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Clearing The Path To Personal Excellence


As a culture, we love excellence — we praise excellent work, an excellent meal or an excellent performance. We don’t often talk about “excellence” itself, as a quality that we should strive for in an abstract sense. So it is hard to define it on its own, although we find it easy to define an excellent steak or an excellent report.

Excellence is often defined as a talent or quality that is so good, it surpasses ordinary standards. It’s about what people call, “being at the top of your game.” In order to get there, excellence demands you reach for more than what others — often even you — expect to achieve or accomplish.

Defining excellence in your personal life may feel, and be measured, quite differently. For me, having tranquility and stability at home allows me to really focus on over-delivering at work. I find myself balancing my “very focused” professional drive with a more calm, relaxed personal life. Yin and yang. Personal excellence feels more like staying true to my values, living honestly and with integrity. It’s less about results and “measureables,” more about how closely I am able to live a life in which I honour and respect my core, authentic self. Personal and professional excellence may manifest themselves in different ways, but they’re grounded in the same principles.

Personal and professional excellence may manifest themselves in different ways, but they’re grounded in the same principles.


My work life is not a completely separate part of who I am. Rather, it’s an intricate part of my whole self. I regularly ask myself how I want to live my whole life, not just my nine to five (or my seven to nine).

In each of my roles throughout my career I have strived to deliver results that were significantly stronger than the company trend. Setting very high standards for your contribution is a critical first step in delivering excellence. Having a solid belief in your ability to deliver at a higher level than average allows you to look past typical obstacles. Not accepting reasonable excuses for poor performance pushes you to see through issues rather than being stuck staring at them. There is a real magic when you feel powerful and effective both professionally and personally. It’s like the Holy Grail—not easy to find, but certainly worth striving for.

This doesn’t mean you’ve got to be a CEO or a president to feel that magic. You can create excellence your way, whatever level you happen to be at. If you’re exceeding your own expectations, you’re getting a taste of that magic.

That said, there are a few qualities that will help you on your journey. Creative thinking and strategic problem solving are a must in today’s competitive business environment. Staying open-minded and flexible when approaching challenges keeps you fresh.

I believe that professional excellence is ultimately achieved when underscored with personal values and standards. Authenticity and integrity must support my drive for achievement. Without them, the victories would feel hollow.

One tip is that if you want to achieve superior results, surround yourself with other high achievers. Great people don’t want to work with people who are satisfied with the status quo. It’s a lot more difficult to achieve professional excellence surrounded by people who do not share your desire and vision.

To young people who are at the start of your careers: Worry less about your “career plan,” with its timelines and milestones. When the world is changing as quickly as it is today, having a defined plan could limit your potential for excellence in a role or function you’ve never dreamed of. While this rate of change may be unnerving, it will also give birth to new careers and opportunities. Instead of defining your lifetime of goals too early, refine your skills instead. Invest in building a toolkit of experience and solid skills. Although you can’t predict what’s down the road, try as much as possible to focus on honing and developing skills that will remain relevant over the next decade.

Work hard, strive for excellence, believe you are capable of it — however you may define it — and the opportunities and recognition will certainly follow.

With over 25 years of experience in brand management, Carrie Kirkman has established herself as a leader in the women’s wear industry in Canada. Follow Carrie on Twitter @CarrieKirkman. Jones New York is available at Hudson’s Bay across Canada.