Sandpaper was first created in 13th century China where crushed shells, seeds, and sand were glued to parchment paper. This abrasive product is used to remove small amounts of material from surfaces with the intent of making them smoother or to remove a layer. Sandpaper comes in many different grits designed to smooth out even the toughest and most coarse materials.
In life we all need sandpaper, we all need an antagonist, and we all need friction. There isn’t a one of us that is silky smooth and if we plan to get the best out of ourselves we need someone who will oppose us. While motivation is at its best when it is internal, we do need something to rub us the wrong way in order for us to achieve our potential.
The greatest harm we can do in our quest for excellence is to surround ourselves with others who think exactly like us. When we only interact with likeminded individuals we only get the answers we want to hear. When excellence is at stake we need an abrasive individual that will cause us to question our motives and evaluate our reasoning. It is through the roughing up of our ideals that we can find the way to smoothly experience greatness.
The bigger the idea we have the tougher grit we need to surround ourselves with. Big ideas are not materialized without friction, big mistakes are. If we are to minimize the amount of mistakes we make through transitions it is essential that we assess all ideas, especially the ones we don’t agree with. Somewhere between the emotion that is produced from an antagonist and our original idea is the opportunity for excellence. This opportunity is not available when we are not challenged personally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Excellence is a form of alchemy, the transformation or enchantment of power. Alchemy is both a philosophy and a practice with the aim of achieving ultimate wisdom through change. In order for us to make the necessary change that has the potential to reach ultimate wisdom we must use the old woodworker’s philosophy of “going through the grits” and progressively remove scratches until our surface is perfectly smooth.
It isn’t until we embrace ideas that go against our grain and create scratches that we will be able to see the opportunity that will generate excellence. Without abrasive others we will not create enough thought to achieve alchemy and without alchemy we will not create enough change to achieve wisdom.