Boats, Books, and the Pursuit of Excellence

I have a friend who I’ll call “Peter.” He believes everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) can be done just a little bit better, each and every time. Even when he wins every single race of a regatta, he’s still talking afterward about how he could’ve been a little bit faster, started a little better, or taken better advantage of a situation by putting his boat in a more strategic place.


I have another friend I’ll call “Randy.” She’s a successful author, at the other “end” of my professional spectrum, but she’s a lot like Peter. Before her first novel had even come out, she was already talking about how she could do a better job with her second—and then mentioning a few ideas she had for her third.

Randy and Peter have never met, as far as I know. And books are much more unique than sailboat races. But these two share a distinct and rare personality trait: the pursuit of excellence. While both are proud of their past accomplishments, their primary focus is forward: how can they do even better next time?

The last friend I’ll introduce is “Sailor Sam.” I don’t know him as well as Peter and Randy, probably because I gravitate toward people who push themselves even harder than I do. But from my friendly view across the boat park, SS seems perfectly content to show up at regattas and make the same mistakes over and over again, digging a multi-year rut ever deeper with each poor finish.

When I study people I don’t know (in airports, truck stops, or restaurants), I can quickly pick out the Peters and Randys of the world. Never satisfied, they are always striving to improve: themselves, their friends, their situation. Whatever motivates these folks (maybe family or selling, rather than sport or sentence structure), they look for every chance to move their worlds to a higher level.

And that’s what sets them apart from the sea of “Sams” that makes up the bulk of most crowds. How can so many people—most people—be content to make the same mistakes over and over again, rather than striving to be better? I can understand that what inspires me (sailing and writing) is not what inspires most people, but I just don’t get how anyone could be happy doing nothing to improve on whatever it is that gets them out of bed in the morning.

So as I strive to get better with each regatta I sail and every story I write, I surreptitiously study the Sams as if they were strange creatures from a different planet—even though they make up most of the population on this one. And when I realize I still don’t understand what makes them tick, I go back to my comfort zone—learning from the Peters and the Randys of the world how to sail faster and write better.