In Search of Spiritual Excellence

In Brendon Burchard’s book, “The Motivation Manifesto,” he opens with the following admonition:

“There comes a time in the lives of those destined for greatness when we must stand before the mirror of meaning and ask: Why, having been endowed with the courageous heart of a lion, do we live as mice?”

He asks at the end of his first page, “When will we be ready to ascend to another level of existence?”

I would pose the question this way:  When will we step into the lives of excellence we are meant for and leave behind vain distractions, meager scraps, and the boredom that we currently accept as the norm?

I don’t know about you, but I am interested in a life of excellence.  I am interested in a life exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything I could imagine.  I’m interested in the life that God conceived of for me, not a small existence I can wrap my head around.

According to Aristotle, achieving this kind of excellence is never an accident.  He says it is the result of three things:

  1.  High intention
  2. Sincere Effort
  3. Intelligent execution

 

I would argue with you that we as humans actually thrive on excellence.

You see, excellence feeds the soul, whereas our steady diet of mediocrity numbs it.

Being exposed to excellence challenges the mind, whereas the status quo confirms what we already assume is true.

Encountering excellence spurs us to action rather than enslaving us to complacency.

The world of classical music is bound up in the pursuit of excellence.  The craft itself demands our very best. I would argue that in our professional spheres many of us find ourselves in a culture of that strives for excellence.

So why then aren’t our spiritual pursuits marked with the same sort of quest?  If we serve an excellent God in whose image we are made, what can we do to be more like him?  And what can we learn from the world of classical music and the words of Aristotle to get us on track?

  1. Live with High Intention

intentionAny musician worth their salt will tell you that notes played without intention are not music.  They are little more than noise.  Correct pitches and rhythms do not equal music-making.  That is like saying if you have a paint brush and some paint and you start swiping at a canvas, you are making fine art.  Great musicians go beyond the basics to make distinct musical choices, playing with purpose, with direction, and from the heart. Excellence in music making is intentional.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, are we that deliberate?  The Bible says it this way: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.”  Like a great teacher, the good book is pushing us to decide.  It is implying that each day we will serve someone (or something).  I would agree with the assertion that whether we chose or not, we are servants.  Living our spiritual lives without intent guarantees that we have no conscience control over who (or what) our life serves.

Because of this Bible verse, I would add one word to Aristotle’s plan.  Let’s not just live with intention.  Let’s do that DAILY.   In the Motivation Manifesto, Bertrand encourages us to imagine ourselves standing before our creator and having him ask these questions, “How faithfully did you attend to the dream I sowed in your soul?” and “Did you use the time I gifted you with each day to be a purposeful being?”

2. Make a Sincere Effort:

Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent executionI hate the word try.  When someone says to me, ‘I will try,’ that communicates to me that they do not intend to succeed. As Yoda says, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

As a child, if I said to my father that I would try when he asked me to do something, he would stop me and say, “Try to lift your foot.”  I remember the first time he did this I thought to myself, “What does this have to do with anything we were talking about?”  But again he said, “Try to lift your foot.”  I then put all my weight on one leg and feigned effort while not lifting my other foot off the ground.  He then said, “You either lift your foot or you don’t.”  From that point on, anytime I answered a directive with, “I will try,” all he had to do was remind me by saying, “Try to lift your foot.”

Aristotle is challenging us to sincere effort.  That does not mean trying, it means doing.  In music, it means submitting to the endless hours of preparation, study, scales, drills, and self-critique.  It means approaching a difficult passage with a steely resolve that says to your mind, “I will succeed.”

The Bible says that whatever our hands find to do, we should do it with all our might.  It doesn’t say we should “try” it with all our might.

 

3. Intelligently Execute Your Task:

Get-It-Done-RASTER-LOGO-PR200611-JPGIntelligent execution is about completion.  A task is not done until it is complete!  This sounds so simple, but I’d bet you are with me in that you can look around your life and see tasks that you started but never finished.

According to the Sacramento Business Journal, “Execution intelligence is the ability to convert smarts and plans into action.”

Achieving excellence starts with a plan.  As Luke says, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

But a plan is not enough.  We must ‘begin with the end in mind’ as Stephen Covey said in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

I talk a lot with my horn students about their practicing plan.  They’ve heard the lie ‘practice makes perfect,’ when in fact it does not.  Practice does not make perfect.  It makes ‘permanent!’  So if you go into your practice session without an outline of what you’re there to do, and therefore do not intelligently execute your plan, guess what?  You can leave that practice session worse than when you came.

Top musicians spend their time wisely, with the end goal at the top of their minds.

So, if we are to begin with the end in mind, what does that look like from a spiritual perspective?  What does an excellent end look like?


 

Allow me finish with this thought.  The path to excellence in any form starts with taking back control of our daily lives.  Let’s stop numbing ourselves with distractions, with constantly being on-call, with life’s endless frenzied race.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The day is always his who works with serenity and great aims.”  Let’s find the quiet we need to pursue spiritual excellence.  As we bravely seek such things, we will give others permission to do the same and we will affect great change in the culture around us.