[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 28, 2008.]
In October of 2006, Greg Glassman gave me the most important lesson of my life. It has nothing to do with barbells or pull-ups, sweat or pain. In fact, it has very little to do with exercise at all.
His words, paraphrased and non-profound: The pursuit of excellence is rewarded.
Simple and axiomatic, it would be easy to dismiss this lesson as self-help drivel. Yet put into action, it is the most powerful thing on the planet. It’s taken me two years to appreciate its potency, and ten short months to see its effects.
I’ve pared it down for my own use, coining a three-word phrase that reminds me that today is not just another day: Better than yesterday.
Today is an opportunity to run faster than ever before. To lift more weight. To make better videos and write better articles. To create better athletes. To make every client happy. To embrace the fact that yesterday’s efforts were nothing more than an unsatisfactory attempt at an uncompromising ideal.
You've got to reject where you are before you can get where you're going.
“Better than yesterday” is hard. It requires you to be your own worst critic, while maintaining the belief that you are fully capable of remedying your own faults.
This juxtaposition can be hard to sustain. It is easy to find satisfaction in mere competency, to believe that the job you’re doing is the best you can do. The identification of fault is much harder on the ego, an unending assault on the bastion of identity. “Better than yesterday”, with its implicit focus on excellence and explicit criticism of self, is an uncomfortable place.
I have a whiteboard in my office, bearing the unceremonious title “Things We Suck At”. This list is the CEO of Again Faster, and it says nasty things about me and my company. It keeps me honest and unsatisfied, and the second I become smug, it’s there to drive me into action, mocking me for my shortcomings. I don’t particularly like to look at that whiteboard, but it keeps us on a beeline toward excellence, and it’s done more for our company than any consultant ever could.
When Greg drew a capital “E” on the whiteboard at CrossFit Boston and launched into the relationship between excellence and reward, I understood his point, but I didn’t really get it. The concept was too vague. Two years later, “better than yesterday” has given me a concrete way to act on his philosophy, and the results have been profound. We’re way better off than we were yesterday, and tomorrow will prove to be even brighter.
Take this philosophy, and apply it to your pursuits, whether personal or professional. You’ll find, as I did, that excellence boils down to a simple truth: you’ve got to reject where you are before you can get where you’re going. You've got to be better than you were yesterday.
Jon Gilson is the founder of Again Faster and former member of CrossFit’s Level I Seminar staff. Photograph courtesy of David Foster.