Overly Obsessed With Excellence

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We recently did 360 degree evaluations in my office. In the feedback I received, phrases like "able to take projects to the next level," "gets a lot out of her team," and "accomplishes the task at hand" repeated themselves over and over, as did phrases like "too direct," "incredibly strong personality," and "has a hard time making people feel comfortable in a meeting." These painful—I mean helpful—insights got me thinking about the underlying standards that drive my actions. Admittedly, I often look at life as a lot of tasks to be accomplished. If I’m honest, I’d also have to admit the need to reach a certain level of perfection if I’m going to honor God with my life. At my core, I’m most driven by excellence and achievement. Don’t get me wrong. Excellence and achievement aren’t bad. But when I value excellence and achievement over everything else, other issues arise that ironically defeat that very ideal for honoring God. Maybe you can relate to some of the pitfalls that I’ve encountered in the pursuit of excellence.

1. Not recognizing limits.

I live like I can do more than is physically possible. I actually like the feeling that comes with stress. It’s exhilarating. It makes me efficient and focused. When I hit a wall, I buck up and push through the exhaustion. But God made us human beings with physical limitations. We all need help sometimes. When I recognize my limits, it becomes unmistakably clear that I cannot do it all on my own, and I am brought to my knees.

2. Excellence at all costs.

I recently read that excellence is a high cost item – we can’t be our best in both our work and personal lives. At first, I thought this was a ridiculous statement. But what I came to understand is that many people achieve excellence ‘at all costs.’ At times I’ve sought excellence at a cost to my health, to my relationships, and to the people who work for me. I’ve tried to achieve such a high level of excellence in one area that there was no way to maintain even mediocrity in another. I need to recognize that my standard of excellence need not be perfection.

3. Unrealistic expectations.

I have this underlying fear of not being good enough. Perhaps it’s because I create unrealistic standards. I expect to get more done in a day than I can, to never make a mistake, and to never be satisfied with what has been accomplished so far. If this is how success is measured for me and for others, nothing will ever be good enough. I suspect that if I took a closer look at my values, I’d develop a more realistic and meaningful set of expectations – such as compassion, justice, gentleness, humor, generosity, and joy. So far, however, I haven’t.

4. Pride in accomplishments.

I want to feel like my life is significant. I’m a really hard worker, and usually get good feedback from my boss and colleagues around all of my achievements. I admit that I mostly rely on myself, and take an awful lot of credit. I take pride in being busy while at the same time bemoaning my busyness, but wouldn’t have it any other way. I like feeling busy. It makes me feel important. But God says he opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Therefore, it’s critical that I confess my pride and seek wisdom and humility.

5. Lack of love at the core.

I value what I can do for God. The result is that tasks get prioritized over people. People become means to get tasks done faster. My motivation should be to love God and neighbor, I know, but it’s not my modus operandi. On the rare occasion that I do get it right, I grieve over the employee I have to fire, I hug the staff member who admits her life outside of work is falling apart, and I don’t work ridiculously long hours (which gives me time to pour into friendships). More than anything else, love needs to be my motivation. It’s the key to breaking my single-minded obsession with excellence. Perhaps I’ve just painted an extreme caricature of myself, but unfortunately, it’s not all that far from the truth. Maybe I should have begun with, "Hi, my name’s Michele, and I’m overly obsessed with excellence." Do you ever find yourself striving for something "at all costs?" What would change in your life if love was at the core of everything you did? Post by Michele Corbett. Photo by nAncY. Used with permission.