The Difference Between Mediocrity and Excellence


What does the future look like when you choose to take the hard road and do the hard work of accomplishing big, hard things?

My favorite quote is from Shelton Smith, editor of The Sword of the Lord, who said,

The difference between mediocrity and excellence is midnight oil, elbow grease, and the power of God.

When I was still in school, I developed the terrible habit of settling for mediocrity. I was a B- student with a GPA of 2.8. While I usually earned straight A’s in the classes I liked, I slacked off in the classes I didn’t like. Unfortunately, this pattern carried over into my adulthood in certain ways, and I still struggle with it today.

When I’m passionate about something, like getting my awesome bride to marry me or planting a new church, I go at it full steam and strive for excellence. But when something isn’t paying off with an immediate emotional reward, I sometimes let that area of my life slip into autopilot, and mediocrity tends to be our default.

Mediocrity is a Dad tucking his kids into bed. Excellence is intentionally reminding them of our love, reading them a story and praying with them first.

Mediocrity is being committed enough to our spouse that we show them kindness and remain faithful. Excellence is intentionally dating our spouse and discovering more of their heart.

Mediocrity is performing the minimum requirements of our job. Excellence is going above and beyond what is required to serve our supervisors in unexpected ways.

According to Smith, there are three tools that help us achieve excellence instead of settling for mediocrity.

Midnight Oil

A life of excellence can’t be achieved in an 8-to-5 window. This isn’t a call to workaholism, but rather a challenge to realize that dreamers and doers who change the world put in extra hours thinking, planning, and working toward their goals. Our minds and bodies obviously need an appropriate amount of rest, but our spirits need time to cultivate a vision for excellence.

Elbow Grease

Practice makes perfect, right? Maybe close. The point is, people who do things well have usually spent a lot of time doing those things poorly, learning, and improving. This takes time. It takes years. Excellence is only possible when we’re willing to transition from dreaming to doing. We have to be willing to devote time, energy, and resources toward our big goals.

The Power of God

Obviously even nonbelievers, who have no real access to God’s supernatural power, can build nations, businesses, and legacies. But I’m a follower of Jesus, so my aims and pursuits should be oriented around God’s Kingdom. When it comes to seeking the Kingdom first, excellence is only possible with the power of God working within and around us. And that requires humbling ourselves, yielding to his plan, and depending on his enabling.

Every day is a brand new chance to decide to reject passivity and mediocrity and choose intentionality and excellence. What does the future look like when we choose to take the hard road and do the hard work of accomplishing big, hard things?

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