Excellence is a tricky thing—it shifts depending on where you're standing. Take Mount Elbert in Colorado, Colorado's tallest peak at 14,437 feet. Scaling Mt. Elbert would be an accomplishment worthy of a framed picture. Now, place that next to Mount Everest, where just hanging out at base camp puts you at over 17,500 feet. Next to the gigantic Everest, climbing Mount Elbert suddenly feels less like a heroic expedition and more like a victory lap on home turf—still an accomplishment, but with less frostbite.

This shifting standard reminds me of my baseball days. Growing up in Indiana, my skills were, let's just say, ordinary. But I felt like Chipper Jones when I played baseball in South Dakota. Turns out, baseball wasn't the state's pastime—it was more of an accidental hobby that a few kids enjoyed. So, with the competition limited, I went from zero to hero overnight.

The example highlights a critical lesson about excellence: it is often relative. Many of us develop an overinflated sense of self based on localized accomplishments. We may feel like significant players within our companies, nonprofits, or social circles because the comparative standards are set. This restricted view can skew our self-perception, giving us a false sense of accomplishment or, equally, an unjustified sense of inadequacy.

There is a flip side, a danger in always comparing our “mountains” to the highest peaks in the world. If we constantly measure our achievements against examples like those in our curated social media feed,  we risk undervaluing our significant accomplishments that resemble Mount Elbert. Every context has its range of mountains, from the small hills to the towering peaks.

Balancing our perspective on success is crucial. If we don't, we risk becoming complacent in our small victories or discouraged by not reaching the pinnacle of what's considered the best. Imagine if every filmmaker compared themselves to Steven Spielberg. We'd have a lot of very dejected directors and probably fewer movies.

Achieving true excellence is not just about besting others but about surpassing ourselves… and I'll just stop and say that THIS is a significant thing for us achiever types to understand. Competition is more prominent in today's language about being “great” in the workplace. Rather, it's about continual improvement, setting new personal records, and conquering the next challenge. Whether it's improving a skill, deepening knowledge, or expanding our capacities (or consistencies), excellence is a personal journey more than a comparative one.

So, how do we find balance? It's about recognizing and celebrating the Mount Elberts in our lives while keeping an eye on Everest. It's about pushing ourselves to improve, not just surpassing others but surpassing our previous selves. Whether enhancing a skill, deepening knowledge, or expanding what we think we're capable of, striving for excellence is a personal journey.

For our teams, building a culture of excellence within organizations means setting standards that challenge everyone not just to win in the local talent show but to keep improving, show after show. It encourages looking beyond our immediate surroundings for inspiration and elevating our own standards. By appreciating achievements at all levels, we ensure we're neither resting on our laurels nor dismissing the steps we've climbed. Excellence isn't about where you rank but how far you've come and where you're heading next.

And let's be honest, sometimes showing up to work on a Monday feels like summiting Everest, doesn't it?