apex of success or significance, only to self-destruct often in the most tragic of ways?
After almost thirty years of studying people from all walks of life; the wealthy and famous as well as those who are not, those of significant historical contribution as well as the mundane, those of extensive formal education as well as those of minimal informal education, etc. Certain common denominators have emerged in those who excel, repeatedly throughout their lives. Conversely, patterns have also emerged in those who aspire to and/or achieve the aforementioned and subsequently unwind those achievements at one or more levels.
So in defining “sustained excellence” the phrase doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the sense of fame, fortune or historical notoriety although those are possible byproducts. It’s more synonymous with terms such as significance, contribution and even reinvention, although even these are incomplete in thoroughly defining the topic.
Nonetheless, in those who have repeatedly found excellence and sustained it throughout their lives, they all exhibit this same formula within some range of exception;
They all have some form of “personal code” which operates as guiding principles and supersedes all other influences. They also utilize some measure of introspection, which allows them to regularly reorient, or ‘get back on course’ with the principles of this code.
Whether consciously or intuitively, each recognizes the need for the physical energy and vitality to sustain excellence in the long-term. As a result, all practice some combination of the rules for good health that include; Diet, Rest, Exercise, Stress Reduction and Social Connection.
All recognize the need for continuous personal improvement whether at the intellectual, physical or psychological levels. They regularly step out of their comfort zones into new experiences.
As a result of the momentum created by the first three ‘rings’, what one might call Leadership Gravity begins to exert its forces around these individuals. People rally around them, to their cause and/or vision quests. This by no means suggests that they are either perfect or universally liked. There are documented examples such as Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and even Benjamin Franklin, who all had real character flaws, but suggest that this leadership gravity occurs despite those flaws.
Out of the momentum created by the first four rings, culture begins to develop. It can become a movement, an organization, a business or even the heart of a society that, if properly incubated, can out last that individual’s lifetime.
Not everyone aspires to change society or create a lasting organization. Many are content with finding equilibrium in the first three or four rings throughout their lives. The formula remains, however, visible at some level in all individuals who consistently excel and overcome adversity.
This is what is referred to as the “Five Rings of Sustaining Excellence”