Joey rises before dawn to pack his lunch, eager for morning to arrive so he can board the city bus that transports him to his job at a souvenir production facility. From 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., Joey applies decals to souvenir collector spoons. Much like an artist applying brush to canvas, Joey peels a self-sticking decal from its wrapper, painstakingly centres it over the base of the spoon, then slowly presses it on the metal. If the decal is not perfectly centered, he peels it off and starts over. Joey glows with pride over the racks of completed spoons, ready to be packaged for shipping to retail stores.
Joey has Down Syndrome. Though he will never become the chairman of a Fortune 500 company and it’s unlikely he will ever win an Academy Award or a Pulitzer price, Joey is an outstanding success and a source of continual pride and joy to his heavenly Father.
When I think of Joey, I feel shame for all the times when I have given less than my best. I’m also inspired to re-commit myself to the pursuit of excellence in everything that I do.
In the parable of the five talents, Jesus taught the importance of investing our gifts and resources to the best of our ability. He told the parable of a man who went on a long journey and entrusted his wealth to three individuals. Each received a different amount, “each according to his ability.”
When the wealthy man returned, he asked the three men to give an account for what they did with their gold.
Two of the three doubled their money through wise investments and were commended by the boss. “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” One of the men buried his money. This made the boss angry, and he took the bag of gold from him and gave it to the one who had ten bags.
“For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance,” said Jesus. “Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
To embrace excellence, we must shun mediocrity, despising it as a sinister enemy and guarding against its intrusion into our attitudes and endeavors. As the late Jamie Buckingham wrote, “The risk-free life is a victory-free life. It means lifelong surrender to the mediocre. And that is the worst of all defeats.”
At times, that means we need the courage to stand alone. Not everyone will support you. Some may intentionally or unintentionally discourage you and undermine your dreams. Seek out friends who with whom you can share mutual encouragement and support.
Another key to shunning mediocrity is to never compare ourselves with others. At the end of my life, I will not be asked, “Why were you not Sara, or Jennifer, or Candace?” I will be asked, “Were you Judy? Were you faithful to be the woman I created you to be.”
Know Your Purpose
To achieve excellence, we must clarify our purpose. It’s difficult to give our best when we lack vision.
My grades were ho-hum during high school and for the first two years of university. I could have achieved honors with minimal effort, but I rarely studied. It wasn’t until I discovered my passion – writing – and transferred to journalism studies that I exerted effort and strived for excellence. My grades soared and I achieved honors. Once I discovered my passion, it was easy to give my best.
I’m not trying to excuse my poor study habits – I admit they reflected laziness and immaturity. Nevertheless, discovering my love for writing had a catalytic impact on motivating me to a greater commitment to excellence.
One of the ways God reveals our calling is through our passions. What excites you? What stirs joy in your heart? What motivates you? What inspires creativity and ideas and vision? The answers to these questions will provide key clues to understanding your purpose. Most important, pray and ask God to help you understand your purpose.
Know Your Source
Embracing excellence means we must know our source. Even before we were born, we were impregnated with the seeds of divine potential. Yet those seeds can remain dormant.
Consider the majestic oak tree. It’s hard to believe it all started with a tiny seed. It’s even more amazing to realize that seed contained all the genetic material necessary to develop into a mature tree. Still, for that seed to germinate and grow it required the right environmental conditions, including moisture and nutrients from the soil, and sunshine.
Our life purpose operates on a similar principle. Though God places seeds of potential in each one of us, those seeds require the right spiritual environment in order to germinate and grow.
The Bible says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits” (Dan. 11:32)
By far the most important key to excellence and fulfilled potential is to develop a more intimate relationship with God. As we draw closer to Him, we receive clearer vision of our unique purpose. We grow in our passion and commitment to invest our gifts and resources to serve God in our unique sphere of influence.
As God’s image-bearers, let’s despise mediocrity. Let’s seek to be more passionate, creative and excellent in everything we do. Let’s refuse the well-travelled path of mediocrity, predictability and conformity; and instead choose the less-travelled path of faith, courage, and risk.