Success, Improvement, and Making Excuses

(This is in part an update of a post from February 2015.)

Today, here is what Seth Godin has on his blog:

Of course it could be better

That’s not the question, not really.

The question is, “what are you going to do about it?”

And, to follow up, “what effort are you willing to put in to make it better?”

If you’re not willing to make it better, it’s probably going to stay the way it is.

The first day of summer is right around the corner (or winter, if you live in the other hemisphere).

The changing of seasons is as good a time as any to say, “now, I’m going to make it better.”

The key word isn’t ‘better’. The key words are now and I.

(If you’re not reading Godin’s blog and listening to his podcast, you’re missing out.)

I wrote the original version of this post after listening to Brian Koppelman’s podcast, The Moment.  He’d had a conversation with one of the great young alt-country singer songwriters, Jason Isbell.  (BTW, he pronounces it IS-bull, not Is-BELL.  Rhymes with “NASH-vull.”  Who’d’ve guessed?)

Isbell was talking about his 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 and schools 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.  What matters is finding a way, in faithfulness to your mission, to improve your processes, your craft, your product. NOTHING ELSE COUNTS.  Nothing else is faithful with what God has given you control over.

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 your motto, whatever your work or ministry: tirelessly working to improve the product, the experience of our clients / customers / 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, or members who are growing and maturing, or clients who find healing and thrive.

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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