Paul Buyer was extremely frustrated. A music professor and Director of Percussion at South Carolina’s Clemson University, Dr. Buyer felt rehearsals weren’t going well. Students were arriving late and they weren’t practicing.  Then, after an especially less-than-stellar concert, a student commented to him, “I never want to feel that way again.”

So Buyer started thinking seriously about what was missing. He ended up writing a book, “Working Toward Excellence,” identifying key values essential to success.

It’s human nature to try to meet others’ expectations.  But when we or those we work with set the bar too low, we’ll typically tend toward lower performance.

Achieving excellence is about reaching your potential in any endeavor, says Buyer. But he says it’s important to emphasize that excellence is not about perfection. “I don’t think perfection exists. It’s a very noble goal, but once you start working toward perfection, you stop taking risks.”

That’s not so good, because extending yourself is critical to learning, and making errors speeds up the process of improving, he explains. Trying to be perfect is also demoralizing. “You’ll never be able to feel good about things if your goal is to be perfect,” Buyer adds.

When you’re learning something new, the standard of excellence is different than it will be when you’re more experienced. “You have a learning curve, and when you’re starting out, excellence depends on your efforts,” says Buyer. In other words, a child who signs up for Little League isn’t likely to win the World Series, (at least not initially). The key is to reach your potential at a particular stage of growth or point in time, he adds.

Buyer notes that there are two kinds of mistakes you make as you’re developing skill. If you’ve put in the effort, and you make a mistake, that’s fine. But if you’ve flubbed a challenge because you weren’t prepared, “that is not OK.”

Why do some people seem automatically focused on excellence while others seem to lean toward something less? Buyer says while some people are naturally born with the drive toward excellence, everyone can be taught to focus on success by parents, mentors, teachers and coaches who set a high standard.

These are the eight values Buyer says will help you achieve excellence:

  1. Hunger: You have to want excellence the way you crave water when you’re thirsty. The desire for excellence wells up from within you; it isn’t about doing what someone else wants you to do.
  2. Effort: This requires focus, a strong work ethic, self-discipline, mental toughness, commitment and the toned ability to execute at a high level.
  3. Process: Preparation is everything. Darren Hardy, publisher of Success magazine, describes it this way: “It’s not the big things that add up in the end; it’s the hundreds, thousands, or millions of little things that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.”
  4. Quality: The constant companion of excellence. As Steve Jobs said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
  5. Consistency: Repeatedly doing the things that will put you in the position to succeed. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
  6. Leadership: Because most things in life require collaboration, learning to motivate people to do what is necessary is essential.
  7. Time: How you use and value your time affects your work. Time management is critical. As basketball coach John Wooden said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
  8. Perseverance: Persistence, resilience and inner strength to power through challenges. Boxer Muhammad Ali said, “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them…they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

Buyer says he focuses on excellence in virtually every aspect of his daily life. He makes it a habit.  The key is to make up your mind at the very outset that your work is going to stand for quality, he explains.

Buyer says a conductor told him many years ago, “Forty percent of the music is written down; sixty percent is not.” To him, that means that the written page isn’t the music. Music comes from your instrument, of course, but also from your own unique efforts. “Go beyond the page,” in everything you do, he suggests.


Learn more: Working Toward Excellence: 8 Values for Achieving Uncommon Success in Work and Life, by Paul Buyer, Morgan James Publishing, 2012.

Article Topics

Discover More