I know it's old-fashioned, but I like to read the newspaper on a Saturday morning. I unroll it, smooth it out on our large kitchen table, and spend a couple of hours browsing through the articles, while enjoying my coffee with cheese and tomato on toast.
Until a few months ago, my Saturday morning ritual started with a search and rescue operation to find the newspaper - peering into hedges, crawling under the car, looking over the neighbour's fence, or checking if it had rolled into the gutter. But recently I’ve noticed it has been consistently waiting for me by the front stairs.
Last Saturday, some international travel had left me with a disturbed body clock. So I got up extra early while it was still dark, rugged up, and went for a stroll with my dog, Leo. As we wandered along the footpath enjoying the silence, a small black car rounded the corner in the distance and started travelling slowly toward us on the wrong side of the street.
Leo's ears pricked up and we both watched curiously as a series of white missiles hurled out of the driver’s side window. It was the paper delivery man. As he passed us and waved, I realised we were witnessing something marvelous. Every newspaper was landing smack bang in the middle of its intended driveway. The car did a U-turn at the end of the street, and I continued to watch in awe as each paper landed perfectly in the middle of every targeted driveway. Leo and I returned home and sure enough, perfectly positioned in the front courtyard, was my newspaper. I went inside to get my phone and snap the below photo to capture this example of excellence in action.
Every job we do in life can be performed on a range from sloppy to excellent. I was taught by my father and my mentors to strive for the excellent end of the scale. While this is sometimes a source of frustration for those who work with me ("Is he ever going to finish this thing?"), I believe this obsession with getting things right has served me well. When I see a person, or for that matter an animal, tree, or any aspect of nature, expressing its innate excellence, my heart soars. Beauty and excellence can impact us in this way. Maybe for you it's a particular type of music, sport or art.
So how does one achieve excellence in life? You may have heard of the 10,000-Hour Rule, made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell argues that to achieve mastery in any field, one needs to practice for more than 10,000 hours. While these days, technology can often provide us with shortcuts, there is something about achieving excellence by putting in hours of concentrated work, that delivers a deep and lasting sense of satisfaction.
Back to my newspaper incident, later that morning I phoned the newsagent. I told him my street address and how I had observed the amazing accuracy of the newspaper thrower. “Oh that’s Johan, our number one guy” he replied with a hint of pride. “We recently moved him to your area.” The newsagent told me that Johan had started delivering newspapers while he was at University, and had been doing this 363 days a year for 20 years. “It's definitely an art form, and we are grateful to have him on our team."
I asked if Johan had another job, and learned that he was an engineer who printed postage stamps, another job which I am sure requires precision. After the call, I opened the calculator on my phone and did the maths. It takes 90 minutes to do a newspaper round so I multiplied 90 minutes by 363 days by 20 years. The answer is 653,400 minutes…. or 10,890 hours!
From now on, every time I pick up my perfectly positioned newspaper on a Saturday morning, I will think about Johan and his commitment to excellence.
Inspiration is everywhere if we take a little time to look around. The gardener trimming a hedge, the barista preparing your morning coffee, the drummer pumping out a hypnotic rhythm, the graphic designer creating a perfectly balanced layout, the footballer shooting an impossible goal. It's all beautiful and, for me, it's these moments of excellence that give meaning to life.
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