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Find excellence in your life

  • Published
  • By Col. Darren Sprunk
  • 570th Contingency Response Group commander
How do you tangibly describe the concept of excellence to those in your sphere of influence? Because of our diverse backgrounds and unique experiences, each of us has formulated our individual definitions of excellence, but few share a common baseline definition. I find biographies are a great means to effectively communicate concrete examples of pure excellence, and build that common reference point.

Are you familiar with the great living jazz soloist, Sonny Newk Rollins? Rollins was born to first-generation immigrants who settled in Harlem, New York. While times were difficult, Rollins found success early in life as a tenor saxophone player, playing with jazz greats like Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. However, rather than enjoy his legendary celebrity status by continuing to deliver the same musical style, Rollins walked away from the spotlight from 1959 to 1961, and did so again a decade later, remaining true to his desire for accomplishment with the music he was creating. He stated the need to brush up on various aspects of his craft.

Following each sabbatical, he returned with a new sound and strengthened ability, which kept him on the forefront of jazz evolution until this day. Now 81 years-old, he toured internationally in 2010 and  released another album in 2011. He has been honored in Asia and Europe, and President Obama recently awarded him with one of only 10 2010 National Medal of Arts for outstanding achievements and support of the arts.

Similarities of Rollins' excellence also reside in arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all time, John Wooden. Wooden said, "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

Rather than focus on a national championship as his goal, he was renowned for harvesting the potential of his staff and players through his relentless pursuit of excellence. An incredible player in his own right, Wooden's results as a coach remain unmatched to this day. He successfully led winning seasons in all but his first year. He accepted the job as head coach of the University of California Los Angeles Bruins, then-considered the weakest team in the Pacific conference, and led them to 10 National Collegiate Athletic Association championship titles between 1964 and 1975. Wooden also set an all-time winning streak record of 88 consecutive games. His mantra, "We're all absolutely equal in having the opportunity to make the most of what we have," remains a legacy. He died in 2010 at the age of 99.

Both men overcame hardship to find the strength necessary to improve daily; remaining true to their pursuit of excellence. I'll close with a brilliant challenge issued by a fellow military member upon his farewell, and ask that you take a moment to consider its potential impact: "Imagine what you would dare attempt, and ultimately accomplish, if you were guaranteed to succeed; if there was no possibility of failure. Now, forget the guarantee go get it."