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“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men”. Prov. 22:29(NIV)

The successful and the rich will tell you that hard work is the secret of success. But I found out that this is only half of the truth. The other factor that could really make you successful is the habit of getting better at what you do.

Excellence. It is not merely working hard. It is about getting better and excelling in your career. We will soon learn from the life of Michelangelo that excellence opens palace doors and have the rare opportunity to serve and stand before kings.

Excellence is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle

Michelangelo, the great sculptor, was very skilled with the chisel. He excelled in it. That was why he had the opportunity to work for the rich and influential businessmen and politicians around Europe including the Vatican.

But his fellow sculptors were not happy about this. His privilege to work inside mansions and cathedrals caused envy and resentment in the hearts of his contemporaries. They attempted to put him down, but he ironically emerged even more triumphant instead. It made him better. His skills got sharpened and as a result, he continued to excel. Those criticisms brought out the best out of him. He produced masterpieces that endured for centuries.

When a big chunk of marble was abandoned by another sculptor, he took it. After four years that stone became the statue of David. He was also a painter. He was responsible for covering the ceilings and walls of some of the chapels in Vatican with paintings. The Creation of Man was the most popular. His last two paintings, the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul, were executed when he was already 75 years old!

In his 80’s, when most people have long been retired, he started a new career, that of being an architect. He attempted to complete the roof of the Basilica of St. Peter. Many builders failed because engineers said it couldn’t be done. He died at age 90 still working on this particular project which was already near completion. Centuries later, his works are still eliciting wonder and amazement for their quality, craftsmanship, and beauty.

A research showed that America’s self-made millionaires knew themselves and their strengths very well. They knew their passions and took advantage of them.

In Ecclesiastes 10:11, King Solomon mentioned about a dull ax. So dull that if you use it, you need more energy and exert more force.

Using a dull ax makes a relatively easy job seem difficult. It requires a longer time to accomplish the work and leave you exhausted even if the job is only half-finished. But once the blade or edge of the ax is sharpened, the job becomes easier. The ax represents our minds, skills, talents or abilities that must be sharpened. Hard workers rely heavily on their strong hands. Smart workers guide these hands with a sharpened mind.

This reminds me of the story of two woodcutters. The first woodcutter worked and worked without taking a break because they are paid based on the number of trees they cut. The second woodcutter often rests after every tree he cut. However, the first woodcutter was puzzled why every time they count the trees cut at the end of the day, the second man always have more number of trees cut. This went on for sometime until the first man could not take it anymore and asked what the secret of the other woodcutter is. “You know”, replied the second man, “Every time I rest I sharpen my ax”.

Idle minds get rusty. Napoleon Hill said that knowledge is not power as some people believe. It becomes power only when used. That is how we excel in whatever job we have now.