J.J. Watt is an American football player who plays for the Houston Texans in the NFL (1).
During his first five seasons, he received the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award three times (2).
By NFL standards, he was performing way better than he was getting paid.
When a journalist asked Watt about this, he replied (3):
I can’t worry about it out here. All I can do is practice football. I think no matter what job you do – I don’t care what job it is – you want to outperform your contract.
You should want people to think you’re underpaid because of how hard you work, because of how well you do your job, because of how you go about your business.
That’s just personal pride, and that’s the way I was raised, and that’s the way my parents taught me: If they give you $2 worth of wage, give them $3 worth of work.
Most people let their contracts determine their performance. They read the terms and do what they’re supposed to do. No more, no less.
Other people do as little as possible to get by. They make sure they never do more than what they’re paid to do. For these people, their contract becomes the upper limit of their performance.
For extraordinary people, however, their contract terms represent the absolute minimum amount of effort required. These people are always working to outperform their contracts.
And if you want to be a remarkable person, you should too. Why? Because to be remarkable, you have to be, well, REMARK-ABLE.
In other words, your performance has to be so good that others start making remarks about it (4).
You have to be so good they can’t ignore you.
So, how do you do that?
Arete is an ancient Greek word that means “excellence of any kind” (5). The arete of something is the highest quality state it can reach.
Making arete your guiding principle means that you focus on the quality in everything you do.
Instead of worrying about how something will make you feel, you strive to do it to the very best of your abilities.
In every moment, you strive to live up to your full potential. You make excellence your ultimate goal.
You replace the question “How do I feel about this?” with “What would the highest version of me do in this situation?”.
Then you go out and do what the highest version of yourself would have done.
And the more you put arete into practice, the more you’ll start to embody it.
Of course, this isn’t easy. Just because you’ve read this article doesn’t mean you’re going to live in a constant state of excellence. No one does.
And that’s not the point. What’s important is the subtle mindset shift it creates.
Once you’ve decided to make arete your guiding principle, it doesn’t matter if you stray off course.
Because every moment brings a new opportunity to realign with the highest version of yourself.
If you find yourself in a situation where you didn’t perform as well as you would’ve liked, this is a perfect opportunity to get back into arete.
Keep on asking yourself what the highest version of yourself would do right now. Then do it. Again and again. Even if you just screwed up. Especially when you just screwed up.
I realize that this arete talk is quite abstract. So, let me share a few practical ways that I’ve been trying to incorporate the principle of arete into what I do. Here’s how I try to outperform my contracts:
As a writer.
I try to make each one of my articles as good as I possibly can. To do that, I regularly educate myself in the craft of writing by taking courses and reading books.
I also spend at least two hours every day writing. As a result, people have found my articles remarkable enough to share them.
That has led to features on some of the most popular publications in the world.
As a blogger.
If you join my newsletter, you’ll get my best articles sent directly to your inbox. You’ll also get access to a dedicated members’ section, full of gifts. Everything for free.
And when a reader reaches out, I always answer and try to be as helpful as possible.
That makes the newsletter so remarkable that my readers invite their friends, which gets my work in front of more people.
As a coach.
When working with a client, I always try to exceed their expectations by being remarkably helpful and by giving away free copies of books and courses.
Of course, arete isn’t just about becoming a remarkable person at work. It’s about bringing your A-game to everything that you do:
Always keep coming back to the question “What would the highest version of me do in this situation?”. Then do it.
This way, you’ll consistently stretch yourself to the edge of your abilities and outperform all your contracts.
Not because of what you’ll get from it, but for what it will make of you.
That’s how to be a remarkable person.