In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, I sat in awe of a young, Japanese baseball player named Shohei Otani. He is quickly becoming “the man” in the baseball world with his ability to pitch and hit better than – well – just about anybody. At the young age of 22, he is one of those people who shows us where a strong work ethic can lead.
“I’m not perfect!” is often the expression of the disappointed child – or adult – who fails at something in life. To say these words is not the sin; to live them is. If this utterance pushes a person to overcome the failure, then all is not lost. If it is offered as an excuse, then the game is over. The results of failing to pursue perfection are devastating to the individual and ultimately to the whole of mankind.
Jesus boldly said to a group of imperfect, downtrodden people, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In days gone by, even people who rarely attended church had a few tidbits of biblical wisdom to toss out when faced with the challenge of instilling a strong work ethic into a child. Jesus speaks these words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, what E. Stanley Jones, a 20th-century Methodist Christian missionary and theologian, wrote is not a sermon at all. “It is a portrait of Jesus himself, and of the Father and of the man-to-be,” he explains in the opening paragraph of The Christ of the Mount: A Working Philosophy of Life. He tells the reader that Jesus is defining perfection as God defines perfection and that seeking perfection should be at the heart of all we do.
On October 26, 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared this same philosophy for living a perfect life with a group of junior high students in a speech he entitled, “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?”:
“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better. If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.”
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work,” said Aristotle. Coach Vince Lombardi said that when we chase perfection, we catch excellence. People who passionately pursue perfection show us what it means to live an excellent life. These people, whose lives inspire greatness in others, are not always world-renowned. However, they do have certain qualities that are worth noting and emulating, as is the case with a Flour Bluff Junior High coach, Nancy Busby, who recently retired after coaching girls basketball, volleyball, and track for 43 years. Those who know her, have worked with her, and have been coached by her will say that she, like Otani, has chosen to use the gifts and talents that lie within her. Imagine how the world would look if everyone possessed the qualities that really made Coach Busby great. People such as she…
- Know their work matters and see it as a form of worship to the One who blessed them with their special abilities;
- Make what they do look so easy that the rest of us are certain we can do it, too;
- Exude childlike joy when they are working and consider service to others the highest of honors;
- Always take their work home – in mind, body, or spirit – because it is an integral part of who they are;
- Face their failures and use them to hone their skills;
- Identify problems then set out to solve them by respectfully tapping into the experience and wisdom of masters in their field;
- Take the time to mentor newcomers, teaching what they know and applauding the efforts of the apprentice along the way;
- Hold themselves – and others – to a higher expectation;
- Despise the words: “That’s not my job”, “That’s good enough”, or “That’s close enough;”
- Take up their swords of knowledge and experience to fight courageously against mediocrity – every day;
- Have a “heaven on earth” attitude, seeking perfection in all that they do;
- Never retire from their calling. They simply expand their service area, using their gifts and talents in other arenas;
- Are not forgotten because their good works are forever intertwined in the history of the workplace and in the hearts of those they have served along the way.
We should always be thankful for those who set the “gold standard” and become examples of excellence. God has blessed our world with them, and they have honored God by answering His call and using the gifts and talents with which they have been blessed, something we should all do. When human beings strive for perfection, we experience a little heaven right here on earth.
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day. She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.