The other day I was chatting with a friend and she asked me how my blogs were coming along. I responded, “Oh, pretty good, but I always feel like I should be writing more often than I do. It’s kind of like that feeling you get trying to keep your house clean…no matter how much you clean, you always feel like you could be keeping it cleaner.”
Then after I said it, I realized that maybe she didn’t feel that way. Maybe she couldn’t relate to the statement, “no matter how much you clean, you always feel like you could be keeping it cleaner.” Maybe she cleaned her house like a normal person, and walked away from it completely satisfied. Maybe that wasn’t a Universal Mom-ism after all, but rather my Perfectionism talking.
Ugh! Perfectionism: That nagging feeling that no matter how hard I try, it’s never good enough. I could always do better. If I’m honest with myself, I feel like nothing–absolutely NOTHING–I do is ever really my very best work.
In fact, to encourage me with the words, “just do your best” is an open invitation for me to go into “striving mode.” Striving mode is bad.
Fear of Mediocrity
I suppose I have a deep-seated fear of mediocrity. And I suppose my most simplistic definition of mediocrity is “not doing my best.”
I don’t ever want people to look at me and say, “She’s just mediocre. Her parenting is mediocre. Her marriage is mediocre. Her writing is mediocre. Her hair is mediocre.” I don’t want God to look at what I’ve done with the gifts He has given me and conclude, “You were only mediocre, Sandy. You can come into heaven, but you get the outdated mansion with the mauve furniture and floral drapes.” I realize there is no direct scriptural reference to support God saying this to me, but He once called the Church in Laodicea “lukewarm.” And that’s sorta like mediocre. I made up the stuff about the outdated decor.
As a Christian, I know I’m called to life of excellence. Not perfection, but excellence. I know I am called to work at everything with all my heart as though I’m doing it for God (Col 3:23). I want to put skin on this—the concept of excellence—but I honestly don’t know if I understand how to live it out. It’s seems to me there’s a fine line between doing something with excellence for God (healthy)and striving for perfection (unhealthy).
I don’t really know where that line is, most days.
Doing My Best Vs. Running Out of Time
If I stop working at something—whether it be cleaning my house or writing a blog post or doing my hair—it is almost never because I feel like I’ve done my best. It’s because I’ve run out of time. If I would have more time, I could have done an even BETTER job. I didn’t stop because I pursued and achieved excellence. I stopped because external circumstanced precluded me from going at it longer. Which in my warped brain translates to giving up. And giving up equals mediocrity.
Almost every single action I perform—from a conversation with my husband to a discipline situation with my children, from a speaking engagement to a phone call, from dinner preparation to bargain hunting—I walk away from it and a tiny voice whispers, “You could have done better.”
That doesn’t sound like God, does it.
I want to use the talents the Lord has given me. My goal in life is to stand before God one day and hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I get choked up just thinking about how badly I long for that moment. But like everything associated with living in the fullness of Christ, the use of those talents should bring greater freedom, not greater bondage, right?
I do remember one time (yes, only one time!) where I felt like I had done my absolute best. It was two years ago when I was preparing a book proposal. After working for hours and hours, for months on end, I felt like I had reached a point where I honestly could not make my book proposal any better without outside help. My proposal wasn’t perfect. But it was the best I could do without an editor.
Of course, because I spent so much time writing that summer, other relationships suffered. In fact, one particular friendship never recovered from the neglect. So, I guess I still felt like I could have done better.
And yes, it is so exhausting living in my brain. I know that’s what you were thinking.
So, how do we measure excellence? We all know excellence is not perfection. What is it, then? Is it simply doing our best? I used to think that, but now I’m not so sure.
The Hebrew word translated “excellent” in that scripture means “to ascend.” The Amplified Bible translates that verse this way: “a capable, intelligent and virtuous woman.”
And here’s how The Amplified Bible describes two other excellent women:
Ruth 3:11—“a woman of strength—worth, bravery, capability”
Proverbs 12:4—“a virtuous and worthy wife—earnest and strong in character.”
Interesting…not one of those words imply “perfect” or “without failure.” Not one of those words imply that she “did her best.”
So, maybe excellence is more a pursuit of character qualities—the attributes of God, like virtue and love and justice and mercy—rather than the results of a finished product—a clean house, a finished book proposal, chiseled abs. And maybe acquiring those attributes results not from pursuing the attributes themselves, but from pursuing God.
I mean, I know God cares about how we do things. Whether it’s done well, or not-so-well. But I think He’s much more concerned with the attitude behind the doing.
And maybe my pondering perfection and excellence has left you with more questions than answers. I’m sorry about that. But I’ve been mulling these concepts around in my head for weeks and I’m pretty sure—dare I say—this was the best I could do with this subject. At least for now. And if I waited for the day I could articulate it all perfectly, this post might never be written. *Sigh*…I am such a work-in-progress.
So help me out here: Can you give me a good definition of excellence? How do you pursue it? How do you distinguish it from perfection? Do you ever feel like you truly do your best? How do you know when to stop trying?