Homer, western civilization's most influential writer, gives us his answer to the question: "How should we live our lives?" Through his epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, he tells us how he and many of the ancient Greeks thought we should live our lives. By embodying "arête."
The most common definition of "arête" is "excellence." And that's a pretty good definition if we’re looking at "arête" as just a word on a page that needs translation. But we need to dig deeper if we want to find out why Homer thought it answered the question, how should you live your life?
Digging one level deeper, we come across another definition. "Courage." Again, a good definition if you need to do some translating, but it's still doesn't answer our question. So we dig deeper and find "strength," and now we're sure we can translate "arête" whenever we come across it. One of our definitions will definitely work.
But if we stop here, Homer, himself, would tell us that we missed the point. So we have to dig even deeper. We have to go on a real archeological dig into the wisdom of ancient times. But it's worth it because it doesn't take much longer before we find Homer's answer to the question, how should we live our lives?
In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer's main characters all embody "arête." But for each of them, this “arête” is different. That is, each character has their own individual "arête." They all have individual strengths. And when they focus on those strengths and exercise them, they embody "arête." So it's not being excellent at something that reflects this quality. It's embodying that something.
It turns out that "arête" means excellence only in the sense that you're embracing your strengths. Embracing what you do well. Whether it leads to actual success or failure is not the quality of "arête." It often can lead to excellence, but not always.
"Arête" is the act of exercising your strengths. It's using your mind and your body and your emotions to get as close to realizing your potential as possible. That's how we should lead our lives. Whether we achieve success or not, we embody "arête" if we do what we should be doing. And that brings us back to courage and strength.
It takes courage to be honest with yourself about what you do well. It's a moment of truth.
If you put a group of people in a room and ask them what Excellence is, you will receive many different answers but they should have something in common: EXCELLENCE IS ABOUT DOING YOUR BEST… And every day, we are reminded of how important it is to strive for excellence, be it in life or at work. By nurturing a culture of excellence within your organisations, you open the path to success.
Excellence is not a set level of quality or perfectionism. It's an ever-changing dynamic in both our personal journey and the collective journey of our teams.
It's about growth and maturity. Excellence should be a moving target of sorts. The quality of your craft and serving today should not be the same as the quality of your serving yesterday. It should be increasing and moving forward, not stagnating!
Excellence is our ever-growing personal and collective best.
It goes hand-in-hand with humility, not counter to it. Everything that we do in our serving – all the weekend services, late-night rehearsals, conferences, travel, and songwriting – it's all for Jesus! He deserves our best, and our best today is different than our best from yesterday – our best for tomorrow will be better still.
- Excellence looks like personal practice. Getting better at your craft. If you feel as though you're "good enough", please re-check your approach. Excellence takes hard work and means we are continually getting better.
- Be aware of where you want to be and set realistic goals for yourself. Don't be content with staying where you are. God wants our best and the bottom line is our best will constantly be changing with more time, work, and experience.
- Set an expectation of excellence in your team. Excellence starts with the expectation we set for ourselves but a culture of excellence in a team can only be created by the expectation of our leadership. As a team leader, be clear about your expectations – your team will most likely rise to the challenge!
- Approach what you "always do" with fresh eyes. If we want the church to be a place of innovation and initiative, we can’t do this by staying the same. In a new season, we need to look at what we do with fresh eyes. Different seasons call for new strategies or playing techniques.