Success, Improvement, and Making Excuses

(Opinions are my own, not official statements of Dallas Christian College.)

I was listening last night to Brian Kimmelman’s podcast, The Moment.  In one of his recent episodes, he had a conversation with one of the great young alt-country singer songwriters, Jason Isbell.  (BTW, he pronounces it IS-bull, not Is-BELL.  Who’d’ve guessed?)

Isbell was talking about his newest CD, Southeastern, which has been quite successful, and how his work ethic has changed and developed over the years.  My recollection / paraphrase of what he said:

On all my previous recordings, I thought I was doing the best I could, that I was being a perfectionist and getting the best out of myself.  At the same time, I was making all these excuses for my lack of success: “The world doesn’t like my kind of music.  No one is selling records anymore.  My music is too good, too honest for mass mainstream success.  I’m too intelligent to be anything but a niche artist.”

All of things may be true, or partly true, but none of them matter.  The thing that matters is perfecting your craft, pushing yourself to improve your processes and to work harder and harder, to refuse to compromise.  Because I WASN’T doing my best on my earlier records, even though I thought I was.

There’s a lesson here for us.  Whatever we do, regardless of setting–church, college, family, career–we can ALWAYS improve the way we do it.

We can ALWAYS make excuses for why we’re not succeeding the way we want to, why we’re not having the impact for God we want to have.

In the churches I’ve been in, we’ve said or thought things like:

“We don’t fit the neighborhood demographically.  We’re too small to build critical mass.  We’re too small to offer the programs people want.  We’re too white to appeal to the mass of African-Americans who are moving into our town.  There are too many Baptists in our town, and they won’t go to any other denominations.  Etc., etc.”

All of those things may have been true, and NONE OF THEM MATTER.  The only thing that matters is finding a way to improve your processes, your craft, your product.  NOTHING ELSE COUNTS.  Nothing else is faithful with what God has given you control over.

My college, Dallas Christian College, is small.  Actually, it’s VERY small.  We’re not a small college, we’re a miniature college.  And we’re not this small by choice; we would love to be larger.  And we have our excuses for why we’re small: we cost too much, we require too many Bible classes, our facilities are old, we’re hidden behind those buildings, churches don’t support missions (including colleges) like they used to, blah blah blah blah blah.

Here’s what I think: NO MORE EXCUSES.  It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not.  If we’re going to be faithful to what God is calling us to be, we’re going to keep trying to improve our processes, our craft, our product, our results.  NOTHING ELSE MATTERS, because that’s what faithfulness requires.

My favorite radio station, The Ticket (KTCK 1310 am) used to have a commercial with the tagline, “trying hard to suck less every day.”  That needs to be our motto: tirelessly working to improve the educational experience of our students.

I think we need to quit making excuses for why we’re not succeeding in this way or that way.  We need to redefine success, so that it’s NOT first numbers.  Instead, success must be defined as students who are having the best possible educational experience.  If we work tirelessly to improve that, then (just as with Jason Isbell) we’ll find that success = letting go of the excuses and doing whatever it takes to “suck less every day.”  And (just as with Jason Isbell) other types of success may follow.

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