“Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” – Daniel 6:3
What does it mean to do things with a spirit of excellence?
Put simply, it means you do things to the best of your ability, and then continue to improve upon your ability over time. Those people that we admire, that are producing excellence: leaders, athletes, authors, teachers, etc. were probably not born with a talent that automatically guaranteed their success and their place at the top of their fields. If you dig into their story you will often find that they dedicated much of their time and effort to perfecting their craft.
As they grew, at some point they believed that they were the type of person who could do something great, and eventually their work reflected that.
Often times, our ability and motivation are filtered through our identity. What I mean by that is that if you think very highly of yourself (not in an arrogant way) you are more likely to do things at a higher level, do your best. Because doing less would not agree with how you see yourself. If you think lowly of yourself, then the likelihood that you will do things to the best of your ability, or to work to grow your ability is pretty low.
So, where does the spirit of excellence come from? Identity. If you don’t see the value of who you are you are likely to follow a path that is “easy” and “predictable” and achievable without much effort. When you think low of yourself you will look into the future and survey where you will be based on your current abilities. If you think highly of yourself you will look into the future with the expectation that you will improve and grow into something that is bigger than yourself. You also are open to big possibilities. Having a spirit of excellence has more to do with who you are than what you do. What you do (and how you do it) is a product of who you are.
[So where does identity come from? Where do we attain the type of identity that will cause us to see ourselves as valuable? That’s a great question. I’ll address this topic in a future post.]
Steve Sexton was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age. He struggled mightily in school, graduating high school just shy of 20 years old. His grades were bad, so college seemed out of the question. He was not great at speaking or writing or much else in academics. You could say he did “the best he could” and was able to accomplish a big goal of graduating high school. No one would argue or diminish Steve’s accomplishment in that.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “You did your best.” But have you ever thought about how that has been used. It’s interesting to note that this phrase is often used in a negative connotation. You lose a big game: “Well, you did your best.” You fail a test and your parents say, “Well, you did your best.” Steve was not good at school, at all. For him to just graduate high school it was easy to say, “Well, you did your best.” This phrase doesn’t work, because “best” is such a relative word. What is your best now does not have to define what could be your best later. Steve now speaks for a living. He has written a book. What does that say about his earlier prognostications?
Doing your best and doing things with a “spirit of excellence” are not the same thing. Just “doing your best” and being satisfied is somewhat of a copout. Instead, do things with a spirit of excellence. Grow. Get better. No matter how “good” you get, convince yourself you can get better. (This is not about performing for approval, but about personal value.) Remember, doing your best and being the best are different. Don’t just do your best and be satisfied. Become the best. It will take time, but you are worth it. It will take you great places that you never imagined.
“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” – Proverbs 22:29